O's find price for front-line starter isn't right Club unwilling to part with prospects; major deal with Braves falls through


DETROIT -- With tomorrow's midnight waiver deadline fast approaching, the Orioles believe it will take a late shift in the market for them to acquire a front-line starting pitcher.

According to club sources, the Montreal Expos rejected a multi-player offer for left-hander Carlos Perez, and the St. Louis Cardinals have demanded third base prospect Ryan Minor be included in any deal for Todd Stottlemyre.

The Orioles apparently will not part with top position prospects, including Minor, Calvin Pickering, Jayson Werth, Darnell McDonald and Jerry Hairston, and the club only reluctantly discusses pitcher Chris Fussell.

General manager Pat Gillick yesterday described the Orioles' chances of making any deal as "50-50" but downplayed the possibility of a high-visibility acquisition.

That opportunity may have passed, according to sources familiar with the situation, when the Orioles and Atlanta Braves failed to agree on a mega-trade that could have moved second baseman Roberto Alomar and closer Armando Benitez to Atlanta for a starting pitcher -- Kevin Millwood or Denny Neagle -- plus a significant prospect. The deal apparently unraveled when Braves general manager John Schuerholz declined demands for a better prospect.

Although Gillick said the club no longer believes a trade for a top starting pitcher likely, he acknowledged that the major-league roster is not off-limits.

"We'd give up a certain level of prospect in a deal. We'd give up somebody off this club," he said.

That player could be outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds. However, his health has made him a question mark to all interested teams. A herniated disk and a sore left wrist that have kept him out of the lineup for almost the past two months. Hammonds is an especially marketable commodity to a small-market franchise because he is signed through 2000.

While prospects for acquiring a starter may be shrinking, the Orioles also have discussed making a late pitch for Oakland Athletics reliever Mike Fetters, a pending free agent. Fetters is best known locally for surrendering back-to-back, game-losing home runs against the Orioles last Wednesday and Thursday.

Club officials confirm that there is lingering interest in Alomar but manager Ray Miller said yesterday that he would be shocked if Alomar was involved in a deadline deal. Alomar remains on the disabled list with an injured pinkie on his right hand.

Webster's vested interest

Tuesday night's win was special to catcher Lenny Webster in several ways. Not only did he slam his career-high ninth home run, but he also appeared in his 70th game, automatically guaranteeing his contract for next season.

"It's a big deal when you know you have a contract and you know you'll be playing in Baltimore next season," Webster said. "For a guy like me, that means an awful lot. I'm in a place where I love to play. And to know I'm going to be there again next year unless I'm traded. That's something I haven't had too often in my career."

Webster reached the goal while enjoying one of the most productive stretches of his 10-year major-league career. He is batting .292 with 36 RBIs. In his past 10 games with an at-bat, he is hitting .452 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

Webster, 33, will earn at least $670,000 next season with any incentives achieved this season added to his 1999 base salary.

The injury front

Miller continues to predict Harold Baines' return from the disabled list for this weekend in Kansas City. The left-handed designated hitter is expected to toss in the outfield before this afternoon's game and may take batting practice tomorrow.

Baines has made only one start since straining his left hamstring June 22. He retains the team batting lead with a .328 average and had hit .371 in his previous 30 games before the injury. Without Baines, Miller manages without a left-handed hitter on the bench vs. right-handed pitching.

Miller emphasized yesterday that Baines' return will not necessarily mean Eric Davis will be benched. Instead, Davis could see time in right field against right-handed pitching, leaving Rich Becker on the bench.

Hammonds, bothered by a sore left wrist, is tentatively scheduled to start today against Detroit Tigers left-hander Justin Thompson.

The return of reliever Arthur Rhodes is still unclear. He has not yet been cleared to resume throwing. Rhodes has not pitched since July 4.

Around the horn

Cal Ripken left last night's game after the Orioles batted in the sixth. He played his 2,650th game, moving ahead of Joe Morgan for 27th place on the career list. When Jimmy Key makes his first start since May 20 today, he finishes a frustrating chapter of a bruised season. The Orioles' Opening Day rotation had all been active for only 20 days before Key was activated Tuesday. Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Kamieniecki have missed a combined 30 starts. Doug Johns ranks second in a rather subtle category. The left-hander has seven pickoffs, leaving him only one behind Athletics starter Kenny Rogers for the AL lead. Rogers has pitched 152 innings, Johns 64 2/3 . Pickering, the Bowie Baysox's first baseman, was named Double-A Eastern League Player of the Week, and then went out and hit three home runs in last night's game.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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