Having lost out on free agent pitcher Chuck Finley, who signed a three-year, $26 million contract with the Cleveland Indians today, the Baltimore Orioles will look elsewhere for a fifth starting pitcher. However, the Orioles realize Finley likely was the only available pitcher who would have made a major impact, and without him their direction changes slightly.
"We didn't miss [Finley] by much," said Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift. "But we're still in the market for a starting pitcher."
If the left-handed Finley had signed with the Orioles, the team would have prepared itself for an all-out run at a title this season. Without him, club officials will be more inclined to make incremental, and cheaper, changes to a largely inflexible roster, and hope that new manager Mike Hargrove and an upgraded bullpen can push them into contention.
"We are playing to win, not just to be competitive," Thrift said. "We have a pretty good team. When you look at the facts from last year--all the offensive production and the defense and the pitching, and still we didn't win--something is wrong with the picture. And we've tried to improve ourselves, namely in the bullpen. . . . We're trying to figure out how to win, not how to finish fourth."
There are free agent pitchers a level or two below Finley--including Aaron Sele, Darren Oliver, Omar Olivares, Andy Benes, Kenny Rogers and Steve Trachsel--who have yet to sign. But most are looking for four- or five-year deals for more than $20 million, money the Orioles are unlikely to pay for a fourth or fifth starter.
Still, Thrift has asked all those pitchers' agents to "keep me informed of where they are" in negotiations. "We just have to see which way the market swings," Thrift said.
In addition, Thrift will monitor the lists of players who are not tendered contracts by their teams when 40-man rosters are finalized, hoping to steal a serviceable pitcher.
However, having been unable to sign Finley, the Orioles are determined to get younger and faster this season. Now, they are less likely to battle the Seattle Mariners for left-handed free agent pitcher Arthur Rhodes, 30, who is seeking a three-year contract; they are more likely to give chances to their young left-handed prospects, such as B.J. Ryan and Radhames Dykhoff.
The Orioles also likely will continue to listen to offers for left fielder B.J. Surhoff and pitcher Scott Erickson, both of whom have drawn interest from the New York Mets.
Surhoff rejected more lucrative offers to re-sign with the Orioles a year ago. He has attempted to thwart their efforts to trade him by including the Mets on a hastily submitted list of six teams to which he cannot be traded, a partial no-trade privilege he is granted in his contract.
However, it appears Surhoff's failure to submit the list by March 1, 1999--the deadline spelled out in his contract--essentially has voided that no-trade clause until March 1, 2000, when his contract permits him to change his no-trade list.
Thrift would not discuss Surhoff's contract, but Mets General Manager Steve Phillips confirmed the feeling around baseball is that Surhoff waived his no-trade rights by failing to submit his list.
Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton, did not return phone calls today.
Orioles Note: The club announced the signing of first baseman-outfielder Jeff Conine, 33, to a two-year contract, with a club option for 2002. The contract will pay Conine $5.5 million, with a $250,000 buyout should the club not exercise the option.