When Orioles general manager Pat Gillick built the Toronto Blue Jays into a championship contender, he used the Rule 5 draft as a major source of talent, plucking the likes of George Bell, Kelly Gruber and Willie Upshaw from other organizations.
Gillick is trying the same tack with the Orioles, who landed three players in yesterday's Rule 5 draft -- pitchers Mike Johnson and Tom Davey from Toronto's minor-league system, and infielder Danny Magee from the Atlanta Braves.
The Orioles will pay $50,000 for each, and must keep them on their major-league roster all season or offer them back to their original teams for $25,000. The Orioles did not lose any minor-leaguers in the draft.
The Orioles actually made a trade to acquire Johnson, 21, who went 11-8 with a 3.15 ERA for Single-A Hagerstown. The San Francisco Giants, picking third overall, agreed to pick Johnson, and in return they'll get a player to be named or cash considerations in the next few days.
The Orioles picked Davey, 23, 10-9 at Hagerstown, with their first-round pick, 22nd overall, and selected Magee, 22, in the second round. "We think it's a well-calculated risk," said Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone, "especially if you hit on one or two guys."
Those eligible for the Rule 5 draft are professionals of at least three years who aren't protected on 40-man rosters, i.e., the best of the rest. The Orioles' farm system is generally poor, particularly in position players, and successfully raiding other organizations for one or two good prospects would be a major coup.
It's unlikely any of the three will have an immediate impact in the majors. Johnson and/or Davey probably would be used in situations when the outcome of the game has been decided. Magee, who hit .299 for Single-A Durham last season, is probably going to replace Manny Alexander on the major-league roster and play about as often as Alexander did -- that is to say, almost never.
But the Orioles see potential in all three, and if they keep them all year, they can be returned to the minors in 1998. They are particularly excited about Johnson, and struck the deal with the Giants knowing that several other teams, including the Texas Rangers, intended to pick him if they had gotten the chance.
Johnson struck out 155 and walked only 39 in 162 2/3 innings. "This guy may or may not help us in 1997, but our reports on him indicate that he has a chance to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the majors," said Malone. "He has a real feel for pitching."
In other Orioles news:
The club is intent on signing shortstop Mike Bordick, who has said he'd like some sign of approval from Cal Ripken before he makes the deal. Ripken, who would move from short to third to accommodate the signing of Bordick, said yesterday that won't be a problem.
"If he wants to call me, then certainly I'll talk to him," said Ripken. "I'll talk to anyone who is in his situation or otherwise. If it's a tough decision, if he feels he wants to talk, by all means I'm available.
"I've always been open to whatever's in the best interest of the club. If the people in charge determine this is in the best interest of the club, like Earl [Weaver] did when I moved to shortstop, I [am] amenable. Nothing has changed the situation.
"Last year became sort of a controversy because of the means in which [the switch] came out. There were conflicting stories. But the people in charge -- the manager, the GM and the owner -- are in charge of determining that. I, as a player, just do what I can. That's the way it is, that's the way it always has been."
Joe Bick, who represents Bordick, said Gillick and Malone had breakfast with Bordick and his wife in Portland, Maine, on Sunday, "to make sure everybody is comfortable with each other."
Bick said nine teams have expressed interest in Bordick. "I'm sure they're all in varying degrees," Bick said. "There are probably some pretenders in there."
The Orioles met with the agent of pitcher David Wells, but it appears unlikely they'll compete with the Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians for his services. The Orioles seem to be leaning toward a trade to fill the one spot open in their rotation, and have talked to Texas about left-hander Darren Oliver.
The Orioles continue to talk to free-agent pitcher Shawn Boskie, who would be a long reliever and spot starter if the team acquires one more starter.
The Orioles are close to selling minor-league first baseman Domingo Martinez to a team from Japan.
The Orioles' chances of signing Shane Mack may be waning. Mack's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, said yesterday that the outfielder "is going forward with a couple of clubs. I had one conversation with the Orioles, but they're not as far along as some other clubs."
The Orioles could refocus on outfielder Darryl Hamilton, whose price tag is dropping from his original asking price of $11 million for three years. Hamilton's agent says he has received a one-year offer for $3.5 million from the Rangers.
The agent for outfielder Pete Incaviglia said yesterday that he has an agreement with Gillick to work out a contract with the Orioles before Incaviglia goes to arbitration.
Orioles' Rule 5 picks
Mike Johnson, RHP
Size: 6 feet 2, 175 pounds
Background: He was a shortstop in high school, in Edmonton, Alberta, where the Blue Jays discovered him quite by accident. Orioles GM Pat Gillick and two members of the Toronto scouting department saw Johnson while looking at another player, drafted him in the 17th round in '93 and converted him to pitcher.
Stats: Went 11-8 with a 3.15 ERA for Single-A Hagerstown in '96.
Strengths: He has four good pitches, with good command for his age.
Weaknesses: Quite simply, he lacks experience.
Tom Davey, RHP
Size: 6-7, 215
Background: Grew up in Michigan, and graduated from Henry Ford Community College. The Blue Jays picked him in the fifth round of the 1994 draft, and he struggled in his first year, going 2-8 with a 5.12 ERA and 59 walks in 65 innings.
Stats: He has improved, allowing 132 hits in 155 2/3 innings, with a 3.87 ERA at Hagerstown last season.
Strengths: He has a strong arm, a live fastball.
Weaknesses: He lacks command and control. He'll have to show improvement and lots of potential in spring training.
Danny Magee, IF
Size: 6-2, 175
Background: The Braves picked him in the sixth round of the 1993 draft to be a shortstop, and Atlanta's development staff moved him out of the position as he got bigger and stronger. The Orioles like his offensive potential, and he has a strong arm, as well. "The way this guy grades out," said Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone, "we think he's got a chance to be an All-Star someday."
Stats: Magee hit .299 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs at Single-A Durham last season.
Strengths: He has shown good power, and some defensive ability.
Weaknesses: He needs experience, and has average speed.