Cost-cutting Padres make O's look lavish

KEN ROSENTHAL

March 17, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PHOENIX -- And you thought Eli was bad.

Say hello to chairman Tom Werner and the rest of the San Diego Padres' 15-man ownership group. The Padres finished third in the National League West last season, featuring the league batting champion (Gary Sheffield) and home run king (Fred McGriff). Now, they're the laughingstocks of baseball.

Werner and Co. say they lost $8 million in 1992, and they've responded with a cost-cutting crusade that makes Eli Jacobs look like Santa Claus. Hey, at least the Orioles had a Christmas tree this winter. The Padres didn't, saving all of $40.

Ownership has ordered the payroll reduced to $21 million, so what we're looking at is a third NL expansion team, albeit one with Sheffield, McGriff and Tony Gwynn. The payroll is now at $25.5 million. Left-hander Bruce Hurst and outfielder Darrin Jackson could be the next to go.

The beneficiaries of all this are the Padres' young players, four of whom once were property of the Orioles. Outfielder Darrell Sherman will make the team, and infielder Ricky Gutierrez could join him shortly. Pitchers Mike Linskey and Erik Schullstrom are not as close, but the way the Padres are operating, you never know.

Heck, the chaos could even work in favor of former Orioles scouting director John Barr, the man who drafted Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina. Barr, the Padres' assistant general manager, is among the candidates to succeed Joe McIlvaine, who is expected to be fired by the All-Star break.

The question is, why would Barr want the job? McIlvaine is his best friend in baseball. Besides, it's doubtful the next GM will have it any easier. The Padres eliminated 19 positions this winter, including a coach on every farm team, about a half-dozen scouts and the entire community relations department.

This team always seems to be mismanaged, no matter who is in charge. The list of former Padres amounts to an All-Star team -- Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Joe Carter, Tony Fernandez, Ozzie Guillen, Kevin Mitchell, Bip Roberts and Ozzie Smith.

Oddly enough, the trade drawing the most criticism in San Diego is the one that sent Craig Lefferts to the Orioles. The deal was the first in a series of salary dumps, but it could prove a steal if Gutierrez develops into a quality middle infielder and Schullstrom a major-league pitcher.

Gutierrez seems the better bet. He was the Orioles' second-round pick behind Gregg Olson in 1988, but as a shortstop he was caught between Cal Ripken and Manny Alexander. The Orioles began converting him to second base at Rochester, and that's the position he's playing most this spring.

A spot could open up if the Padres trade Tim Teufel, but Gutierrez likely will return to Triple-A, where he'll alternate between short and second. The Orioles might soon regret trading him for a pitcher they lost to free agency. Gutierrez is only 22, and Harold Reynolds is under contract for only one year.

Sherman is not as great a loss -- he's the Rule V draft pick the Orioles ignored while committing the leadoff job to Brady Anderson last spring. "Brady should give me some of the money he's making," Sherman says, laughing. "I was like the bunny in the greyhound race. I pushed him to the limit."

Actually, Sherman says he was "stressed out" by the pressure of trying to make the club, and relaxed only after the Orioles returned him to San Diego. He split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, batted .307 with 52 stolen bases and was protected in the expansion draft.

Last spring, he recalls, "Brady got hot, and that was the end of me." This spring, he looms as the Padres' starting center fielder if the club trades Jackson, who blocked one deal by rejecting a three-year, $8 million offer from the Boston Red Sox.

Linskey and Schullstrom, meanwhile, figure to open at Triple-A. Schullstrom, the Orioles' second-round pick in 1990, is a better prospect, but Linskey, a Baltimore native, is left-handed. The Padres have only three left-handed starters on their 40-man roster, and one of them is Hurst.

"That's why we acquired Mike in the first place," says Barr, who was pivotal in claiming Linskey on waivers from the Orioles in November 1991.

Linskey, a 6-foot-5 finesse pitcher, was an earlier version of John O'Donoghue, the 6-foot-6 left-hander competing to be the Orioles' fifth starter. He advanced to Triple-A in 1990, then quickly regressed, spending most of '91 and all of '92 at Double-A.

With most clubs, he'd be an afterthought.

With the Padres, he's a prospect.

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