Orioles need more than good intentions to sign a quality free agent

BASEBALL

September 15, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Baltimore Orioles will spend what it takes to acquire at least two cornerstone players for the 1992 season. You read it here first, but it is up to you whether to believe it.

Several well-placed sources, none of whom has any more control over the Orioles purse strings than you do and whose very existence is even in question, are pretty certain of this, which means that it probably will happen unless someone actually sits down and calculates how much it will cost.

In short, the Orioles will go into the off-season with good intentions. They will carry around a very big shopping bag, and they will haggle with dozens of agents, particularly the ones with 1-800 numbers. But it will take more than good intentions to acquire an impact outfielder and a No. 2 starting pitcher.

It takes money, of course. Everybody knows that. It also takes decisive action, because other teams have money, too, and some are more willing to spend it than the Orioles.

General manager Roland Hemond went bargain hunting in last year's free-agent market. He placed inadequate bids for pitcher Matt Young and first baseman Franklin Stubbs, which turned out to be fortuitous, but the approach was all wrong.

The Orioles need to take heed of an old saying -- the poor can't afford to buy cheap. If they return to the free-agent market, it should be to sign a Danny Tartabull, not to "steal" some borderline veteran for $2 million per. Otherwise, don't go.

The free-agent picture is blurred because (a) no one has become a free agent yet; (b) no one really knows what free agents are going to cost this year (though projections based on last year's salary spiral put the average five-year contract at just under $1 billion); (c) the budget-conscious Orioles also need to decide whether they are going to re-sign first baseman Glenn Davis; and (d) they need to know if the city is going to give them a rent rebate to pay his first year's salary.

There is, however, reason to believe that the club will make a legitimate run at Tartabull and will sign a solid starting pitcher to anchor the youthful rotation. California Angels right-hander Kirk McCaskill's name has been mentioned around the Orioles front office already.

Tartabull will command an impressive contract after another impressive season, but he is as close to a sure thing as there is in the uncertain world of megabucks free agency. McCaskill will be coming off a disappointing year, but he is a quality pitcher who has won in double figures five times and has averaged about 175 innings during the past seven years.

The Orioles will depend heavily on their stable of promising starters next year, but the recent performances of Jose Mesa and Arthur Rhodes make it almost imperative that the club add a dependable veteran to the rotation before spring training.

The outfield situation might not seem so pressing, but not one of the six outfielders on the current roster is an impact player or a potential one. The acquisition of a Tartabull would loosen the roster and increase the possibility of a significant trade.

*

There was some question whether the Los Angeles Dodgers would include right-hander Orel Hershiser on their postseason roster, especially after he recently missed 15 days with soreness in the back of the shoulder that underwent extensive reconstructive surgery last year.

But Hershiser came back from the layoff to pitch six strong innings on Wednesday night, then joked that 15 days' rest might be just the ticket during the postseason.

"I think the first game of the playoffs and the last day of the World Series would make 15 days," he said. "I'm only kidding. I'm just the fifth starter around here."

All kidding aside, catcher Mike Scioscia told reporters after Wednesday's game that there were moments when Hershiser threw the ball as well as he ever has thrown it.

"I know there are a lot of questions about my future," Hershiser said. "Every time I have a game like that, it calms people down and reminds them that Orel Hershiser still has a future."

*

The Toronto Blue Jays can print all the playoff tickets they want, but the schedule for the final three weeks of the season favors the second-place Boston Red Sox and the third-place Detroit Tigers.

The Blue Jays are this year's swing team, so they close the season against the Angels, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins. The Tigers and Red Sox finish against the weakest teams of the AL East. The only time either team will face a .500 team the rest of the way is when they face each other in a three-game series Oct. 1-3.

*

Angels pitching coach Marcel Lachemann figured to fall victim to the front-office shake-up that has claimed Mike Port and Doug Rader this year, but his job now appears to be secure.

There was speculation that new manager Buck Rodgers soon would bring in Larry Bearnarth, who was his pitching coach with the Montreal Expos, but Rodgers has defused it by asking Lachemann to stay.

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