Bottom-line Orioles head for an off-season shutout

MIKE LITTWIN

November 30, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

Everything seems to be falling into place for the Bottom-line Orioles, who may well be looking at a perfect off-season.

Apparently, a few teams finally are showing interest in Mickey Tettleton, meaning he could be signed before Dec. 9. You know which way the Bottom-lines are rooting. Here's the worst-case scenario: On Dec. 9, the Orioles and Tettleton, who has no other offers, agree to go to arbitration, and the Orioles are stuck with him for something more than $1 million. Yes, they did offer him a one-year contract earlier, but that was because they knew he'd refuse it. So, now, what if he has a good season? There would suddenly be pressure to re-sign Tettleton, and at 1990s-style wages. Scary, huh? You bet.

Then there's the matter of Franklin Stubbs, the free-agent first baseman/sort-of outfielder the Orioles seem to be pursuing, although, at first blush, it's hard to figure why. But maybe you're ahead of me. Could it be that the reason to go for Stubbs, instead of Tom Brunansky or George Bell -- real-life outfielders with genuinely impressive career numbers -- is that Stubbs would come more cheaply?

The Bottom-lines obviously are not against free agency in principle, so long as it doesn't cost them much. In this case, it may not cost them anything. Reportedly, Stubbs' agent is counteroffering among the several

teams expressing interest. If there's any kind of bidding war, look for the Orioles to start flashing peace signs.

That leaves Matt Young, the real danger point for the Orioles. Many teams interested in signing free-agent pitchers have already done so. And the teams truly committed to excellence still have a shot at Ted Higuera and Bob Welch. So there may not be much interest in Young, which probably says something about his desirability. If the Bottom-lines are too generous with their offer, Young might actually accept.

That's how it looks now, in advance of the baseball winter meetings next week. At these meetings, the Orioles are certain to exchange minor-leaguers with somebody and pick up a player who has been released and make their usual bargain-basement dealings. Here's the most relevant question: Are there are any ex-White Sox left? The Orioles probably will come very close to a major trade, which, of course, they won't make but which they'll regret not making some years later.

Don't be surprised if the Orioles finish up the off-season by passing on all the high-priced, new-look free agents who win their freedom later in the winter as part of the collusion settlement.

What does it all mean? The Bottom-line Orioles, without important changes, would go into next season still with the lowest payroll in baseball and as a very good bet to once again finish fifth in the American League East.

Or, maybe they're serious about Young and Stubbs. The funny thing is, they could be. You can imagine the meeting where it was decided to go after Stubbs, who has had one good season, and Young, who lost 18 games. At no time did anyone say, "If we can get these guys, we're a lock to win the division." All I know is that it was as a young boy that my daddy taught me that the poor couldn't afford to buy cheap. Quality lasts and pays in the end.

A decision to pursue Stubbs and Young reflects a belief that the Orioles need help. But how much help would Stubbs and Young be? I don't see where Stubbs fits. He's basically a first baseman, and the Orioles have one. As for Young, he would certainly find a spot in the starting rotation. Maybe he's the kind of sleeper the Orioles are always trying to locate, but, to get him, they'll be paying a significant finder's fee. Why not just go all the way and try to get Higuera, who has the stuff to be a 20-game winner? Or go after Brunansky?

That said, getting Stubbs and Young would be far preferable to not getting Stubbs and Young. Stubbs can hit for power on a team that is so desperate for home runs that it's letting Mickey Tettleton go. I still don't understand the logic there. And Young does throw the ball hard and does throw from the left side and does have, perhaps, real potential.

Will the Orioles get one or both? No one knows that now, although the people who run the Orioles have a better idea than we do. Not that they're saying, of course. The Orioles seem to believe that baseball strategy, like planning wars, should be shrouded in secrecy. The only time they like to open up is when they unlock the gates to the stadium.

I'm going to guess that they sign Young, if they can get him at a decent price (of course, prices nowadays extend from Tim Leary at $5.95 million for three years, to Bud Black at $10.5 million for four, so maybe not). I'm also going to guess that before the season begins they make some mid-level trade, and that, if everything goes well, the Bottom-lines will draw 2 million-plus, make tons of money and finish fourth.

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