Arms are out there, but look for O's to complete rotation from within

BASEBALL

February 14, 1993|By PETER SCHMUCK

It could get a little crowded around the practice mounds at Twin Lakes Park next weekend. The Orioles will open pitcher and catcher workouts in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday with a long list of candidates for the final spot in manager Johnny Oates' five-man starting rotation.

Don't know much about Jamie Moyer and Steve Searcy? Stick around. Excited about the Mark Williamson experiment? Why not? Ready to get acquainted with Wayne Edwards and Mike Cook and promising John O'Donoghue -- or reacquainted with Anthony Telford? Ready or not, here they come.

The Orioles have assembled an extensive array of fringe pitchers to compete for what actually is a spot starter/long reliever role. The fifth starter -- whoever it turns out to be -- figures to get little more than 20 starts this year, but the quality of those starts could determine whether the club makes a run at the division title.

The purpose of the winter pitching roundup was two-fold. The club wanted to make sure there would be enough arms to choose from this spring and also a few left over at Triple-A in case of emergency.

Minor-league depth no longer appears to be a problem, but the club's recent conversations with 36-year-old free agent Scott Sanderson (who signed this week with the California Angels) suggest that the Orioles are not entirely confident that an army of candidates will produce one effective major-league starter.

Club president Larry Lucchino said last week that the front office will continue to look for help right into spring training, which suggests that the Orioles will be talking to other clubs about a possible deal. It is extremely difficult to trade for a decent starting pitcher during spring training, but possibilities could arise as spring auditions shake out.

The trouble is, the Orioles are hesitant to give up any real prospects or take on any substantial salaries, so the likelihood of a significant deal appears slim. They would prefer to catch lightning in a bottle the way they did with unheralded acquisitions Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills.

Nevertheless, here's a short list of veteran starters who could become available over the next six weeks and the conditions that might put them into a spring trade.:

* Randy Johnson: The big left-hander from Seattle has had a falling out with the Mariners, which has sparked trade rumors involving the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. He can be the most overpowering pitcher in baseball one day and the most frustrating the next, but he would be a major addition to the Orioles rotation. The club would have to be willing to give up some quality players to get him.

* Mike Boddicker: Local fans would be thrilled to have Boddicker back in the Orioles rotation, but he presents a payroll problem at a salary of more than $3 million per year. The Royals might be willing to trade him, but would be wise to hold onto all the pitching they have if they think they can contend in '93.

* Bruce Hurst: The San Diego Padres are anxious to trade the veteran left-hander, but his recovery from a rotator cuff operation has fallen behind schedule. If he recovers completely, he could be the missing link for a contending team, but his $3 million salary makes him too big a gamble for the Orioles.

* Kevin Gross: The Los Angeles Dodgers have a payroll problem, but they also have a public relations problem. They're coming off a last-place finish, so they'll need all the pitching they can get. To get a veteran starter the caliber of Gross, the Orioles would have to give up a quality major-leaguer (Mills?) and be willing to assume Gross' $2.16 million salary.

* Mark Langston: Anyone who doesn't think that Langston is available hasn't been paying attention. The hopeless Angels are in a heavy cost-cutting mode and likely would be willing to give up Langston for a couple of good prospects. The Orioles would have to be willing to assume the last two years of his five-year, $16 million contract.

* Mark Portugal: Believe it or not, the Houston Astros are looking at a pitching surplus after the signings of Greg Swindell and Doug Drabek. Portugal and fellow right-handers Brian Williams and Darryl Kile will have to fight it out for two spots this spring, leaving one of them available for long relief or a spring deal for help in another area.

* Dennis Rasmussen: He couldn't make the cut at Orioles spring training last year, but he ended the season with the Royals and went 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA in five starts. Stranger things have happened.

But don't hold your breath. The odds say that Williamson or one of the minor-league pitchers the Orioles take to camp will look good enough in spring training to justify the club's winter strategy. That strategy, however, might keep the team seeking a dependable fifth starter all season.

Self-realization and Sam Horn

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