SEATTLE -- This is Roland Hemond's favorite time of year. And he'd enjoy it a whole lot more if he could make a trade before midnight tonight.
About the only thing that could keep the Orioles general manager from making this West Coast trip is a trading deadline -- which is why he's manning the phones back in Baltimore.
"I love deadlines," Hemond said between phone calls. "Deadlines dictate the action -- I wish baseball had more of them, like we did years ago."
The Orioles' starting rotation for the rest of the season will, in some part, be determined by how Hemond fares in the hours preceding midnight. Manager Johnny Oates won't name a starter for tomorrow night's game against Oakland until he finds out whether Hemond can make a trade.
Theoretically, whatever pitcher Hemond might be able to acquire will move into the fifth spot in the rotation. If no deal is made, Bob Milacki, one of the players who will join the Orioles from Rochester when rosters expand to 40 tomorrow, will get the nod.
The next start for Arthur Rhodes, the winner in the 4-0 shutout over Seattle on Saturday night, also hinges on developments in the next two days. "I'll know who is pitching Sunday [in California] when I know who's pitching Tuesday," Oates said. "Ideally, whoever pitches Tuesday will pitch Sunday -- and I'd have Arthur to start against the Yankees [who open a three-game series in Baltimore a week from tonight]."
Like the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles have been shopping for a veteran starting pitcher for the stretch run. The difference is they won't give up young prospects, as the Blue Jays did in acquiring David Cone, for someone they might be able to keep only a month because of free agency.
Complicating matters for the Orioles is that Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick has said he's still in the market -- this time looking for a left-handed pitcher. One of the pitchers the Orioles reportedly have been talking about is San Diego left-hander Craig Lefferts, so there is a strong likelihood they'd have to outbid the Blue Jays to get him.
At this point, Oates says that anything goes as he assembles his starting rotation. "It's getting late, and we're in a race," he said. "There aren't many games left. Everything is day-to-day from here on out.
"Even the announced pitcher is subject to change," said Oates, who will keep Rick Sutcliffe, Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald on a regular schedule and work around them with Rhodes and whoever pitches tomorrow night.
Even though Rhodes passed a stern test Saturday night, when he responded to Oates' challenge to throw strikes by shutting out the Mariners for 7 2/3 innings, he probably will be spotted the rest of the way. The rookie left-hander would be ready to pitch Friday on a normal schedule, but Oates won't use the day off on Thursday to back up Sutcliffe and Mussina a day.
Rhodes could be used Sunday, but it is more likely that Milacki or an Oriole to be named will draw that assignment. Rhodes pitched his only major-league shutout against the Yankees last month and can neutralize some of their left-handed hitters.
A week ago the Orioles seemed optimistic that they would at least be able to match Toronto and obtain a veteran starting pitcher. That optimism has waned somewhat, but Hemond still is holding out hope.
"Sometimes it takes the last day to trigger something," said Hemond, who traded Fred Lynn to the Tigers at the last possible minute in 1988, when he was trying to bolster the minor-league system.
"We got Chris Hoiles in that trade," Hemond said, "and earlier we got Brady Anderson from Boston in the deal for Mike Boddicker. In both cases they were players we held out for."
Now Hemond finds himself on the other side of the bargaining table, trying to improve the Orioles at the major-league level without doing serious damage to the minor-league department.