The Orioles' payroll is skyrocketing, and the team should surpass the $50 million spent in salaries last year. But club officials are considering one more big expenditure, to fill the glaring need for a good right-handed hitter.
"We're a little short of right-handed power," general manager Pat Gillick said. "We need another right-handed bat in there."
The Orioles are considering the idea of adding someone like Greg Vaughn, a free agent. According to league sources, the other names being tossed around include: Kevin Seitzer or Julio Franco of Cleveland, possibly available in trades; Danny Tartabull, a free agent; Cecil Fielder, who has demanded a trade from the New York Yankees; Geronimo Berroa, who hit 36 homers for Oakland last year and might become available if the Athletics deal for Jose Canseco; and perhaps Canseco himself, although he has said he'd like to return to Boston since Tim Naehring re-signed and Gillick called Canseco "not a very dependable guy."
The Orioles already have $41.55 million committed to 12 players for 1997. And that's not including players such as Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills, or accounting for a solid utility infielder, such as Tony Fernandez, players who will push the payroll to around $50 million, more than the $48 million payroll the Orioles compiled at the start of the '96 season.
Beyond $51 million, the Orioles will be assessed a 35 percent tax on every dollar spent, according to the terms of the new labor agreement.
The Orioles are going to be much improved defensively, with an infield of Mike Bordick at short, Cal Ripken at third and Roberto Alomar at second. But they are lacking a strong right-handed hitter, the type of hitter who won't come cheaply. Vaughn hit 41 homers for Milwaukee and San Diego last season, and could be in line for a $5 million deal.
Vaughn's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, said he had some preliminary discussions with the Orioles and the team tried to reach him yesterday. Goldschmidt said two teams, not including the Orioles, are seriously pursuing Vaughn. The agent said Vaughn would like to come back to the American League.
"Greg is 31 years old, in the prime of his career, and he can blow [departed outfielder] Bobby Bonilla away," Goldschmidt said. "The things that Greg could do in that ballpark [Camden Yards], with that lineup are scary."
In the wake of the Bordick signing, Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone said, "As far as big expenditures, this could be it. But we're always surveying and evaluating the market, and if the right player became available, our interest might be piqued."
The right-handed hitter would be a designated hitter or outfielder.
"We've got to get another pitcher, and we need another catcher and probably some backup players, too," Gillick said.
Among the holes the Orioles haven't filled:
Outfield: If the season were to start today, the Orioles would start Brady Anderson in center, B. J. Surhoff in left and a platoon of Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Tarasco in right. But Hammonds could be traded, and the Orioles will look to fill right or left with a quality hitter.
Designated hitter: Right now, Orioles manager Davey Johnson would fill this spot with a potpourri of players, from Pete Incaviglia to Chris Hoiles on a day he's not catching, to the likes of Surhoff and Alomar and Ripken when they are rested. But if the Orioles acquired someone like Franco or Seitzer or perhaps Vaughn, they would hold down this spot.
Utility infielder: The Orioles have made an offer to free agent Fernandez, and Manny Alexander could be on the way out.
"Sooner or later it could happen," Gillick said of the possibility of signing Fernandez. "We might try to do something with Manny. We might try to trade him."
Backup catcher: There isn't much available now among free agents, beyond the usual suspects -- Joe Oliver, Dave Valle. The Orioles may try to make a trade to fill this spot (Montreal's Darrin Fletcher?).
Starting pitcher: The Orioles need a No. 5 starter, and are close to signing Shawn Boskie. But he or Rick Krivda won't necessarily get the job; the Orioles have talked to Texas about a trade for left-hander Darren Oliver, a deal that would likely involve Mills.
At this point, Gillick said the 1997 Orioles compare favorably with last season's team.
"We're probably defensively better off, offensively, not as good," Gillick said. "Pitching-wise, I think in my mind we're probably better. I really kind of prefer [Jimmy] Key to [David] Wells."
O's top '97 salaries
Player .................... Salary
Cal Ripken ................ $6,200,000
Mike Mussina -- x ......... $5,000,000
Roberto Alomar -- y ....... $4,300,000
Jimmy Key -- z ............ $4,000,000
Brady Anderson ............ $4,000,000
Raf. Palmeiro -- zz ....... $3,500,000
Chris Hoiles .............. $3,500,000
Randy Myers ............... $3,200,000
Scott Erickson ............ $3,200,000
Mike Bordick -- z ......... $2,500,000
B.J. Surhoff .............. $1,300,000
Jesse Orosco .............. $850,000
Total ..................... $41,550,000
x -- He's eligible for arbitration; estimate for '98
y -- Doesn't include $1.7 million deferred
z -- Including signing bonus
zz -- Doesn't include $1.5 million deferred
Pub Date: 12/14/96