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Ochoa ban puts Bonilla talks on hold


MINNEAPOLIS -- Trade talks between the Orioles and New York Mets regarding slugger Bobby Bonilla are at a stalemate, and unless one side is willing to adjust, it's unlikely the deal will occur.

The Mets, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, are holding to their request for the Orioles' top prospect, Alex Ochoa, who is playing for Triple-A Rochester. The Orioles are saying no, and seem steadfast in their resolve to hang onto the young outfielder.

The trade deadline is July 31, and after that, a player must clear waivers before he can be included in a deal, although Bonilla probably would clear waivers because of his contract. He makes $4.4 million this year, and $4.5 million next year, along with some very pricey clauses.

When Bonilla signed his five-year deal before the 1992 season, a clause in the contract stipulated that if he were to be traded, he would get an additional $200,000.

And this: The Mets guaranteed that Bonilla would earn at least $1.5 million in commercial endorsements during the term of his contract, and they would make up the difference if he didn't reach that figure. An NL source says that Bonilla has made only a nominal amount in endorsements -- "next to nothing," in fact.

(A member of the Orioles organization indicated that this endorsement clause would not be an impediment to any trade, and that the Mets would be expected to pay it off.)

So, in theory, the Orioles and Mets could make a deal involving Bonilla in August, as well. But the Orioles want to make a deal for Bonilla right now, when they are missing Chris Hoiles and Jeffrey Hammonds from their everyday lineup and when Cal Ripken and Jeff Manto are slumping. The Orioles have five hits or less in four of their last five games, and Bonilla, an NL All-Star, could bolster their lineup.

The Orioles don't, however, want to part with Ochoa, for reasons beyond his ability. "We could save a lot of money by hanging on to Ochoa," said one club source, "so we could do other things."

Developing their own players is much less expensive than trading for them. If the Orioles hang onto Ochoa and he's a starter in the outfield next year, he'll make the major-league minimum of $109,000. At the moment, Ochoa may be the only prospect in the Orioles' minor-league system ready to take on a regular role, and financially, that means a lot.

The Orioles are hoping the Mets will be motivated by a desire to dump salary and will adjust their demands. Right now, Bonilla is the only big-time player available who fits the Orioles' current needs and price range. Pittsburgh right fielder Orlando Merced, a solid, high-average RBI man, could be acquired, but he's a

left-handed hitter and the Orioles want some right-handed power (Merced doesn't hit many homers). Minnesota right fielder Kirby Puckett is expensive, $6 million for each of the next two years, and Twins officials have decided they can't trade Puckett without risking a tremendous fan backlash.

Ochoa, 23, is regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders in the minors, with an exceptional throwing arm. Some scouts have questioned whether he'll hit in the majors, but says one big-league general manager, his stock is on the rise.

Bonilla has heard the trade rumors. "I've got no control over that," he said. "They're going to do what they want to do. If they trade me, I believe they're going to give me a shot at a ring."

Rest, medication for Hammonds

Hammonds, out with a strained trapezius -- the muscle that runs from his neck to his right shoulder -- is resting and taking medication.

Once he's suitably healed, Hammond is expected to undergo more tests on the injury.

Harris to undergo surgery

Pitcher Gene Harris, who threw in only three games after being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies June 18 for outfielder Andy Van Slyke before being sidelined by arm problems, has elected to have reconstructive elbow surgery.

The operation will keep him out of action for the rest of this year. Harris, whose contract expires at the end of this season, may not pitch for the Orioles again.

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