The Orioles have compiled a list of free-agent catchers they'd like to pursue and have begun contacting agents for the players.
The Orioles talked with the representative for catcher Joe Girardi yesterday and assistant general manager Kevin Malone also confirmed the Orioles' interest in Benito Santiago, Kirt Manwaring and Terry Steinbach, all of whom have filed for free agency.
Malone said the Orioles would like to pursue those players after the free-agent filing period ends Nov. 14. After that, teams can make offers to free agents.
However, with major-league owners rejecting a proposed collective bargaining agreement, the Philadelphia Phillies retain their repeater rights to Santiago, 31, and the Oakland Athletics do the same with Steinbach, 34, meaning those teams can keep the players by offering salary arbitration.
But Santiago (.264 average, 30 home runs and 85 RBIs in 1996) and Steinbach (.272, 35, 100) both are coming off big seasons and would likely be awarded high salaries in arbitration. The A's and Phillies want to downsize their payrolls.
"We're evaluating the potential catching free agents," Malone said. "We would like to improve at that position if possible. We'd like to add a guy that could help carry the load and give [catcher] Chris Hoiles the possibility to DH so he would not have to carry such a heavy load."
Malone spoke with Girardi's agent yesterday and said he was impressed with the catcher's work with the New York Yankees this year. Girardi, who is not subject to repeater rights, is noted for his defensive excellence and hit .294 with two homers and 45 RBIs in 1996.
Alan Nero, Girardi's agent, called the Orioles to ask if they were interested in free-agent starter Mark Leiter, and was told the club has interest in Leiter and Girardi. Leiter, a 33-year-old right-hander, was 8-12 with a 4.92 in 1996, but was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA after his trade from the San Francisco Giants to the Montreal Expos.
The Orioles continue to pursue a free-agent shortstop as well, with Cal Ripken likely to be shifted to third base next year.
Malone spoke yesterday with representatives for free-agent shortstops Shawon Dunston, another repeater rights player, and Kevin Elster. The Orioles also have contacted the agent for A's free-agent shortstop Mike Bordick, but Bordick's status was subject to players being awarded service time for the 1994 lockout. No new agreement eliminated that possibility. Colorado Rockies shortstop Walt Weiss could be another option for the Orioles to pursue, should he be made available in a trade.
Dunston, 33, hit .300 for the San Francisco Giants this year. Elster, 32, who played for Orioles manager Davey Johnson as a New York Met, had a career year with the Texas Rangers, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 99 runs.
"It's nice to know they're interested in Kevin," said Patrick Elster, the shortstop's agent. "That's terrific. Obviously we're interested in them Baltimore would be a nice fit for us."
Malone said the Orioles also could have interest in Atlanta Braves free-agent starter Steve Avery, 26, depending on his health. Avery struggled last year with a 7-10 record and 4.47 ERA but was 65-52 with a 3.75 ERA prior to 1996.
"We'd have interest in a healthy Avery," Malone said. "I think he's on a list of interest, but we're just not sure of his health."
Yesterday's rejection of a labor proposal also left four Orioles free agents in limbo. The Orioles hold repeater rights to outfielder Bobby Bonilla, reliever Jesse Orosco, DH Eddie Murray and catcher Mark Parent.
Malone said the Orioles would offer Orosco arbitration if they couldn't sign him by Nov. 14. The team has not decided yet if it would do the same for Bonilla and Murray. Parent was offered only a minor-league contract and is all but assured of playing elsewhere next year.
Pub Date: 11/07/96