ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Relief pitcher Pat Clements reported to the Stengel-Huggins Complex yesterday, ready to compete for a job that won't be open until at least May 1.
Clements, who re-signed with the Orioles last week, gambled on free agency and lost. He was not offered arbitration by the club in December, so he is prohibited by the Basic Agreement from joining the major-league roster during the first month of the season.
He was forced to sign a Rochester Red Wings contract and come to camp with no guarantees, but he is not second-guessing his decision to file for free agency in November or pass up a contract offer from the Orioles in early December.
"Being a free agent, it would only be smart for me to see what was out there," Clements said. "In hindsight, yeah, I should have taken it, but it wouldn't have been the smart move at the time."
No one could have foreseen what would happen to the market for the dozens of free-agent players who were waiting in the shadow of Barry Bonds and the other big-ticket guys. The market crashed and Clements was one of the players who learned a lesson in supply and demand.
Clements was shut out of Opening Day with the Orioles when the club did not offer him arbitration. His prospects for catching on with another team worsened when another group of players was flushed into the free-agent pool on the Dec. 20 contract tender deadline.
"All I know is that I had a hard time finding a job," he said. "I worked out just as hard. I trained exactly like I always do. They offered me a contract, but we just didn't get anything worked out."
The Orioles acquired Clements from the San Diego Padres on a waiver claim midway through the 1992 season. He pitched in 23 games and made a solid contribution as a left-handed set-up man, posting a 2-0 record and a 3.28 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. The club wanted him back and he wanted to be back, but they couldn't get together in time to give him a chance to compete for a job in spring training.
Now, an uncertain off-season has given way to an uncertain future. Clements will work out with the major-league club for a week, then go back to the minor-league camp at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. He can rejoin the major-league club on May 1, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a job will be waiting.
"There never is any guarantee," he said. "Theoretically, I could be in Rochester all year long. I'm going to have to be throwing well to be considered."
There would have been no guarantees even if he had signed in time to compete for a place on the Opening Day roster.
Rookie left-hander Brad Pennington has been sharp in the early stages of the exhibition season. So has Jim Poole, who has come back from a 1992 shoulder injury to compete for a set-up role. The other three jobs already are spoken for, with right-handers Gregg Olson, Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills in no danger of being unseated.
The relief situation could become more clouded if newcomers Mike Cook and Fernando Valenzuela continue to give Mark Williamson competition for the fifth starter role.