Rickey in left field would fix right

Ken Rosenthal

April 22, 1993|By Ken Rosenthal

You've got three right fielders who aren't as good as a converted infielder. You've got a dynamite prospect you don't want to rush to the majors. And you've got a chance to win the division, a chance that doesn't come along every season.

What's the answer?

A trade.

Not just any trade, but one that will bring an impact player the Orioles could rent for one season. That way, they could stop worrying about Moe, Larry and Curly-- er, Chito, Luis and Sherman -- while preserving right field for Jeffrey Hammonds.

We're not talking about a Kevin McReynolds, because the last thing this team needs is another passive player who might turn into another Keith Moreland. We're talking about a legitimate star in the middle of a salary drive -- the 1993 equivalent of Andre Dawson.

The player who best fits the profile?

Would you believe Rickey Henderson?

Don't laugh. Henderson is in the final year of his contract, and -- surprise! -- he's off to a fast start. In other words, it's the perfect time to get him, if the Orioles could pull it off without getting hoodwinked by Oakland, one of the game's most shrewd franchises.

Of course, such discussions can't even begin until Eli Jacobs sells the club. Jacobs might be in bankruptcy, but he's still running the team. It's the same old story: With attendance booming, there's no financial incentive for him to add a big salary.

But now, with the sale imminent, it's fair to start wondering what will happen if and when Bill DeWitt gains control of the team.

Maybe DeWitt will be financially strapped after scrounging up the necessary $140 million, rendering all trade speculation meaningless. Or maybe he'll follow the recent trend among new owners and make a splashy move upon acquiring the club.

Henderson is probably an unrealistic target -- just imagine the disruption to the Orioles' chemistry if he batted leadoff over Brady Anderson and forced Anderson to move to right. But the basic idea -- trading for a veteran outfielder -- is perfectly rational.

Right field is a joke. Obando looks like the best of the three right now, but he's proving as mistake-prone as Mercedes. Martinez (0-for-15) is going so badly, he can't even crack the lineup against a right-hander like Jack McDowell. He wasn't scheduled to play before last night's game was rained out.

Manager Johnny Oates originally thought of giving Mike Devereaux a night off and playing Martinez in left, but instead decided to stick with Devereaux and go with Mark McLemore -- the Orioles' answer to Dwight Evans -- in right.

McLemore is 5-for-15 off McDowell, Martinez 3-for-10. When is Chito ever going to play if not against a right-hander he can hit?

Oates keeps saying he wants one of the right fielders to force his hand, but it's not going to happen with the playing time divided three ways. It's not going to happen, period, when the competition consists of three players who arguably don't belong in the major leagues.

The only way out is a trade, and deep down, the Orioles know it. You can bet the front office already is concocting various schemes to improve the club under new ownership. The Orioles need a right fielder and another starting pitcher. Will DeWitt be the savior?

Ideally, the Orioles would want players in the final years of their contracts, but club officials can get real creative with this. Say San Diego decides to take the final plunge and dump Tony Gwynn. With Jacobs gone, the Orioles might actually show interest, even though Gwynn is signed through 1995.

True, Gwynn is a $4 million player, but Devereaux becomes a free agent after the 1994 season. Gwynn would represent immediate protection against the possibility of Devereaux leaving. The Orioles then would be so loaded with outfielders, they'd be in position to make further trades.

It's all incredibly speculative, but the fact is, things almost certainly will change under the new owner. Even if DeWitt can't afford to increase the payroll immediately, it's inconceivable that he would be more bottom-line than Jacobs in the long run.

So, close your eyes, and imagine it's September 1993. Martinez and Mercedes are with other organizations. Obando is in Rochester after clearing waivers. The Orioles' outfield consists of Henderson, Devereaux and Anderson. And Hammonds is champing at the bit, with a .390 average at Triple-A.

Sure, it's a fantasy.

But maybe not as outlandish as it seems.

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