Expansion draft alters teams' strategies, so don't expect Ripken to be signed soon

BASEBALL

July 12, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

This seems to be the proper time of the year to muse about All-Stars and potential free agents, so let's fast-forward for a moment.

One year from tomorrow, July 13, 1993, baseball's new showplace, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, will play host to baseball's midsummer extravaganza. Elaborate preparations already have begun, hotel rooms have been blocked off and parties planned.

Which leaves the most impertinent question of this, or any other, week: What would the reaction be if the reigning American League All-Star shortstop were introduced wearing a uniform other than that of the Baltimore Orioles?

To say the least, that setting would make for a bittersweet homecoming for Cal Ripken.

Prediction: It won't happen, but don't expect that an agreement will be made any time soon. Under normal circumstances, a contract the magnitude of the one Ripken will sign takes an extraordinary amount of time.

That was true last spring with Ryne Sandberg, who didn't reach an agreement with the Chicago Cubs until after his self-imposed deadline, and is also the case in negotiations right now between the Minnesota Twins and Kirby Puckett.

In fact, there are a lot of baseball people who believe most potential free agents will not be signed until after the expansion draft in November.

"Why should the Twins be in any hurry to sign Puckett -- or the Orioles to sign Ripken?" asked one major-league scout, who believes the free-agent signings are certain to be delayed this year. "If they wait until after expansion, they don't have to go on the 15-man list and they can protect another prospect."

That, of course, would mean both would be available on the open market. But there is even some skepticism about that.

"All they have to do is make a deal and buy an insurance policy to cover the time between when it's done and when it's announced," said the scout.

No agent would admit to the latter tactic, but they are all aware that expansion will play a role in the time of negotiations this year. "We're all sensitive to the expansion situation," said one well-known agent.

"And I definitely think it will delay the [free-agent] signings. Whether or not it will affect the big names or not, I don't know."

When it comes to All-Star teams, Tom Kelly is a "do it now" kind of guy, which would make him very popular with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

That's the reason the Minnesota manager had no qualms about adding Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina to the American League team. The fact neither had a proven track record before this year wasn't enough to dismiss the resume the two Orioles have compiled through the first half of this season.

That thinking, of course, is generally in contrast to the way fans vote, though nobody, including Kelly, seems to be campaigning anymore for a change in the selection system.

If the American and National leagues don't always have their best current team in the starting lineup, the feeling is that it's a small price to pay for the fans' involvement in what is supposed to be their game.

The biggest mystery in the AL lineup for the second straight year is Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, who may be riding the coattails of his brother, Roberto of the Toronto Blue Jays, the starting second baseman, and cashing in on the heavy Toronto vote. This year, the selection of Wade Boggs also could be questioned, but the Boston Red Sox third baseman at least has a track record that proves he's one of the elite.

For Kelly, who will be managing the AL for the second time (1988 was his first), the experience is not unlike that of the players who perform in the game.

"It's like being a kid in a candy store," he said. "It's quite a feeling to look down that bench and see all that talent at your disposal."

Speaking of which, Ron Shapiro could be described as owning the catbird seat on the AL bench in San Diego on Tuesday night. Ripken and Puckett, the two top vote-getters in the American League, are both potential free agents -- and Shapiro clients.

Pirates and empty seats

Jim Leyland had a good week. First the Pittsburgh manager, tired of watching the Pirates play before crowds mostly disguised as empty seats, blasted the community for non-support. Then he initiated a strong campaign for second baseman Jose Lind as a Gold Glove candidate.

Based on attendance figures throughout baseball and his team's success, Leyland seemingly has a legitimate gripe about Pittsburgh's fan base. But it could be questioned whether he, or anyone else, in the game, has a right to determine how people decide to take their entertainment.

What's happening in Pittsburgh right now is no different from what happened in Baltimore 20 years ago. The cities basically haven't changed, the game is still the same and the teams have been generally competitive.

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