- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Faced with a decided lack of punch in their lineup and a dearth of healthy bodies in their outfield, the Baltimore Orioles made their first splash into the free agent market yesterday, signing outfielder Marty Cordova to a three-year contract.
The 32-year-old Cordova, who hit .301 with 20 homers and 69 RBI for the Cleveland Indians last season, will earn $9.1 million over three years with Baltimore and could wind up batting cleanup for a team that ranked last in the AL in batting average and extra-base hits in 2001.
"It doesn't matter to me where I hit in the lineup fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh," said Cordova, a seven-year major league veteran who has spent time with four organizations. "It doesn't matter to me where I'm hitting in the lineup as long as I'm playing."
Cordova figures to get plenty of playing time for an Orioles team that released Brady Anderson three weeks ago and will be without Chris Richard (rotator cuff surgery) until midseason. Jay Gibbons, who was on his way to an impressive rookie season before breaking a bone in his right hand, is expected to be ready for spring training, though that is not assured.
Thus, Baltimore found itself in dire need of a power-hitting outfielder. Houston's Moises Alou and Cleveland's Juan Gonzalez have more pop in their bats than Cordova, who has never hit more than 24 homers in a season, but are commanding far more money (to the tune of at least $10 million a year) and are being courted by the likes of such free-spending contenders as the Yankees and Mets.
A handful of teams, most notably the Indians and Blue Jays, expressed interest in Cordova, but only the Orioles were willing to offer a three-year contract. A dinner meeting with vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift Monday sealed the deal for Cordova.
"Marty Cordova is a solid veteran hitter and fielder who will provide more punch to our lineup," said Thrift, who is continuing to pursue a leadoff hitter, a closer and possibly a starting pitcher. "He proved last year that he has regained his top performance level."
Cordova debuted with the Twins in 1995 (with current Orioles coach Terry Crowley as hitting instructor) and enjoyed instant success. The 6-foot, 200-pound right-hander hit .277 with 24 homers and 84 RBI and was named AL Rookie of the Year. He followed with his best all-around season in 1996, batting .309 with 16 homers, 111 RBI and 46 doubles.
But a lingering foot injury and inconsistency at the plate led to declining playing time and offensive numbers for Cordova, and the Twins decided not to pick up his contract after the 1999 season. He signed as a minor league free agent with the Red Sox but was released during spring training and wound up making his way onto the Blue Jays' roster.
After batting just .245 in 62 games with Toronto in 2000, Cordova resurrected his career with the Indians. Making just $600,000 last season, he produced his best numbers in five years and became a semi-regular in left field for the AL Central champs.
Regarded as a solid line-drive hitter with limited power for a corner outfielder, Cordova said he is capable of producing in the middle of the batting order if given the chance to play every day. He hasn't had more than 438 at-bats in a season since 1996.
"If I get 500 at-bats, I expect to hit 20 home runs and drive in 100 or somewhere near it," he said. "I wouldn't expect anything less than that from myself. But it's one thing saying it and another thing doing it. You get your at-bats according to how well you're playing."
Thrift will continue to peruse the free agent market in search of a couple more players, with the baseball winter meetings coming up next week in Boston. The Orioles are reportedly interested in veteran Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, who could bat leadoff and start in center field. They also seek a veteran relief pitcher who can handle the closer's role until one of the organization's young power arms (Willis Roberts, Jorge Julio or Kris Foster) is ready to assume the responsibility. Among those available are Cleveland's Steve Karsay and Oakland's Jason Isringhausen.

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