O's shut window, hardley feel draft

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 18, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- One by one the logos of the 26 major-league teams were removed from the big board, signifying the loss of a player in the expansion draft. After two hours, only three clubs remained -- the Orioles, Philadelphia and Seattle.

What tension! What drama! Two last-place teams and the local nine, with Florida and Colorado obligated to take a player from each. Who would suffer the embarrassment of being last? Which organization's 16th player would be deemed the least desirable?

The Phillies are so bad, they protected Juan Bell and his .204 batting average. The Mariners are so bad, they protected Rich DeLucia and his 5.49 ERA. The Orioles, well, they're so blessed, they proved virtually immune from this draft.

First round, second round, it was no different. Still winking over the loss of minor-league right-hander Kip Yaughn, the Orioles again reached the Final Three with Philadelphia and Seattle. Kicking and screaming, the Marlins took right-hander Richie Lewis.

And the third round?

The expansion clubs studied the Orioles one last time.

"Pass!" they cried.

Some farm system, huh? The next knucklehead talk-show caller who suggests the Orioles put together "a package of prospects" for someone like Roger Clemens should be forced to watch a replay of the draft, all seven action-packed hours.

Hemond joked, "Boy, we did a good job protecting," but through luck and design, the Orioles were perfectly positioned for this exercise. Not surprisingly, their losses -- a decent prospect in Yaughn, and a borderline major-leaguer in Lewis -- were minimal.

On this day, other AL East clubs could not say the same. New York and Boston each lost starting infielders (Charlie Hayes and Jody Reed). Cleveland lost a starting pitcher (Jack Armstrong), Milwaukee a reliever (Darren Holmes), Toronto a top outfield prospect (Nigel Wilson).

Yaughn, on the other hand, meant far less to the Orioles thaJohn O'Donoghue, the player whose selection they feared most. O'Donoghue is a 6-foot-6 left-hander scouts compare to Seattle's Dave Fleming. It's not inconceivable he'll be the club's fifth starter next season.

Indeed, the Orioles much preferred losing Yaughn and Lewiswho might not turn out any better than two other right-handed starters in the system -- Anthony Telford and Mike Oquist. O'Donoghue, on the other hand, is the only left-handed starter close to the majors.

So, is the farm system that barren? And are the major-leaguers -Randy Milligan, Bill Ripken, et al -- that bad? The answer to the first question is not as obvious as it seems. And whatever the answer to the second, it's to the club's advantage.

The Orioles escaped this draft unscathed because so many otheir top young players are full-time contributors, not prospects waiting their turn. The average age of their 15-man protected list was just under 26. Not many clubs are younger.

In other words, the Orioles didn't have to expose prospects tprotect regulars -- they're one and the same. Likewise, their minor-leaguers are so young, they had the fewest players (75) eligible to be selected. Thus, Hemond could say, "We're not embarrassed by any means."

Of course, it helped that outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Mark Smith, the club's last two No. 1 draft picks, had not logged the requisite three years of service. And it helped that Florida chose an outfielder who was released once and traded twice (Chuck Carr) over a prospect like Damon Buford in the first round.

For the Orioles, the only negative, if you can call it that, was the failure of the draft to resolve their pressing roster problems. Four second basemen were taken, but no Bill Ripken. One first baseman was taken, and it wasn't Randy Milligan.

Colorado, in particular, did not hesitate to draft veterans. But it signed free-agent first baseman Andres Galarraga on the eve of the draft, then took second basemen Eric Young and Jody Reed with their sixth and seventh picks.

Miami focused on young players, and no doubt figured it could find better values than Ripken ($685,000 last season) and Milligan ($1.05 million). For all the pre-draft speculation, neither club touched high-salaried players like Danny Tartabull and Eddie Murray.

Thus, the Orioles can now try to trade Ripken and Milligan rather than receive nothing in return. When last seen, club officials were laughing uncontrollably, toasting Glenn Davis, dancing in Times Square. Draft dodging was never so easy, or so much fun.

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