With additions, do O's add up? Questions remain as camp nears

February 15, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

By almost any yardstick, the Orioles were not one of baseball's most active teams during the off-season. That has spurred some fears that the 1993 team could suffer the same fate as in 1990, when the Orioles plunged drastically after a near-miracle season in 1989.

But general manager Roland Hemond strongly disputes that theory, saying the Orioles addressed what they felt were the two areas that needed the most attention.

"We went into the off-season with the idea of improving our team speed and adding a left-handed hitter with some power," said Hemond. "We feel we accomplished that with [second baseman] Harold Reynolds and [designated hitter] Harold Baines.

"Other teams [in the American League East] may have been more active, but they were in the situation of having to replenish," said Hemond. "In our case, the retention of Cal Ripken and Rick Sutcliffe meant we didn't have to go out and get replacements.

"Toronto, for instance, lost [Dave] Winfield, [Tom] Henke, [Jimmy] Key and [Candy] Maldonado, which meant they had to be active in order to replace those key players. This is not to demean the ability of the people we lost, but we didn't have to replace players of that magnitude."

Hemond said he feels more comfortable going into this season than he did a year ago.

"Last year, after 95 losses [in 1991], we were going in thinking and hoping we had improved," he said. "This year, we're thinking we'll get some good production. We're certainly going in with a better feeling after winning 89 games."

That much said, Hemond and manager Johnny Oates have far from a set club. There are still questions, and the answers will begin to emerge during spring training, which opens Friday for pitchers and catchers and the following Thursday for the rest of the squad.

The most pressing issues are: finding at least one more starting pitcher, adding another long reliever, finding a leading candidate to play right field and resolving the persistently tricky first base situation.

There are other items on the spring training agenda that have to be resolved, but they are much less significant. So, in order of importance, here's a look at the major issues facing the Orioles as they prepare for the 1993 season:

Starting pitchers

"The Atlanta Braves are the only club in baseball not worried about their fifth starter," said Hemond. "As long as I've been in baseball, that's always a problem for every team."

The absence of an experienced No. 5 starter isn't as much a concern to Oates as the lack of depth in that area. The Orioles are counting on Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Arthur Rhodes and Sutcliffe to fill four spots in the rotation. But, after that, they'll be scrambling, and an injury could complicate the puzzle.

"We'll only need a fifth starter twice before May 2," said Oates, "so that's not an immediate major concern. But it's no secret that we don't have as much depth as we have quality in that area [starting pitchers].

"Roland and Frank [Robinson, assistant general manager] have been trying hard to add another pitcher, and we'll keep trying. Meanwhile, I'm interested in taking a good look at Mark Williamson as a starter," said Oates, "and we'll have a lot of other candidates.

"I'd say we'll look at all but about five or six of the [20] pitchers in camp as a possibility to start."

Among the top contenders: right-handers Anthony Telford and Mike Oquist and left-hander John O'Donoghue. All have had some minor-league success, but Telford is the only one with major-league experience (17 games, 3-3, 4.57 ERA).

Long relief

With Storm Davis and possibly Williamson removed from the mix, Oates needs someone to help Alan Mills and Todd Frohwirth bridge the gap to closer Gregg Olson. He'd like to have two left-handers.

A healthy Jim Poole, who missed most of last year, is the top candidate. Nobody questions the physical ability of Brad Pennington, who blazed his way from Single-A to Triple-A with a 95-mph fastball last year, but he has yet to be tested by big-league hitters.

Mike Flanagan, Jamie Moyer, Steve Searcy and Wayne Edwards are non-roster left-handers who will get a look in spring training, as will right-handers Todd Stephan and Mike Cook.

Overall, there appear to be more viable possibilities here than there are among potential starters.

Right field

This is the area in which the Orioles are dealing with the most unknown quantities. The position was not very productive last year, leading to the decision not to bring back Joe Orsulak.

They don't come right out and say as much, but, to add speed, the Orioles would like Luis Mercedes to prove he can handle the job on a daily basis. If they remain unconvinced, then they'll see whether the power Chito Martinez displayed the last half of 1991 was a mirage.

Sherman Obando, a Rule V draftee out of the New York Yankees organization who hit 17 home runs in the usually power-starved Double-A Eastern League, represents an intriguing alternative.

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