Evans fills hole in Orioles' pocket, but many remain


December 09, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

Those of us who suggested that the Orioles would leave the winter meetings with nothing more than a couple of minor-leaguers and their pockets full of those little hotel soaps owe the club an apology.

No, sir, they got Dwight Evans, too.

I know what you're saying: Evans is -- what? -- 55 and has a bad back and is probably signing with the Orioles only for the health insurance, until Medicare kicks in. You're probably wondering how the Orioles' youth movement turned into Meals on Wheels. But you're missing an important point.

In Evans, the Orioles finally found the aging, former fine outfielder, former power hitter for whom no one else was bidding. That's their kind of free agent.

Evans, at the end of a great career, signed for a year, after which he no doubt will be gone, leaving the Orioles with the same hole that he probably can't fill this year anyway. Because of the back injury, he couldn't play the outfield at all last season, which makes him the leading candidate for the right-handed designated-hitter spot that's so vital to a team's success. (Note to Ron Kittle: See your real estate agent.) You think it's too early to start saving up for World Series tickets?

The Orioles made two important statements when they signed Evans: One, that they need help; two, that they're not willing to go the extra dollar to get it.

It isn't as if the Orioles didn't set their sights low enough. These guys are K Mart shoppers all the way. In sizing up the free-agent market, they settled on Franklin Stubbs and Matt Young, who were, respectively, the least expensive semi-legitimate power hitter and left-handed starter available. But even they weren't sufficiently inexpensive. I kept reading about how the Orioles were competitive in the bidding, but I don't know what that means. I do know they weren't competitive enough.

And I still haven't heard anyone answer this question: If the Orioles have important needs, why don't they pursue the people who could make a real difference?

What was wrong with George Bell? Vince Coleman? Willie McGee? Why don't the Orioles go after Dave Henderson, a new-look free agent who hits for power? The Red Sox are chasing Bob Welch because they think he can help them win a pennant. Could he help the Orioles win one? Could he help more than Dwight Evans can?

In the American League East, the division anyone can win, teams are lining up at the bank, where -- and here's an interesting concept -- they're making actual withdrawals in an effort to improve themselves. The Orioles don't even have an ATM card. They do have a savings account, though.

The Orioles like to tell us that they have a plan. They say they're building from within (so why did they go after Stubbs and Young?). They tell us they're relying on their young pitching, but they're apparently offering Pete Harnisch in trade. They say that defense is at the heart of their club, and yet they're willing to trade Craig Worthington and put Leo "He's Bound to Improve Defensively" Gomez at third.

As far as I can tell, their plan is to remain fiscally responsible. Why else were they outbid for players they actively sought? Why does it make more sense for the Red Sox to sign Matt Young for $6.35 million than for the Orioles to do so? Sure, the salaries are crazy, but did you get a look at the story the other day about baseball profits rising by 75 percent? It's simple, really. We live in a market economy, and the players are getting what the market bears. What else should these teams spend their money on -- catered dinners in the owner's box?

It looks now as if the Orioles will spend some money on Mickey Tettleton, who hasn't been able to find a home. The Orioles will offer him arbitration for a one-year contract, and he'll probably accept. If someone else grabs him, however, the Orioles have a fallback position. They're talking about signing Ernie Whitt. Honest. Not only is Whitt an original Blue Jay, but he also was manning the barricades when the United States burned down Toronto in the War of 1812.

For now, though, the Orioles have Evans, who has been a wonderful player with a flair for the dramatic who might someday be in the Hall of Fame. He hit memorable home runs, and his arm is the stuff of legend. Evans played for 18 years in Boston, where, though he was a fan favorite, the Red Sox let him go. Maybe he can help the Orioles this season, but it's too bad they couldn't have gotten him 10 years ago, or even five. But, of course, the Evans of yesterday would have demanded the millions in today's market that the Orioles will not pay. Instead, the Orioles settle for the dim light of bygone glory and let the other teams chase the still-bright stars.

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