The New York Yankees have restated their interest in Orioles left fielder B. J. Surhoff and are apparently willing to discuss a combination of prospects in order to further galvanize a clubhouse strengthened this month by the additions of pitcher Denny Neagle and outfielders David Justice and Glenallen Hill. While no deal is believed imminent, next Monday's waiver deadline lends greater urgency to these discussions than those that involved Ricky Ledee for Surhoff.
The Orioles backed away from a deal involving Ledee because the Orioles thought the fourth outfielder and a prospect insufficient return for the team's incumbent Most Valuable Player.
Ledee became the centerpiece for the Justice deal. Yankees left fielder Shane Spencer was subsequently injured, causing the Yankees to acquire Hill.
According to today's editions of the New York Times, executives from the teams have exchanged a handful of possible trade combinations. The Yankees offered David Walling, a Double-A right-hander who was their first-round draft pick last year, as well as a second prospect, to be picked from a list of three: Double-A shortstop Erick Almonte, Triple-A pitcher Ryan Bradley and Double-A pitcher Brian Rogers.
Since majority owner Peter Angelos declared early this month there would be no "fire sale" involving his team's veterans, the Orioles have discovered a market unwilling to part with major-league-ready talent. The Orioles refused to part with pitcher Scott Erickson before he gained veto power over any deal because they were unable to leverage a pitcher ready to be fill Erickson's spot in the rotation. The Orioles continue to test the market for catcher Charles Johnson and shortstop Mike Bordick, both pending free agents. The New York Mets have stepped up their pursuit of Bordick after an abortive attempt to acquire Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.
Surhoff may carry additional value because his contract runs through next season with a vesting option for 2002. The Yankees inquired earlier this season about Brady Anderson as well. Though Anderson also enjoys veto power over any deal, his representatives have notified the club he would accept a deal to a desirable situation. The two-time defending champion Yankees are believed to fit that description.
Asked about the Mets rumors before last night's game, Bordick said, "You can't really do anything about that. In this day and age, you just accept that as part of the game. You prepare yourself for the game tonight and the team that you're playing against.
"What's on my mind right now is this series with the Yankees. It's big for us," he said.
Bordick can become a free agent after this season, and his timing couldn't be much better. He is batting .302 with a career-high 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Two weeks ago, he was named to his first All-Star team.
Not that Bordick is looking to go anywhere. He often has stated his preference to remain with the Orioles, who signed him as a free agent on Dec. 12, 1996.
Doesn't he find the chance to enter a pennant race intriguing?
"For the Orioles, I do," he said. "My focus is here. When I came over here I saw a great opportunity for the Orioles to make the postseason. Fortunately we did that the first season, and there are high hopes for getting back there and doing better things. I certainly want to be a part of that here."
It's conceivable the Orioles could trade Bordick and then re-sign him over the winter, as they did with Harold Baines, who brought two pitching prospects from the Indians last summer before rejoining the club. He'd rather not take that chance, however.
"Who knows what would happen? I just put all my attention on our team right here. This team's been through a lot already in the first half. We're trying to overcome the start we had and finish up strong," he said.
Off to a blistering start
The blister on Jose Mercedes' right middle finger barely is visible, but he knows it'll return.
Mercedes had to leave Saturday's game after seven innings and 98 pitches when the blister developed near the tip of his finger. He said it's a normal occurrence, and there's little the club can do except provide treatment.
"It happens every start," said Mercedes, at 5-4 the only Orioles starter with a winning record. "It was pretty big, but they drained the blood out of it. It's fine now."
Minor 'doing well' in rehab
Ryan Minor, on the disabled list retroactive to July 5 with a strained rib cage muscle, is playing with the rookie-league Gulf Coast Orioles in Sarasota, Fla. He flew there last week while his teammates were preparing for their trip to Toronto.
"He's swinging the bat and doing well from what I understand," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But whether we keep him down there three days or five days or two weeks, I don't know. When he's ready to come back, he'll come back."
Rain, rain go away
Yankees left fielder and Maryland Eastern Shore native Ryan Thompson was still waiting last night for his first chance to take batting practice at Camden Yards.
Thompson, who lives in Rock Hall, has played at Oriole Park twice in his major-league career and both times batting practice was rained out. BP was scratched last night because of an all-day rain and it was wiped out in 1996 by rain when he came here as a member of the Indians, who were dueling the Orioles in the playoffs.
"You know how much I've looked forward to BP here?" said Thompson, who did get to start last night and was 1-for-2 with a walk. "It will happen sometime. The main thing I need to do is stay in the major leagues now that I've received another chance."
Around the horn
Mariano Rivera moved past Goose Gossage into sole possession of second place on the Yankees' save list (152). Dave Righetti has 224. ... Jake Westbrook, hit hard in two starts for the Yankees this season, and minor-league pitcher Zach Day were sent to the Indians to complete the Justice-Ledee trade June 29. ... Orioles pitcher Pat Rapp will sign autographs from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday at the Babe Ruth Museum.
Staff writer Bill Free and the Associated Press contributed to this article.