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Vision check shows O's work in dark


Will Clark, that's a good one. Didn't Orioles owner Peter Angelos reject Clark in favor of Rafael Palmeiro in 1993? Yes, but that was three managers and two general managers ago.

"Geez, that guy!" Angelos said of Clark in a 1996 interview with Sports Illustrated. "I've looked at medicals for 30 years as a lawyer. That guy had the injuries of an infantryman!"

Clark, now 34, should be about ready to qualify for a Purple Heart, but the Orioles want to enlist him in their latest Rotisserie -- War. As general manager Frank Wren said yesterday, "He's probably the top guy at first base right now."

Bring him in. Bring 'em all in. Give Albert Belle a no-trade clause! Give Delino DeShields a three-year contract! Tickets go on sale this morning, and the Roto Rooters are lining up outside.

Special assistant to the GM Syd Thrift declared that the Orioles hit the trifecta yesterday, introducing Charles Johnson at a news conference, then announcing the signings of DeShields and B. J. Surhoff.

Of course, only the Orioles could hit a trifecta that will cost them more than $30 million, depending on how Johnson fares in his arbitration, with the ever-compassionate Scott Boras at his side.

Hey, it's only tobacco money -- why get upset?

Because the Orioles' convictions run about as deep as a politician's. Because their plans are forever subject to change. Because they're making up the off-season as they go.

They're likely to offer Clark two years this time, not five. But losing Palmeiro and signing Clark -- that's a good one. Putting Clark and Belle in the same clubhouse -- that's even better.

Has anyone considered the chemical eruption that might result from pairing two such combustible Louisiana natives? Does anyone in this organization think even a minute ahead anymore?

The Orioles aren't the only AL East team operating curiously -- the Blue Jays are preparing to trade Roger Clemens, and the Red Sox seem to have surrendered after failing to sign Bernie Williams to replace Mo Vaughn.

Still, the pursuit of Clark is yet another symbol of where the Orioles stand -- or don't stand, to be more accurate.


The loss of Palmeiro. Wren has every right to be angry at the first baseman for treating him so duplicitously, costing him Robin Ventura and ruining his first off-season.

The rest of the organization has no case.

Palmeiro asked for a five-year, $50 million deal in January. What did the Orioles end up offering him as a free agent? Five years and $50 million.

Meanwhile, the one deal they completed with a potential free agent -- Scott Erickson for five years and $32 million -- is looking better and better.

The Orioles could have attempted to sign Palmeiro during the season. They could have attempted to trade him. But once Palmeiro became a free agent, they were no longer in control.

Wren accused Palmeiro of "blindsiding" him, but that's free agency. Why did Palmeiro became an Oriole in the first place? Because the Texas Rangers blindsided him, signing Clark.

The potential $17.5 million payout to Surhoff. In this case, the Orioles didn't lose the player, but may have cost themselves millions.

Surhoff, 34, would have accepted a three-year, $13.5 million contract at midseason. The Orioles wound up guaranteeing him $14 million as a free agent, with an easily attainable option that would push the total value to $17.5 million.

Remember that the next time the Orioles announce a ticket-price increase, citing rising player costs.

The three-year commitment to DeShields. The Orioles needed to form a one-year bridge to Jerry Hairston, their second baseman of the future. Instead, they built the Golden Gate for DeShields.

Wren wants Hairston, Calvin Pickering and Ryan Minor to play at Triple-A next season, and that's fine. But DeShields' previous team, St. Louis, considered moving him to the outfield, and didn't fight to keep him.

"He had three years with the potential of four in some other places," Wren said. "We felt very comfortable with three years. With Charles [Johnson] 27 and Delino 29, we've gotten a little younger."

Well, Hairston is 22.

How do you think he's feeling right about now?

The four-year commitment to Mike Timlin. Again, why go that far? Timlin said initially that the New York Yankees offered him four years, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman denied making him any offer, and Seattle GM Woody Woodward proposed only a three-year deal.

"There was another club," Wren said. "I was pretty well aware of what was going on. From being at the GMs' meetings, I had an idea which clubs were interested, just from the scuttlebutt of scouts working the lobby."

Timlin's agent, David Sloane, said more than one other club extended a four-year offer, but declined to name the teams, saying it might anger their closers.

The no-trade clause for Belle. No other team wanted Uncle Albert. And now no other team can get him.

"When you've got a contract of that stature, you've got a $H no-trade built in," Wren said. "It's not easy to trade a player who has that kind of contract."

Interesting Wren should say that -- he was part of the Marlins' front office that traded Gary Sheffield to Los Angeles last season. It only cost the Marlins $5 million to persuade Sheffield to waive his no-trade clause -- a $2.5 million payment, plus the cancellation of a $2.5 million loan. The Dodgers contributed another $2.5 million.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how Belle became a free agent -- his contract gave him that option if his average salary fell out of the top three, and the payments to Sheffield dropped him to fourth.

Touching, isn't it?

We now rejoin yesterday's news conference, with Wren describing Surhoff as "one of the best defensive left fielders in the American League."

That's right, Surhoff apparently will remain in left next season, the result of a vow he received from manager Ray Miller during negotiations.

Left field is where he belongs, but now Miller must shift Belle to right. Perhaps that's why Surhoff kept his options open yesterday.

Where are you playing, B. J.?

"Right out there," Surhoff said, pointing to the field.

But where?

"Somewhere in the green area."

But seriously, B. J.

"That's a serious answer."

Later, Wren was discussing Surhoff's options when B. J. interrupted.

"I cover his butt in the end," Surhoff said, the room erupting in laughter.

Maybe the Orioles can spend enough to cover all of their behinds. Or maybe they're being exposed, once and for all.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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