Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, his vacation delayed until yesterday because of baseball's weird climate, finally boarded a plane bound for Southern California.
First, he took care of some important business.
All in one hectic morning, Hemond announced the re-signing of free agent designated hitter Harold Baines to a one-year deal worth $1.6 million, plus incentives; tendered qualifying offers to restricted free agents Chris Hoiles and Ben McDonald, and announced that Jim Poole, Jeff Tackett and Dwight Smith were not tendered contracts and became unrestricted free agents.
"I would like to relax on the plane, but I'm sure I'll be reading up some more on the new rules," Hemond said.
One of those rules allowed for players with four years of service time to become restricted free agents, meaning they can entertain offers from other clubs, but their current club has the chance to match any offer to retain the player.
To retain such rights to Hoiles and McDonald, the Orioles had to go through the formality of making them qualifying offers of a minimum of 110 percent of their 1994 salaries.
Normally, players relish the opportunity to become free agents, but these are not normal times in baseball.
"I would rather play under the old rules the way it's always been," McDonald said. "It's unusual, being a free agent already. I really
haven't thought too much about it because I never expected it to happen.
"In my opinion, from just watching it on television, it doesn't look to me like the owners really wanted to listen to any proposals. They just wanted to implement their own rules and regulations from the beginning."
L McDonald said he is not yet acting as if he is a free agent.
"I haven't even talked to my agent and we don't even know if this stuff is going to stay in effect," McDonald said. "I'll wait to hear from my agent."
McDonald said he couldn't see any good coming from the owners declaring a negotiation impasse and implementing a salary cap.
"I think it's going to cause friction between the players and the owners, and it's going to push the sides even farther apart," he said. "I really don't know what the union will advise, but I'm definitely 100 percent behind the union. Whatever they advise that's what I'm going to do."
Honeymooning Hoiles, driving from Nashville, Tenn., to Milwaukee yesterday with his bride, was unavailable for comment. Hoiles' agent, Dennis Gilbert, said he is complying with a union directive that advises against signing contracts until given the go-ahead by the union.
Hoiles' backup, Tackett, became expendable when the Orioles signed free agent Matt Nokes. Tackett's Orioles days are not necessarily over, and neither are Poole's, according to Hemond.
"I told them, 'Let's see what transpires,' " Hemond said. "We could be talking again. Just because you don't tender someone a contract doesn't mean they automatically won't be back.
"This allows them to test the market."
Poole was one of the most effective left-handed relievers in the major leagues in 1993, when he went 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA. In 1994, he was one of the least effective lefties, going 1-0 with a 6.64 ERA and allowing opponents a batting average of .372.
Tackett, a strong-armed catcher who draws positive reviews from the pitchers who throw to him, has a career .217 batting average.
Baines could have tested the market more aggressively than he did, but his preference was to return to the Orioles.
Baines' base pay drops from $1.8 million in 1994 to $1.6 million in 1995. His bonuses: $50,000 for 300 plate appearances; $75,000 for 350; $100,000 for 400; $50,000 for 450; $50,000 for 500; $50,000 for election to the All-Star Game; $25,000 for selection to the All-Star Game; $25,000 for designated hitter of the year; $50,000 for winning League Championship Series or World Series MVP honors.
Baines hit .294 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs in strike-shortened 1994.
"We're very happy to have Harold back," Hemond said. "Even though this will only be his third year with the Orioles, Harold is an Oriole who conducts himself in true Oriole fashion."