The Baltimore Orioles traded another part of their past and present for a future investment today, sending 40-year-old designated hitter Harold Baines to the Cleveland Indians in a waiver trade for two minor league pitchers. The deal cost the Orioles their most consistent run-producer and silent leader, but added to their stockpile of promising, young arms.
"In the two trades we've made, this one and the Juan Guzman deal, we've been able to get four players who are pretty significant," General Manager Frank Wren said. "These guys aren't far away."
As tonight's 5-4 loss to the American League-worst Detroit Tigers reminded them again, the Orioles are far from being the contender they expected to be this season. Today's trade of Baines, like the July 31 trade that sent Guzman to the Reds, was a concession to that fact.
However, Baines will be a free agent after the season, and a strong contingent within the Orioles' organization is pushing for the team to re-sign him after the season, in which case the Orioles will have gotten a net gain of two pitching prospects while, in effect, renting Baines to the Indians.
In exchange for Baines, the Orioles received 22-year-old Juan Aracena, a right-handed reliever with fastball in the mid-90s and an above average curveball, according to Wren, and a player to be named later, whom baseball sources said was 24-year-old lefty Jimmy Hamilton, currently at Class AA Akron.
While Baines was sent from an $84 million disappointment to a runaway division leader, a much bigger trade between the Orioles and Indians fell through today. The Indians claimed both Baines and Scott Erickson off waivers Wednesday, and had until 1 p.m. today to consummate a trade, but the Orioles' asking price for Erickson was too steep.
In exchange for Erickson the Orioles asked for injured pitcher Jaret Wright, and power-hitting third base prospect Russell Branyan, baseball sources said. The Indians, who are desperate to upgrade their starting pitching, were willing to part with Wright, but not Branyan.
The deal for Baines was completed about 15 minutes before the 1 p.m. deadline, Wren said. About a half-hour after Wren broke the news to him, Baines was seen checking out of the team hotel. Baines hit a two-run single in his first at-bat for the Indians tonight, finishing 1 for 3, with a walk in Cleveland's 2-1 win.
"He said, `I'd love to stay, but you have to do what you have to do,' " Wren said. "But I did get the sense today that he was somewhat enthusiastic about getting the chance to go to the postseason."
Tonight, with their roster in flux, and their bullpen forced to cover all nine innings because of injuries, the Orioles didn't have the firepower to match up with the Tigers, who sport the AL's worst record.
Left-hander Doug Johns gave the Orioles five serviceable innings, but yielded three runs in the fifth on a double, two bunt singles, a grounder off the face of third baseman Ryan Minor and a sacrifice fly.
"They made some excellent bunts and did what they needed to do to score three runs," Johns said.
A two-run homer by B.J. Surhoff and a solo homer by designated hitter Derrick May off Tigers starter Jeff Weaver (8-9) tied the game briefly in the top of the eighth. But the Tigers answered with back-to-back homers by Damion Easley and Gabe Kapler in the bottom of the inning off Orioles reliever Al Reyes (0-2).
Perhaps fittingly, the game ended with the tying run on second base and the fifth spot in the order -- Baines's spot -- at the plate. Jeff Conine popped up to end the game.
Baines, who holds most of baseball's career records for designated hitters, is having one of the best offensive seasons of his 20-year career, earning him a spot on the AL all-star team last month.
While the Indians already had the league's best offense, they had one underlying reason for wanting Baines: Over the last four seasons, Baines is hitting .347 with eight homers against the Yankees, and is a career .412 hitter against David Cone, .316 against Roger Clemens.
"It's tough to lose Harold Baines," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "He's a consummate professional. He has probably had the green light on every 3-0 pitch this entire year. He's the best I've ever seen."
According to Miller and Wren, Orioles scouts deemed Aracena the best pitcher at this summer's Pan Am Games, in which he pitched for his native Dominican Republic, and he had 18 saves for Class A Columbus (Ga.) this season. He was to report to the Orioles' Class A Frederick club tonight, and likely will start the 2000 season at Class AA Bowie, Wren said.
Since taking over in October, Wren has focused on stocking the Orioles' farm system with young arms. Wren traded for Jason Johnson from Tampa Bay this spring and got left-hander B.J. Ryan and 17-year-old phenom Jacobo Sequea for Guzman a month ago. Ryan's contract was purchased today from Class AAA Rochester to take Baines's spot on the active roster.
"If you're not developing young arms," Miller said, "you have to find some way to get them."
Wren said that Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos consented to a trade of Baines six weeks ago and signed off on this particular deal this morning.
"The only hesitation we had," Wren said, "was saying goodbye to a person like Harold Baines. He's a fine person. But we're getting a couple of players that make sense for the organization. Peter was very enthusiastic about wanting to stockpile young arms."