Orioles hope not to register for the draft Reshuffle expansion list seeking to remain intact

November 08, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Baseball's expansion process will enter its final stage tomorrow, when the Orioles and the 25 other existing major-league teams submit their 15-man protected lists to the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies for a week of intense study.

It will not be a particularly happy day for the youth-oriented Orioles, though they probably had an easier time than some clubs narrowing their roster for the Nov. 17 expansion draft.

"A good part of the list was pretty easy to put together," said club president Larry Lucchino, "but the last several spaces were very difficult and required a massive amount of effort. Nothing we do is more important than protecting the talent we have in the organization."

The process lasted months and included a series of organizational meetings and mock drafts. The Orioles would assemble a hypothetical protected list and then conduct a hypothetical draft. Then they would change the 15-man list and draft again . . . and again.

"We would look at what we might lose in each situation and see how sick to our stomachs we got," Lucchino said.

The result was an organizational consensus that never will be made public, but the makeup of the confidential list may not be as hard to figure out as it was to formulate.

Who will stay and who will go? The first half of the question is not difficult to answer. The Orioles have a handful of young pitchers -- Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson, Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills and Todd Frohwirth -- who aren't going anywhere. No team is going to leave proven pitching unprotected, least of all an Orioles organization that has put together one of the most promising staffs in baseball. The protected list also is believed to include pitching prospect Brad Pennington, who excelled at every level of the Orioles' minor-league system last year.

The surprising 1992 season made a couple of decisions for the club. No one would have predicted a year ago that left fielder Brady Anderson would be an obvious keeper, but he was one of the major architects of the team's 22-game turnaround. Center fielder Mike Devereaux also locked himself in this year with a 24-home run, 107-RBI performance that made him the club's most valuable player. Catcher Chris Hoiles' status was not in doubt, but 20 home runs in an injury-shortened season didn't hurt.

That's 10.

Shortstop Cal Ripken is an obvious lock and first baseman Glenn Davis is a compulsory one. Davis must be protected because his contract includes a no-trade clause.

That's 12.

Third baseman Leo Gomez is spending the winter rehabilitating a chronic shoulder injury, but the Orioles still are high on his offensive potential. Shortstop prospect Manny Alexander is not going to play regularly in the major leagues next year, but the team cannot let go of its best middle infield prospect.

That's 14.

Here's where it finally gets interesting. There are a number of players remaining that the Orioles are eager to keep, but they can only be certain of keeping one more. It might be outfielder Luis Mercedes, whose name was popular in the various mock drafts that were published during the past few weeks. It could be one of a short list of minor-league pitchers who showed promise last year. It could be just about anyone, but Mercedes appears to be the most likely choice.

He may be the only player in the organization who is in a position to emerge as a full-time right fielder. Joe Orsulak has become a free agent, and Chito Martinez did not assert himself last year. Mercedes has his limitations, but he also has the potential for a breakthrough season at the plate, which is what the Orioles are going to need from an outfield spot that did not deliver sufficient run production in 1992.

The Orioles aren't saying, of course. The protected lists are secret, and for good reason. It makes no sense for any team to alienate the large group of returning players it cannot protect.

American League clubs will be able to add four players to their protected list after the first round of the draft and another four after the second round. The Orioles will lose at least two players and possibly one more, but the potential for a significant loss of organizational depth at any position is relatively low.

Who is vulnerable? First baseman David Segui seems like the perfect expansion acquisition. He's a line-drive hitter with the potential to bat .300 who also has proven to be a versatile defensive player. That could be a very attractive package to a developing team that wants to be presentable and progressive at the same time. The Orioles can afford to leave him unprotected, with Randy Milligan likely to be back at first.

Milligan probably won't be protected either, but he doesn't appear to be vulnerable. He makes more than $1 million, he is 30 years old and is coming off a difficult year at the plate. Both expansion teams seem likely to concentrate on younger, lower-priced players, which is why the club has to feel fairly safe leaving both Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore available, too.

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