Most would prefer hearing bad news before the good, but Orioles general manager Pat Gillick had no choice as his pursuit of two free-agent pitchers ended.
Late Wednesday night, Gillick reached an agreement in principal with left-handed reliever Randy Myers on a two-year, $6.3 million contract. Myers, who led the National League with 38 saves last year as a member of the Chicago Cubs, becomes the closer for a bullpen that was the source of much of the Orioles' troubles last summer.
But early yesterday morning, Gillick received word that left-handed starter Al Leiter agreed to a three-year, $8.6 million contract with the Florida Marlins, instead of taking the three-year deal dangled by the Orioles.
Bad news, and a decision that will force Gillick to alter his planning.
With the free-agent market light in left-handed starters, the Orioles resumed negotiations for the best one available, Kenny Rogers -- who will be much more expensive than Leiter would have been. Signing Rogers would eliminate any chance of the Orioles landing David Cone, Gillick acknowledged. And signing Rogers could leave fewer dollars for other ventures, such as signing an other right-handed starter or improving the depth of ,, the bullpen.
"It's not really the way the Orioles want to operate," said Gillick, looking somewhat frustrated. "But this is the way [signing free agents] we're going to have to go about improving the club."
They continue to talk to other free agents, as well. According to an American League source, the Orioles improved their three-year offer to free-agent utility man B. J. Surhoff yesterday, from $3 million to around $3.5 million.
Cone may be in the process of completing his deal with the Yankees. The former Cy Young Award winner will meet with owner George Steinbrenner today. Yankees general manager Bob Watson said Wednesday that he feels good about New York's chances of signing Cone.
Gillick and farm director Syd Thrift all but closed their deal with Myers late Wednesday, acquiring the power closer coveted by new manager Davey Johnson. Myers, 33, who used to pitch for Johnson with the New York Mets, will receive a signing bonus of $1 million, broken down into two payments, and a salary of $2.1 million for 1996 and $3.2 million for 1997.
"Randy is one of the premier closers in baseball," Gillick said. "He's been one of the more consistent relief pitchers in the NL."
Myers has averaged almost 40 saves over the past four seasons, leading the NL with 53 in 1993. He has received as much attention for his unique character as for his ability as a closer, however. Myers is a martial arts expert, regularly wears combat fatigues, and in the past his locker has been adorned with dud grenades and hunting knives. His entrance from the bullpen is distinct, his 230 pounds rocking from side to side on his visibly bowed legs.
But Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said yesterday that, ultimately, Myers is motivated by success, not by trying to be different.
"[Myers] is totally focused on winning," Riggleman said. "He's a winner. . . . Even the speed on the radar gun doesn't indicate he's throwing as hard anymore, he saves a lot of games. He's got a lot of presence on the mound."
When Riggleman took over the Cubs last year, he asked Myers to change parts of his routine to conform with his teammates. No more wearing a headband instead of a hat. Do the same workout as the rest of the relievers. "He was fine with it," Riggleman said.
"This guy has a tremendous routine for getting ready to pitch. People like to make fun of it, working out before games and after games. But the guy is always getting ready to save the next game."
Myers is a constant source of suggestions, Riggleman said.
"Sometimes some of these things are unusual, like pickoff plays, and people laugh at that," he said. "But the bottom line is, he's always trying to figure out a way to win."
The Cubs offered a one-year deal to Myers, wary that he would continue to pitch as he did after the All-Star break (5.61 ERA). "We just had concerns about his durability, his age, the amount of pounding his arm has taken over the years," said Chicago GM Ed Lynch.
The Toronto Blue Jays offered two years, but Myers made it clear to the Orioles he wanted to play for Johnson again.
"I think that was one of the major [factors] in my decision to go to Baltimore and switch leagues," Myers said. "Davey, to me, is 90-plus wins per year."
Leiter, too, switched leagues. Gillick met with the left-hander in Florida on Monday, and felt good about his final offer and his chances (Marlins officials insisted last night that the Orioles' final bid was $8.7 million). After entertaining offers from Florida, the Orioles and Blue Jays, Leiter decided late Wednesday he wanted to sign with Florida, his wife's home state. Leiter's agent woke up Florida GM Dave Dombrowski just before 2 a.m. yesterday morning, and they worked out the final terms shortly ++ thereafter.
After Gillick announced the signing of Myers yesterday, he returned to his office to work the phones again. He called Scott Boras, the agent for Rogers and pitcher Kevin Brown.
Boras insists Rogers, 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA for Texas last year, will sign a four-year contract -- and he'll likely want an annual salary of more than $4 million.
"The big deal is going to be the fourth year," said Boras. "Pat's history is not wanting to give up a fourth year, but when it comes down to it, that's what is going to have to happen. Baltimore's got a good chance of getting him if they want to make the right offer."
Gillick is in a bit of a quandary. He needs a left-handed starter, but there is little free-agent quality available beyond Rogers. Other teams are talking about trading for a left-hander like the Montreal Expos' Jeff Fassero, Atlanta Braves' Kent Mercker or the Cincinnati Reds' John Smiley and David Wells, but the Orioles don't have many minor-league prospects to offer.
"We've got some more work to do," Gillick said.