The Orioles apparently have entered the bidding for five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens by offering a package of at least three players to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this week, a source familiar with the trade talks said yesterday.
Committed to obtaining a premier starting pitcher as the off-season's No. 1 objective, Orioles general manager Frank Wren is prepared to deal a left-handed reliever, believed to be Arthur Rhodes, along with two significant prospects, second baseman Jerry Hairston and third baseman Ryan Minor.
Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash said a "surprise" suitor entered the bidding for Clemens on Tuesday, but Ash declined to mention the Orioles by name. Ash said he hopes a trade will be finalized at baseball's winter meetings, which begin tomorrow in Nashville, Tenn.
Clemens, 36, captured his second consecutive Cy Young Award after going 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA last season. He has served two years of a four-year, $31 million contract but recently requested a trade because of a perception that the Blue Jays are no longer contenders in the AL East.
Clemens' contract sets two conditions for where he may be traded: His new team must either be considered a contender or be located in his home state, Texas.
The Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels are known candidates. According to Ash, Clemens' agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks, are deliberating over whether the surprise entry fits the definition of a contender.
The Blue Jays are seeking left-handed pitching and a second baseman as part of a package for Clemens. Though they already have lost right-handed relievers Armando Benitez and Alan Mills since last season, the Orioles are prepared to rebuild the bullpen after fortifying the starting rotation. Clemens, whom the Orioles discussed before acquiring teammate Juan Guzman last July, fits the profile.
"We're not working with any clubs that don't fit the criteria of contender," Ash said. "[But] how strong they fit into that criteria is something he [Clemens] has to feel comfortable with. But, no, we're not going to take less from Club X over Club Y just because it's something he feels better about."
Clemens has said he wants a contract extension from his new team. Given the alternative -- offering free agent Kevin Brown a six-year deal approaching $85 million -- the Orioles would see the condition as a relative bargain.
Wren did not return phone calls last night.
The Orioles have discussed Minor with several teams. Considered the organization's most visible position prospect, Minor turns 25 in January and is blocked from making the major-league club until at least 2000 by the presence of Cal Ripken at third base and Will Clark at first.
Ripken's contract includes a club option for 2000. If the option is exercised, Minor would face trying to break through as a 27-year-old rookie.
Hairston, 22, ascended from Rookie-level Bluefield to Baltimore in less than two full seasons despite undergoing a position switch from shortstop to second base last season.
Considered a possibility to share time with Jeff Reboulet as an answer to Roberto Alomar's departure via free agency, Hairston received seven at-bats last September.
Wren ultimately judged it better to sign free agent Delino DeShields to a three-year, $12.5 million contract than to "go light" at the position.
Whether or not the Orioles acquire Clemens, they are committed to dealing one of their left-handed relievers during the next week, if not for Clemens, then for right-handed relief help.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the Yankees have expressed a willingness to trade Andy Pettitte in a package for Clemens, but that the teams are not close to agreeing on the parameters for a deal.
An executive involved in the Toronto trade talks said that within the discussions of possible combinations, the Yankees have indicated that they are willing to deal Pettitte, whom they refused to trade repeatedly in recent years; third baseman Mike Lowell, who became expendable once the Yankees re-signed Scott Brosius to a three-year, $15.75 million deal; and second baseman Homer Bush.
Pub Date: 12/10/98