The Baltimore Orioles have asked the American League office to check into the physical and mental health of infielder Jackie Gutierrez, and team officials said yesterday their trade with the Boston Red Sox for him is on hold until they get some answers.
What the Orioles have at this point are serious questions about a player who was supposed to be an important part of their 1986 team. They have no idea whether Gutierrez will be able to play in 1986, and a team source said the Orioles have considered asking the Red Sox to give them another player instead.
Gutierrez was obtained from the Red Sox for reliever Sammy Stewart in December, and, at the time, the Orioles said they hoped Gutierrez, strictly a shortstop for Boston, would win the starting third baseman's job. That would allow current third baseman Floyd Rayford to move behind the plate and replace 36-year-old Rick Dempsey.
But Gutierrez has had a troubled winter. First, he was released by two winter league teams in Latin America, and teammates have told several scouts that Gutierrez was in frequent fights and had other problems off the field.
The Orioles dispatched a club official to his home city of Cartagena, Colombia, to check on him. The club won't say if that official ever got in touch with Gutierrez, but a source did say the Orioles have not been able to persuade Gutierrez to come to Miami for a checkup.
Two Orioles officials said recently that, regardless of Gutierrez's situation, they didn't want Stewart back. But when asked yesterday if they might want another player, General Manager Hank Peters answered:
"It's being checked into. I have no comment right now."
But team owner Edward Bennett Williams said, "The way it stands is: Gutierrez is due back in the States to be checked out. We don't know when he's coming.
"We have heard those rumors about some emotional problems. I don't know what his situation is. But we want to know before the trade is validated."
A Red Sox official said early yesterday the Orioles had discussed getting another player, but he appeared to back off those statements later in the day.
However, a spokesman for the American League said the Orioles had asked the league to check into Gutierrez's circumstances and especially want to know if Gutierrez was ill when the trade was made.
Red Sox pitcher Al Nipper said yesterday that he had seen Gutierrez recently and that he appeared to be fine.
Gutierrez's agent and his brother said the player has had problems, but would report to Miami along with other Orioles regulars Feb. 28.
"He had some emotional problems, some mental things," said Francisco Gutierrez, who lives in Miami. "He was treated by some Colombian doctors. He's doing fine, and he'll be able to play."
Gutierrez's agent, Jim Turner of St. Louis, also said Gutierrez would be fine.
"He's feeling comfortable, and he'll be able to play," Turner said. "I've heard all the speculation about him having drug problems, and all that. That's just not true. He had a bad season hurting his leg early in the year and finishing with 23 errors and a .218 batting average in 103 games after hitting .263 in 151 games the year before .
"He then had a bad winter. He needed time to relax, and the relaxation was his therapy. His family had some concerns about him, but I've spoken with him. He's fine, and he's looking forward to playing for the Orioles."
A week before he was scheduled to go to arbitration, outfielder Mike Young agreed yesterday to a one-year, $400,000 contract.
The Orioles had offered Young $370,000, and Young's agent was seeking $430,000. The only Orioles still unsigned are pitcher Ken Dixon and outfielder Larry Sheets, but neither has enough major league service to be eligible for arbitration.