Leo Gomez is back in the same position he was in this time last year -- as the Orioles' incumbent third baseman.
Mike Pagliarulo, who gave the Orioles a late-season lift last season and possible flexibility for next year, will play in Japan. It will be officially announced today that the left-handed-hitting third baseman has accepted an offer to play for the Seibu Lions in 1994.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond was informed of Pagliarulo's decision by agent Alan Nero yesterday, and the news didn't come as a surprise. Nero had said earlier that he was sorting through three different offers from Japan and would take one if he could not reach agreement with the Orioles.
"We had been talking to them," Hemond said, "but sometimes you get an offer you can't turn down."
"That's about it," said Nero. "Mike is very happy -- Seibu has won eight of the last 10 Japanese championships and is a class organization. Mike would've liked to return to Baltimore, but there was such a dramatic difference [in money], he didn't have any choice."
Hemond and manager Johnny Oates said they were prepared to open next season with Gomez at third base.
"We went into last season with the idea of Leo as our third baseman," said Hemond, "and with the injury to his wrist cleared up, we look for him to have a better year."
After hitting .265 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs in his first full major-league season in 1992, Gomez hit only .197 in 71 games last season. He still hit 10 home runs, but drove in only 25 runs and struck out 60 times in 244 at-bats.
"I've said all along that if we can improve our pitching and have the same team [as last year], we can be a good club," said Oates. "We still don't know which is the real Leo -- last year or the year before. But his minor-league record indicates he's the kind of guy who can hit 20-25 home runs and drive in 75 runs.
"If he can do that, it should be enough," said Oates. "There aren't many guys out there who can hit 20 home runs and drive in 75 runs."
The Orioles have been encouraged by reports on Gomez from the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he was hitting .278 in his first 13 games with three doubles, one home run and seven RBIs. "[Scout] Deacon Jones just came back from Puerto Rico and said Leo is playing with a lot of enthusiasm, and I'm excited about that," said Oates.
Pagliarulo, who made $400,000 last season, was not offered arbitration despite hitting .325 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 33 games for the Orioles. They had expressed an interest in bringing him back, but wouldn't match Japan's offer, estimated to be in the $1 million range.
His departure increases the importance of the Orioles' re-signing free agent Tim Hulett, 33, who hit .357 during a 31-game stretch filling in for Gomez last year. Hemond indicated he was close to an agreement with Hulett, who would return to a utility role with the Orioles.
In another move yesterday, the Orioles cleared a spot on their major-league roster by assigning infielder T. R. Lewis to their Triple-A Rochester farm club.
Lewis, 22, had been promoted after hitting .304, with five home runs and 64 RBIs for Double-A Bowie last year. He has been in the organization for five years and was impressive with the bat as a non-roster invitee to spring training last year.
In order to be reassigned, Lewis had to clear waivers, and he now will be among those eligible in the Rule V draft, during the minor-league meetings next week.
The move leaves the Orioles with 39 players and one open spot on their 40-man roster.
In addition to the roster move, assistant general manager Doug Melvin also announced that Reid Nichols had been named director of field operations for the Orioles' minor-league system. That is the job Cal Ripken Sr. was offered, and declined, after being dropped as the club's third-base coach a year ago.
This will be the fourth year in the organization for Nichols, 35, who played with the Red Sox, White Sox and Expos from 1980 to '87. After spending one year as a coach with Single-A Gulf Coast, Nichols has served as the organization's outfield and base-running coach for the past two years, a position he will retain.