O's just got better, but are they done?

JOHN EISENBERG

December 12, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

His name is Harold Reynolds, and he will bat second and play second base for the Orioles next season. There are some things you need to know about him.

He is a more useful player than Bill Ripken. (A better hitter. A switch-hitter. A faster, more productive base runner. Equally adept in the field.)

He is 32 years old and in something of a decline. (A .251 average over the past three years, as opposed to .286 in the three years before that.)

He improves the team, but not a lot so much as a little. If this is the only significant move the Orioles make over the winter, they'll spend next season looking up at someone in the standings. But you probably already knew that, right?

He is a typical free agent for Eli Jacobs' Orioles, who refuse to play baseball's big-money game even though they have the big money. After deciding to upgrade at second base, they wouldn't pay for Lou Whitaker, who hit 19 home runs last year, but happily paid for Reynolds, who was on his way to losing his job in Seattle.

Maybe Whitaker wasn't worth the $12 million it would have taken to steal him from Detroit, but this is just another case of a corner cut by a for-sale team that has whacked some $3 million from its payroll since the end of the season, figuring in the departures of Joe Orsulak, Storm Davis, Mike Flanagan, Rick Dempsey and now Bill Ripken, and the addition of Reynolds and Rick Sutcliffe's raise.

Yet, having said all that, bringing Reynolds to town is a decent move. That's the word. Decent. It gives the team more speed, which was an off-season priority. It gives the lineup a classic No. 2 hitter, and an everyday second baseman who hasn't been injured since 1982. Reynolds' durability -- he has missed 38 games since 1988 -- was at the core of his appeal.

It abruptly ends the Ripken family affair in the clubhouse, and it's unfortunate that such a pleasant story ended so unpleasantly, with what amounts to two firings. But does anyone really think that losing Bill Ripken will damage the Orioles in the standings?

Bill was a hard-nosed major-leaguer who played fine defense and had his moments, but let's face it, his .290 career on-base percentage was grounds for a permanent benching. Even Mark Belanger, the prototypical all-glove infielder, had a better (.302) on-base figure.

The conspiracy theorists will tell you that the Orioles primarily kept Bill and Sr. around because Jr. wasn't signed until now. It's not a nice thing to say, although there's probably some truth to it. But Bill was a credible major-leaguer. Maybe the better way to put it is that the Orioles were going to keep playing him until they found someone better. They just decided to look a little harder with Jr. signed.

Jr. surely is upset about it now. It hasn't been a happy off-season in his family. But he knows baseball. He may not want to admit it, but he knows that Reynolds can do more for his club than his brother. Bat leadoff. Steal. Hit and run. (His career on-base percentage, incidentally, is .326. Not great, but reasonable.)

Now, seeing Reynolds' declining numbers, some will argue that Mark McLemore might produce as consistently given the same amount of at-bats. But there's one problem with that idea: McLemore has never held a major-league job for a whole season. Reynolds is a proven commodity. End of discussion.

No, there's not a thing wrong with the Orioles doing this. The only thing wrong is if it's all they do.

It just might be.

Roland Hemond said yesterday the club was "very pleased" with Luis Mercedes and Chito Martinez in right field. Of course, he has to say that in case they're still his right fielders in spring training. And it's not as if those players lack skill. But it's beginning to sound as if the Orioles might not even spring for the slightly wilted bargain bat everyone thought they would uncover during the January sale days.

That would be a note, wouldn't it? The Orioles: Too cheap even for a discounted Tom Brunansky. And don't even start talking about Ruben Sierra, who only might deliver a pennant.

"We haven't heard from his representatives," Hemond said.

Anyone want to give the man the phone number?

Oh, well. We're talking about subbing Harold Reynolds for Bill Ripken today, and there's really no substantive argument against it. Reynolds can do more things better. Maybe he doesn't do them as well as he used to, but there's no chance he would do any worse than Bill. And there's a good chance he'll do better. Maybe much better. It's a very small gamble, and certainly worth taking.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.