One of two developments is almost certain by week's end: free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro will accept the Orioles' five-year, $45 million offer to return or Cal Ripken will undergo his second position switch in three years.
The attempt by the Orioles to retain Palmeiro was complicated yesterday by the entrance into the bidding of the free-spending Arizona Diamondbacks and the renewed interest of the Randy Johnson-less Texas Rangers.
The Orioles' offer to their three-time team MVP includes $10 million deferred at no interest. The Rangers, Palmeiro's team prior to coming to Baltimore before the 1994 season, and the Diamondbacks also are believed to have offered five years while the Boston Red Sox appear to be slipping from consideration.
Palmeiro's negotiations are entering a "sensitive" stage, according to a source familiar with the process, and a decision is likely within the next two days.
Unsure of whether Palmeiro will re-sign, Orioles general manager Frank Wren continues to negotiate with Chicago White Sox free-agent third baseman Robin Ventura. The Orioles have offered Ventura a four-year deal worth $28 million-$30 million.
Should Ventura land at Camden Yards, it would necessitate the transfer of Ripken to first base. Manager Ray Miller already has broached the possibility with Ripken. Before signing with the Orioles, Ventura would do the same.
"If he went there he would have to feel Cal is open to doing it. Robin wouldn't come without showing proper respect to Cal," Ventura's agent, John Boggs, said yesterday.
Palmeiro has won consecutive Gold Glove awards at first base and Ripken led all American League third basemen in fielding percentage last season. Both men have endured significant injuries in recent seasons. Ripken was slowed by a herniated disk in his lower back in 1997 while Ventura missed much of the season after suffering a gruesome break of his right leg before the '97 season.
Club officials concede Ripken, 38, is not expected to remain at third base beyond the 1999 season. However, committing to Ventura for four seasons would appear to signal a decreased commitment to prospects Ryan Minor and Willis Otanez.
Minor, who once caused Miller to wonder about him playing shortstop, has become part of trade talks for New York Mets catcher Todd Hundley.
The Mets, who also have interest in Ventura along with the Red Sox, will meet with Orioles free-agent outfielder B. J. Surhoff today. Over the weekend, the Orioles improved their offer to Surhoff, adding a vesting option for a fourth year that would kick in if Surhoff starts 130 games and would bring the total package to $17 million. The deal, for $13.5 million over three years without the option, also includes a $1 million buyout.
Surhoff's best offer remains the four-year deal from Pittsburgh .. worth slightly more than $16.5 million.
The Mets were hosts to Brian Jordan two weeks ago, eventually made him an offer and seemed to accomplish little more than increase his negotiating leverage before the outfielder turned down the Orioles and signed with Atlanta.
Mets general manager Steve Phillips told the New York Times he felt there were similarities in today's meeting with Surhoff, "but I also see some differences, too."
Five of the Orioles' six minor-league affiliates will have new managers for the 1999 season. The only holdover is Joe Ferguson, who is approaching his third year at Double-A Bowie.
Dave Machemer will move up from lower Single-A Delmarva to Triple-A Rochester, replacing Marv Foley, who was named the Orioles' first base coach after four seasons with the Red Wings. Machemer spent one season at Delmarva, posting an 81-61 record. He has been a minor-league manager and instructor for 14 years, including nine in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.
Butch Davis, who spent two seasons with the Orioles' Gulf Coast League entry, will take over for Machemer. Jesus Alfaro, one of Davis' coaches last season, has been promoted to manager of the Gulf Coast team.
Delmarva also will have a new pitching coach, Moe Drabowsky, who has been the Orioles' minor-league pitching coordinator the past four seasons. Drabowsky replaces Dave Schmidt, who has joined Ferguson's staff.
Former Orioles bench coach Andy Etchebarren has moved up from rookie-league Bluefield, where he compiled a 33-34 record xTC last season, to Single-A Frederick. One of his coaches will be another former Oriole, Floyd Rayford, who was an instructor in the Brewers' organization last year.
Also, Bo McLaughlin has been named minor-league pitching coordinator and Dave Stockstill minor-league hitting instructor. McLaughlin had been pitching coach at Bowie last season.
Denny Walling has rejoined the organization as a roving hitting instructor, the same job he held in 1995. He had been the Oakland A's hitting coach the past three years.
The Orioles still haven't named a manager at Bluefield.
Pub Date: 12/01/98