CHICAGO -- The Orioles reached an agreement yesterday to buy out the contract of pitcher Sid Fernandez, and placed him on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.
"This is probably best for both parties," said Fernandez, who was taken into a side room in the visitor's clubhouse and given his release by general manager Roland Hemond after the Orioles' 11-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Fernandez signed a three-year, $9 million contract before the 1994 season, paying him $4 million for the first year, $2 million for the second year and $3 million for the third year, so that, as of today, the club would owe about $4 million.
But the buyout will cost the Orioles slightly more than $2 million, according to a source familiar with those negotiations, meaning that the total payout by the club will be just more than $7 million. It's a virtual certainty that Fernandez will clear waivers -- unless some team decides it wants to claim a struggling, 32-year-old pitcher with $4 million left on his contract -- and then he is expected to sign a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for the major-league minimum of $109,000.
Fernandez wouldn't discuss his buyout. "There's something going on that I can't talk about," he said. "If it happens, it happens. I can't talk about it."
Fernandez won six games in his tenure with the Orioles, his last victory coming July 15, 1994. He lost some 40 pounds during the off-season, impressing the club with his dedication. But his fastball had diminished into the mid-80s, and scouts said that he no longer could throw the ball hard enough to finish off hitters when he reached two strikes. Fernandez at one point blamed his weight loss for his reduced velocity.
He started slowly and never got better, going on the disabled list June 5 with a strained muscle under his left collarbone. In his first start after being activated June 29, Fernandez allowed three homers in 3 2/3 innings to Toronto, and, afterward, his ERA at 7.67, he talked about retiring. The next day, Orioles manager Phil Regan told him he was being demoted to the bullpen, and Fernandez continued to talk about the possibility that he might walk away from the rest of his contract.
On July 3, however, Fernandez complained that he was being mishandled by the Orioles and said he thought he still could pitch effectively. By the end of the week, Orioles officials were in contact with Tom Selakovich, Fernandez's agent, about a possible buyout.
At first, Selakovich indicated Fernandez wouldn't accept any sort of buyout, but the club had some leverage -- Fernandez could be left in the bullpen, his skills eroding, rather than pitch for another team.
The Orioles attempted to trade Fernandez over the past few days, and indicated to at least one team that they would be willing to pay off most of the $4 million that remains on his contract. But even if they could've found somebody to take Fernandez, the deal never may have gone through.
A rule implemented June 1 by baseball's Executive Council could've been a sticking point: A team can pay off up to $1 million per year on a contract before requiring approval from acting commissioner Bud Selig. So, for example, if the Orioles agreed to pay off $3.5 million of the $4 million tab left on Fernandez's contract, they would've needed Selig's blessing.
"We weren't able to work out a trade, so we decided to go this route," Hemond said.
A trade that did happen, the deal for Scott Erickson Friday, made it even more improbable that Fernandez would return to the rotation, and Regan said that the left-hander never would help coming out of the bullpen.
"We had talked about it [releasing Fernandez] before," Regan said. "The addition of Erickson probably hastened it a little and the way Jamie Moyer's been pitching and Arthur Rhodes. To keep Sid in the bullpen would hurt us. I don't think his best role is in the bullpen.
"I think this is important for Sid. I'm sure someone is going to pick him up."
Hemond was asked about the signing of Fernandez, which turned out to be a white elephant for the Orioles (in effect, they paid him approximately $1.2 million for each win).
"These things happen sometimes," Hemond said, "although we're not accustomed to that. Not only was he not doing as well as we hoped over time . . . [but] with our starting rotation being deeper, it would've been very difficult to get Sid back in the rotation."
Fernandez said: "Anybody who gets released is going to be disappointed, but you pick up your heels and you go on. . . . I've got a lot of things to look forward to.
"The way I was throwing in Toronto, my strength is finally coming back. I'm adjusting to the weight loss. I'm finally feeling stronger. It's like it's finally catching up to me."
Unlike Brad Pennington or Matt Nokes, other players dumped by the Orioles this year, Fernandez took no parting shots. "It really is not Phil's fault or anybody's fault."
Somebody asked Fernandez: If he could relive the past two years with the Orioles, would he do anything different?
He thought for a second. "Maybe come up with another changeup," he said.
The Orioles wouldn't wait for that.