Evans may help, but he's just drop in free-agent pool


December 08, 1990|By JOHN EISENBERG

Dwight Evans is an Oriole. It isn't a bad move. It just isn't much of a move.

Evans should add a competent bat to the Orioles' weak lineup -- if his back holds up. But he alone isn't the answer to the run-production deficit. Far from it.

The Orioles, who were 13th in the American League in hitting in 1990, needed a bold stroke. This isn't it.

Signing Evans is a subtle stroke that would look good in support of a major signing or trade. By itself, however, it figures to instigate only a small improvement.


If his back holds up, Evans can provide 20 homers and 80 RBI.

The Orioles can rank 11th in batting average instead of 13th.

Finish fourth in the AL East instead of fifth.


If his back holds up.

The intent is not to denigrate the man. He has hit 379 career homers and played a peerless outfield for years. He's a marvel who had his first 100-RBI season at age 32, his best season at 35.

But he will be 39 on Opening Day, and, make no mistake, would still be in Boston if his back weren't sore. His batting average and home run and RBI totals have dropped in each of the last three seasons.

Let's not mince words. He is in decline.

If the Orioles are incredibly lucky, he will reverse the trend and surpass 20 and 80. The club will rank eighth in offense. Finish third.

That's at the very, very, very best.

Then Evans probably will be gone after the season, and the club will be right back where it started, needing more offense.

This is self-help?

(And, please, let's not talk about the positives of adding veteran leadership. That is not what the Orioles need. They need more runs, not more speeches.)

The rest of the division is spending and dealing, trying to steal a title that is ripe for stealing. The Orioles, with as many holes as anyone, are making token gestures.

The Blue Jays just traded for a 22-year-old All-Star. The Orioles just signed a 39-year-old with a bad back.

It almost seems as if the Orioles' goal is to save face and money at the same time. Think about it. Without spending much by today's standard, they are now immune from critics complaining that they didn't at least try free agency.

Don't buy it.

They have now tried free agency the same way they try everything else regarding personnel. As cheaply as possible.

Signing George Bell wouldn't have been a token gesture. His bat in the lineup -- with Evans -- would have made the Orioles instant contenders. Period.

It sounds ridiculous, but at $10 million in today's free-agent market, Bell was a bargain. Lots of teams have spent $10 million on players who will not make them instant contenders.

Bell, who plays hard every day, might have listened had the Orioles made an aggressive pitch. But the talks didn't last long. Only the foolhardy were surprised.

It's too bad. The Orioles aren't that far from the top of the division. Other teams wish they had so much young pitching. But the Orioles won't spend what it takes to take the critical steps forward.

They said after last season that they recognized their limitations and planned to rectify them.

They're all talk.

They aren't rectifying anything. They still need a run-producer. They could use another starting pitcher. Where are these items?

The club said it was in there battling for Franklin Stubbs, who wasn't the answer anyway, and also Matt Young. Came up short both times. Conveniently, perhaps? Another way to save face and money?

LTC The Orioles just can't bring themselves to spend the money. They are the last island of financial responsibility in a game gone insane. They can congratulate themselves on their prudence while they steam toward another fifth-place finish.

Maybe fourth . . .

. . . or third . . .

. . . maybe . . .

. . . if Evans' back holds up.

The winter is just beginning, of course. There is still time to make that bold stroke.

(Memo to Roland Hemond: No trades, please. Or, more specifically, if you do trade, do it without giving up any young pitching.)

Tom Brunansky is available. He could make a difference. The second-look free agents went on the market yesterday. Gary Gaetti drove in 85 runs last year. He is capable of 100, could make a difference. So could Dave Henderson. These players aren't George Bell, but they're something.

They will cost a lot of money, more than anyone believes is proper, but that's what the market is. No one is getting robbed. More than enough money is in the till. Maybe you missed that little headline about baseball profits going up 75 percent.

Anyway, don't hold your breath. The Orioles' current course is as evident as it is strange. They say they need help, then don't go out and get it -- at least not significant, lasting help. It isn't Evans' fault. He should improve matters, not hurt them. But he needs company.

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