SIGN OF THE TIMES Orioles to be busy working on contracts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Orioles are preparing to begin the long wait until next season, but it will be no vacation. The coming off-season figures to be one of the busiest in the history of the club.

Who will stay and who will go? That is the $28 million question. The answers are especially difficult to come by now, because a new ownership group -- possibly with a different financial philosophy -- is preparing to take over the club.

No doubt, Orioles fans hope that the new ownership syndrome -- the tendency of new owners to try to make a big first impression -- will translate into the acquisition of a marquee free agent.

But the front office figures to spend the off-season knee-deep in negotiations with the players already on the roster.

There are only two players on the 40-man major-league roster who have contracts that extend beyond the end of this season. Shortstop Cal Ripken is signed through 1997, and first baseman David Segui has a year remaining on the two-year deal he signed last spring. The rest will have to be re-signed, released or readjusted in salary arbitration.

It is a complicated process made more complicated by an intricate system of rules and requirements that have evolved from nearly two decades of collective bargaining. Players with zero to three years' service time are not eligible for arbitration, except the top 15 percent (in terms of service time) of the two-year class. Confused yet?

The players who have three years' service or more (plus the aforementioned 15 percent) are eligible to file for arbitration in January, but only if they are tendered contracts by Dec. 20, except in the case of repeater free agents, who must be tendered contracts within five days of the end of the World Series. Totally confused yet?

Players with six years' service or more are eligible for unrestricted free agency if they have filed for free agency in the past five years. Terms and conditions apply.

That's the fine print that may determine if Mike Devereaux still is an Oriole next year, or if Gregg Olson is still in an Orioles uniform in 1995, or if Chris Hoiles is a happy camper next spring.

That was the last thing that club officials wanted to think about while the Orioles still had a chance to win the American League East, but the time has arrived to get down to business.

"The off-season and the next couple of months are going to be very, very important to this organization," manager Johnny Oates said Monday. "I think there are some very important decisions to be made in this organization . . . very critical decisions."

Not all of them will involve contract negotiations. The Orioles also have to decide how to handle Olson's elbow problem and the troubling neck injury that bothered Jeffrey Hammonds throughout the season, but the vast majority of decisions the club will make will be contract-related.

Of course, not every player is a potential problem. The players with less than three years' service (or most of them, anyway) can be renewed at any figure, as long as the club doesn't cut by more than 20 percent. The youth-oriented Orioles roster includes plenty of such players -- including pitching ace Mike Mussina.

The real intrigue involves the players entering their third year of arbitration eligibility. That is the time when the club has to decide whether to ante up with a long-term deal or risk losing a valuable player to free agency the next year.

Devereaux falls into that category. So do Brady Anderson and Olson. The Orioles must come to grips with the possibility that one or all of them could leave at the end of the 1994 season. Then the club has to decide what to do about it.

Take Devereaux, for example. He had a terrific year in 1992 and will end up with solid offensive numbers this season, but the money he will require to sign a long-term deal could convince the fiscally conservative Orioles to let the youth movement take its course instead.

The team could turn center field over to Hammonds -- if he's healthy -- and package Devereaux in a trade for help in another area. If that is the intent, then Devereaux likely would end up going to arbitration.

Anderson's situation is similar. It could come down to a choice between the two, with Anderson more likely to stay because he is a year behind Devereaux on baseball's progressive salary scale.

The Olson situation is more complex. He's coming to the end of a two-year deal that leaves him one year short of free agency and eligible for arbitration. The Orioles probably would have jumped at another multiyear deal, considering his standing as the most productive young reliever in the history of the sport, but a torn elbow ligament has thrown his future into doubt.

The Orioles have a history of avoiding arbitration. They negotiated their way out of possible hearings with Devereaux, Anderson, Todd Frohwirth and Ben McDonald last year, and dodged several potential cases by releasing Randy Milligan, Mark McLemore, Mark Williamson, Bob Milacki and Sam Horn last December.

They probably can get away with that in a few cases this year, but there are at least seven front-line players -- Anderson, Devereaux, Olson, McDonald, Frohwirth, Hoiles and Mark McLemore -- who could end up in front of an arbitrator.

The club also faces a series of difficult decisions involving the veteran players who were brought in over the past two years. Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe faded badly in the second half of the season and recently underwent successful surgery to remove torn cartilage from his knee. He is well-liked in the clubhouse and his leadership skills are well-respected in the front office, but whether that translates into a contract for 1994 is unclear.

