The Orioles' bid for free-agent center fielder Brett Butler -- believed to be about $1 million for one year -- became futile when the New York Mets gave him a one-year, $2 million contract yesterday.
Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson said the club wants to add another veteran outfielder, and Butler was, at the least, one of the best available.
"We didn't want to see him sign for a relatively low price without putting in a bid for him," Robinson said, "and then go, 'Oh, wow!' after it happens."
Butler, who will be 38 in June, batted .314 with eight homers, 33 RBIs and 27 stolen bases in 417 at-bats for the Los Angles Dodgers last year. According to various reports, he also was courted by the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals.
"There were a few clubs interested, but what did it for me were the personal calls from [Bret] Saberhagen, [John] Franco, [manager] Dallas Green and [owner] Fred Wilpon," he said. "It was a sign that they wanted me more than anybody. That moved them to the forefront."
The Orioles still may sign free agent Andy Van Slyke, but they're waiting for the outfielder to accept their one-year offer of about $1 million and see no reason to budge because there is no apparent market for his services. Van Slyke's last request was $1.5 million, down from $2 million.
"We made an offer; they turned it down," Robinson said last night. "We're waiting to hear from them."
The Orioles want to see how their young players fare. The team is considering an outfield of Brady Anderson, Curtis Goodwin and Jeffrey Hammonds, but that could change:
* If Goodwin were sent to the minors, the Orioles could sign Van Slyke and platoon him in left field with Sherman Obando and move Anderson to center.
* They could sign Van Slyke to play center field and move Anderson to left.
* They could start Damon Buford in center, although that seems unlikely. Buford has been in the system since 1990 and apparently has been surpassed in the organizational hierarchy by Goodwin.
Buford met with Regan yesterday and asked him if the center-field job was open. "He said I'll get a fair shot," Buford said. "Nothing's set in stone. Either way, I'll put forth the same effort, but it's a lot easier when I have a legitimate chance for the job."
Buford was asked how he would feel if he were sent back to Triple-A Rochester. "I can't answer that question. I'd put my foot in my mouth," he said.
Buford and Goodwin are good friends. "I'd rather that Curt and I fight this out," he said, "than if they signed a free agent."
If the Orioles sign Van Slyke, effectively making Buford the fifth or sixth outfielder, they might trade him. A team source said the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Royals are interested in Buford.
"I think people have missed the boat on him," Robinson said, referring to other clubs. "He can play center field for anybody in the big leagues. He can go and get the ball."
So why does Regan seem to be backing Goodwin?
"Phil [Regan] likes Goodwin because he's seen Goodwin in the past," Robinson said. "We've told him about Buford now. . . . I think he deserves the chance to compete. He's earned that."
Catcher Matt Nokes played with the Yankees last year, and he seems sure of one thing: New York can't be as good as it was last year.
"Chemistry," he said. "[In '94,] we had guys who could come off the bench and didn't complain. We just went out and did our job. I don't know if they have a bench yet. Last year, we had a guy for every situation.
"It's chemistry. You break up the club, and it's gone."
Nokes said the Orioles have "a lot better pitching staff" than the Yankees. "We have a premier rotation. I don't see another club with a better rotation."
Around the horn
Pitcher Ben McDonald has a sore elbow and will not throw today, as scheduled. Regan said McDonald would be ready to pitch later this week, after the Orioles begin their exhibition schedule. . . . The interim scoring rule of qualifying for a victory after three innings, adopted for the first part of the season, pleases pitcher Mike Mussina. He said it reduces the chance for injury. "Guys aren't going to try to throw the 20 more pitches than they should," he said, "to get their five innings in to get a win." . . . Robinson said the Orioles have not talked with the Seattle Mariners about acquiring left-hander Randy Johnson.