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Arbitration wind creates only mild draft for Orioles


The deadline for major-league clubs to offer salary arbitration to their free agents looms today, but it probably will not have a significant effect on the fortunes of the Orioles.

The club has only one player who is affected by the deadline -- veteran pitcher Fernando Valenzuela -- and it doesn't appear he will be offered the chance to go to arbitration.

The Orioles already declined to offer arbitration to pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, outfielder Lonnie Smith and second baseman Harold Reynolds, and signed free agents Tim Hulett and Harold Baines last week. Valenzuela has expressed the desire to return for the 1994 season, but the team is unlikely to put the matter in his hands by offering arbitration.

If the club does not make that offer, Valenzuela is virtually certain to appear in another uniform next year.

Here's how the system works: Players who have filed for free agency and have not signed with anyone must be offered arbitration for their original clubs to retain the right to sign them. If the offer is not made on or before today's deadline, the club loses the right to re-sign the player until May 1 and loses the right to draft choice compensation if he should sign with another club.

The Orioles don't figure to lose anything by letting Valenzuela go. To rate draft choice compensation, he would have to be a ranking player, and the ranking is based on the performance of the player's previous two seasons. Valenzuela did not pitch in the major leagues in 1992 and he pitched inconsistently last year.

The deadline still could have a peripheral impact on the Orioles because it may affect the value of the players who remain available in the free-agent market.

For instance, if the Texas Rangers decide not to offer arbitration to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles could sign him without losing their second-round draft choice in June.

The Orioles already lost their first-round choice when they signed left-hander Sid Fernandez Nov. 22. They probably will remain interested in Palmeiro whether the Rangers offer him arbitration or not, but Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said that the draft choice often has an effect on how hard a club pursues a particular player.

"It depends on the player, of course, and how much you want to sign him," Hemond said.

Perhaps it will have less of an impact because it is only a second-round choice, but the Orioles have gotten a lot of mileage out of the June draft the past few years. Four of their past six first-round picks were on the 25-man roster last year.

"It still has importance," Hemond said, "because that means that you don't draft until very late."

The Rangers have more to lose than the Orioles might have to gain, because they might get a first-round pick if another club signs Palmeiro, but there still is the strong possibility they will decline arbitration.

It would be an easy decision if it wasn't such a complicated situation. The Rangers recently signed free-agent first baseman Will Clark, leaving them without a place for Palmeiro to play. If they offer arbitration and he accepts, they face the possibility of entering the season with two $6 million first basemen.

The likelihood of Palmeiro accepting the offer seems remote, since he stands to sign a multi-year deal with some other club, but the relatively light interest in free agents might convince him to accept a big one-year contract in arbitration and wait until next year to sign long-term.

If he did that, the Rangers would be forced to trade him, with their bargaining position weakened.

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