PHOENIX -- What began as an expected assault on the Orioles' minor-league pitching depth escalated into a run on major-league contributors during yesterday's expansion draft.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays spent the 18th overall pick on right-handed power pitcher Esteban Yan -- a move the Orioles had anticipated -- before the Arizona Diamondbacks took outfielder Dave Dellucci with the 17th pick of the second round and the Devil Rays returned in the third round to take utility infielder Aaron Ledesma. Whether the subtraction ended last night is uncertain.
"We kept our ballclub for '98 pretty much intact," said general manager Pat Gillick, surprised by the overwhelming drift of the draft toward prospects. "Of the three, Ledesma played the largest role [last year]. He was up for the longest period of time. As far as the rest, I thought we stayed intact."
The Devil Rays ended a night of furious player movement by dealing for Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff, a move with serious ramifications for the Orioles as the Braves intend to devote their savings to pursue free-agent center fielder Brady Anderson. The Braves will meet with Anderson's agent, Jeff Borris, this morning. They are expected to offer a three-year package worth at least $21 million. Borris, meanwhile, says he expects Anderson to be signed by week's end and is no longer optimistic he will return to Baltimore.
"I'm not optimistic. I'm not optimistic at all," said Borris, who allowed the Orioles may choose to wait until Anderson receives "hard" offers from elsewhere before improving their bid.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has waited for Anderson to call him since last weekend. The two have spoken five times in the last three weeks, but the club's four-year, $23 million offer has not improved. Anderson, 33, is seeking $7 million to $8 million per season.
He is willing to accept less money from the Orioles but wants greater security.
"I think the Jay Bell deal [five years, $34 million] may have raised expectations, not just on the part of Brady but on the part of other people," Angelos said. "If the demand is five years and $7 million, it's not going to happen."
Angelos has remained confident that Anderson's allegiance to the city and the organization would overcome any financial discrepancy with another team's offer. However, the market's upheaval since the Bell signing may have changed that.
"I don't think there's any question he wants to play for Baltimore and there's no question we want him to do that. But we have our limits financially," Angelos said.
Angelos cited last season's $62 million payroll as necessitating restraint but denied the club is operating under a self-imposed salary cap.
"We've held the line. We've tried to be responsible. We're not going to play the role other teams have and literally raise players' salaries to levels that can't be sustained by the sport," Angelos said.
The Orioles' attempt to re-sign closer Randy Myers may have been complicated by the Devil Rays' signing of free agent Roberto Hernandez to a four-year, $22.5 million deal. The Orioles have offered Myers, 35, a two-year deal plus an option.
Last night's losses don't dramatically affect the Orioles' outlook for next season though it may push them to re-sign free-agent utility infielder Jeff Reboulet. The departure of Ledesma, who batted .352 in 88 at-bats last season, represented a solid backup presence at every infield position.
Yan, 23, enjoyed a dominant minor-league season as he shifted from the bullpen to the rotation at Triple-A Rochester. As a starter, the right-hander went 8-2 with a 2.28 ERA and earned the first of two promotions to Baltimore on Aug. 17.
After the first round, the Orioles pulled back three more players -- two pitchers and a position player. According to assistant GM Kevin Malone, there was discussion about protecting Dellucci, but a decision was made to secure more veteran talent. The Orioles exposed veteran relievers Jesse Orosco, Terry Mathews and Alan Mills to the first round. Mills is believed to have been one of the three pullbacks.
"We think we have a chance to win in '98. [Dellucci] was a guy we were projecting for '99," Malone said.
Dellucci, 24, became a popular figure in Baltimore last season after being promoted May 31 following the absence of right fielder Eric Davis. Dellucci, who had 20 homers with 55 RBIs and a .327 average at Double-A Bowie, batted .222 with a home run and three RBIs in 17 games. The Orioles protected minor-league outfielders Eugene Kingsale and Danny Clyburn ahead of him. Three more players -- a pitcher and two position players -- were protected after the second round. Pitcher Steve Montgomery and catcher Mel Rosario were among those pulled back.
As 17 teams participated in the swap frenzy, the Orioles unsuccessfully trawled for a trade. A deal for Florida Marlins left-hander Al Leiter collapsed after the Devil Rays chose Yan, who would have been involved in a package.
The Orioles were hopeful of making a deal but were also resigned to losing Yan.
"It was pretty much unanimous among everybody that he would be the guy we'd lose," Gillick said.
"I figured we'd lose Yan. If you look at the [draft] board he has the best arm up there. He was a no-brainer," Malone said.
Yan, the organization's pitcher of the month in June and July, struggled last season in Baltimore. He was rocked for 17 earned runs and 20 hits in 9 2/3 innings.
The Orioles remain unsure whether their losses would stop last night as Braves general manager John Schuerholz confirmed yesterday he has significant interest in Anderson. By deleting McGriff's $5.25 million salary, the Braves have freed themselves to pursue Anderson as their No. 1 off-season priority.
The Orioles' organization was stunned by the contract given Bell by the Diamondbacks on Monday. The $6.8 million average and the length of contract have been almost universally criticized by industry executives who expected the market to settle this off-season. The Diamondbacks may also become involved for Anderson, who is coveted by the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Gillick insists he is still hopeful of signing Anderson but there is also frustration within the organization that the issue has reached this point. Malone had attempted to act as a go-between between player and owner during the season, but Anderson chose to speak directly with Angelos.
Meanwhile, manager Ray Miller continues to press toward completing his coaching staff. Miller said he hopes to name the last two members of his staff by early next week. Longtime Dominican scout Carlos Bernhardt is expected to fill one slot and Miller conceded that former Oriole Eddie Murray will "hopefully" accept an offer to become first base coach.
Pub Date: 11/19/97