"I think Rick is very encouraged about the potential for pitching next year, and I believe that he hopes it is with the Orioles," said agent Barry Axelrod, "but whether he does ultimately comes down to how the Orioles feel about Rick. They know from what has happened the last two years that they can work with us."

Designated hitter Harold Baines has had a solid season in spite of a couple of physical setbacks, so it seems likely that he'll return for 1994. He'll be eligible for free agency, but he appears content playing near his Eastern Shore home. The Orioles signed him for a modest $1.1 million salary after acquiring him from the Oakland Athletics last year, so even a substantial raise would not figure to price him out of their plans.

The more difficult decision is whether to re-sign second baseman Harold Reynolds, who already has made it clear that he wants to come back. He has had a solid year, but his future with the Orioles could depend on what the club intends to do in the outfield.

If Anderson remains in left field and Devereaux is back in center next season, a healthy Hammonds would push somebody out of the lineup or off the roster. Hammonds has to play the outfield, so McLemore might be moved back into the infield to make room. That would make Reynolds expendable, even though he has proven a valuable player.

There are several other potential free agents on the roster. Newly acquired third baseman Mike Pagliarulo can become a free agent, but has made enough of an impression during his brief stay to look like at least part of the third-base picture next year. Utility man Tim Hulett also is eligible for free agency, but figures to be back. The two of them have shared third base so well, there is room to wonder if Leo Gomez will be an Oriole next year.

Pitcher Jamie Moyer appears to have won a place in the Orioles' 1994 starting rotation with his out-of-nowhere performance this year, but it looks as if Fernando Valenzuela's stay was a one-year affair.

Decisions. Decisions. That's just the internal stuff. The Orioles also have to decide what they will do to improve the club from outside the organization, but that will have to wait until after Peter Angelos and the new ownership group moves into the executive offices next month.

ORIOLES CONTRACT STATUS

Here is a list of the Orioles who appeared at the major-league level this year and their contract status. Players with three years' major-league service or less can be re-signed by the club for any figure more than a 20 percent pay cut. Players with three to six years of service must be tendered a contract by Dec. 20 to qualify to file for salary arbitration. (In arbitration, an arbitrator chooses between the club's salary figure and the player's.) If contracts are not tendered, they become free agents and can be re-signed at any salary by their original clubs. Players with six years' service or more are eligible for free agency if they have not filed for free agency and signed a multiyear contract in the previous five years.

PITCHERS

Name ....... ....... 1993 base salary .... Contract status

Todd Frohwirth ........ $900,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Ben McDonald ........ $1,225,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Alan Mills ............ $245,000 ......... 0-3 player

Jamie Moyer ........... $200,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Mike Mussina .......... $425,000 ......... 0-3 player

John O'Donoghue ...... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Gregg Olson ......... $2,300,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Brad Pennington ...... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Jim Poole ............. $150,000 ......... 0-3 player

Arthur Rhodes ......... $155,000 ......... 0-3 player

Rick Sutcliffe ...... $2,000,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Anthony Telford ....... $125,000 ......... 0-3 player

Mark Williamson ....... $350,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

Fernando Valenzuela ... $250,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

CATCHERS

Chris Hoiles .......... $350,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Mark Parent ........... $135,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Jeff Tackett .......... $142,500 ......... 0-3 player

INFIELDERS

Manny Alexander ...... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Paul Carey ........... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Leo Gomez ............. $312,500 ......... 0-3 player

Tim Hulett ............ $400,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

Mike Pagliarulo ....... $400,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

Harold Reynolds ..... $1,650,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Cal Ripken .......... $5,500,000 ......... Signed through 1997

David Segui ........... $237,500 ......... Signed through 1994

OUTFIELDERS

Brady Anderson ...... $1,855,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Harold Baines ....... $1,100,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

Damon Buford ......... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Mike Devereaux ...... $3,025,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Jeffrey Hammonds ..... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

Chito Martinez ........ $197,500 ......... 0-3 player

Mark McLemore ......... $300,000 ......... Eligible for arbitration

Sherman Obando ........ $109,000 ......... 0-3 player

Lonnie Smith ........ $1,000,000 ......... Eligible for free agency

Jack Voigt ........... $109,000* ......... 0-3 player

*-Players called up from minor leagues or on split contracts make minimum major-league salary of $109,000 (prorated for time at major-league level) unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°