It's springtime and cutting is easy

MIKE LITTWIN

March 16, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

CLEARWATER, FLA — CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When the Orioles say how difficult it was for them to let Dwight Evans go, it's not simply lip service. Evans was a great player, and, besides, John Oates can get emotional about changing batboys.

In fact, when managing in the minors, Oates nearly quit the business rather than send a player out. Oates finally learned. A sleepless night precedes an agonizing heart-to-heart in the morning, and life goes on. It's only the lineup card that changes.

And however painful cutting Evans might have been, it was also an easy, even obvious, decision. The technical term is no-brainer.

There was simply no room for Evans on the ballclub. If we want to be truthful, there was never much reason to have signed him in the first place. It was one of those desperation, patchwork measures for which the Orioles have become semi-famous.

If the Orioles kept 40-year-old Evans as a part-time, injury-prone DH/right fielder this season, they couldn't also have David Segui. Do you need to be Branch Rickey to solve this puzzle? Segui is 25, plays first base and outfield, switch-hits and is a career .300 hitter in the minors. Yes, he's slow, and he doesn't hit for power, but Segui may have a future. Evans' future -- Cooperstown, maybe -- is all in the past.

This was one of the decisions the Orioles faced this spring. Actually, there aren't that many others, although the pitching could get complicated.

Here's what we have: Should the Orioles trade Randy Milligan? Who is the fifth outfielder -- Brady Anderson or Luis Mercedes? Who is the backup catcher -- Rick Dempsey or Jeff Tackett? Who are the reserve infielders?

As for pitching, there's the matter of a fifth starter as well as filling out the bullpen.

Besides Milligan, these are hardly high-impact decisions. I mean, how important are reserve infielders if they're not named Mark Lemke? So, let's be GM for a day. You want to play along? OK, get a pencil and that roster you keep taped to the refrigerator, and let's go.

The first thing the Orioles won't do, I'm guessing, is to trade Milligan. Unless they can get a power-hitting outfielder in exchange -- and they probably can't -- the Orioles can ill afford to lose the Moose, especially in Evans' absence.

Let Moose split the DH role with Sam Horn, who becomes a Camden Yards specialist. When the Orioles are playing at home against a right-handed pitcher, the left-handed Horn takes aim at the short right-field wall and at the warehouse beyond. (The question is: Will the Orioles deduct the price of any broken windows from his pay?)

Otherwise, Milligan, a superior all-around offensive player, is the everyday DH and occasional first baseman to the tune of maybe 400 at-bats.

In the outfield, the Orioles have a problem. Anderson, at 28, has yet to show he can hit. How many players can you name who blossom at age 28? Exactly. On the other hand, Mercedes, who may be able to hit, can't play the outfield.

The easy answer is to give Anderson yet another chance, send Mercedes back to Rochester and let him learn to play left field. The problem is that if Anderson makes the team, three of the five outfielders would bat left-handed, meaning one -- probably Chito Martinez -- would have to hit against lefties. He did it successfully in the minors. Of course, it's no cinch Martinez, in his first full big-league season, will still be able to hit right-handers.

Where the Orioles may be most vulnerable is at catcher. What if Chris Hoiles gets hurt? Tackett has eight big-league at-bats. Dempsey is 42. Solution: prayer. Next choice: Send Tackett back to Rochester, play him every day and keep him ready. Keep the Demper, the people's choice.

For reserve infielders, the Orioles will pick two from Juan Bell, Tim Hulett and Mark McLemore. This should be easy. It's time to let Bell go anywhere that Cal Ripken isn't shortstop. Hulett can play third and McLemore can play second and Bell is still learning to play somewhere.

The starting pitching has been great. So far. It's springtime. But what's clear is that Rick Sutcliffe, Ben McDonald, Bob Milacki and Mike Mussina make four starters. Storm Davis has a $1.9 million contract, meaning the Orioles will keep him. Jose Mesa is out of options, meaning they'll lose him if they don't keep him. He's throwing great. So far. It's springtime.

I like Mesa as fifth starter and Davis in the bullpen. But let's not worry about the bullpen, except to note that Mark Williamson will probably be traded and that Gregg Olson, Mike Flanagan and Todd Frohwirth are set.

Easy, wasn't it? Of course, that's barring injury, trades and natural disasters. And whomever Roland Hemond finds on the waiver wire.

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