Heard the rumors? Now let's talk trades

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 10, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Talk about a wasted trip. Frank Robinson spends three day with San Diego general manager Joe McIlvaine, and yesterday McIlvaine resigns. Eli Jacobs would flip over Robinson's expense report, if he weren't in the process of selling the club.

Robinson, the Orioles' assistant GM, said he was scouting the Padres' "four diamonds" -- Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Andy Benes and Tony Gwynn. McGriff, a left-handed slugger, is the player most coveted by the Orioles, but don't count on him peppering the warehouse any time soon.

For that matter, don't count on seeing Frank Viola in an Orioles uniform either. The Viola-for-Brady Anderson fantasy is the kind of trade rumor that gives newspapers a bad name. The Orioles' interest in McGriff and Co. is far more genuine, but probably just as futile.

Everyone in baseball knows San Diego is dumping its high-priced superstars, and the line forms to the right. The Padres show no interest in competing, but with All-Star ticket orders from Congress to fill, Major League Baseball can't be bothered with the integrity of the game.

Anyway, the Orioles are one of a half-dozen clubs pursuing McGriff, and the front-office shake-up in San Diego will only delay the process. Robinson hadn't gotten very far with McIlvaine anyway. "I think he knew then there was no sense of me giving him any names," he said.

The problem is, no matter how attractive the Orioles make their package, the Atlanta Braves can top it. The Braves want McGriff to replace Sid Bream, and their farm system is the deepest in baseball, with prospects at every position at Triple-A.

Besides, would a new Orioles owner take on a $4.25 million salary after paying $140 million for the club and owing another $25 million to Cal Ripken? And, from a philosophical standpoint, should the Orioles gamble away more young players in another blockbuster trade?

No one in the front office needs to be reminded of the Glenn Davis disaster, but it would take the same type of deal to land McGriff. The Padres aren't interested in established players with high salaries. They want an entire team of kids, the better to keep the payroll down.

So, who would the Orioles give them for McGriff? Not Jeffrey Hammonds, their top prospect. Not Brad Pennington, their closer-in-waiting. More likely, they'd offer a first-base exchange (David Segui or Paul Carey) plus two or three other young players.

The leading candidates would be left-hander John O'Donoghue, shortstop Manny Alexander and outfielder Mark Smith. None would haunt the Orioles as quickly as Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and Steve Finley, but the front office still would risk history repeating itself.

Top to bottom, the farm system is probably deeper than it was at the time of the Davis trade -- Harnisch and Schilling were part of a large group of borderline major-league pitchers, and Finley was one of three young outfielders, behind Mike Devereaux, ahead of Brady Anderson.

Now, most of the Orioles' best prospects are at lower levels. O'Donoghue is the most promising starting pitcher at Triple-A. With Rick Sutcliffe about to turn 37 and Fernando Valenzuela a well-worn 32, the Orioles should think twice about trading any pitcher -- especially a left-hander.

Alexander? He probably won't be ready to replace Cal Ripken next season, but the Orioles would be foolish to commit to Ripken at shortstop through 1997. Alexander is the only quality shortstop in the system. Trading him would be a huge risk.

Smith? He wouldn't fit in an outfield consisting of Anderson, Devereaux and Hammonds, but that trio likely would be together only for one season. Anderson and Devereaux are eligible for free agency in 1994, and it's doubtful both would return.

Of course, the entire picture could change, particularly if the Orioles enter the free-agent market under new ownership. They could finally sign a power-hitting outfielder, trade Anderson or Devereaux and still be in a position of strength with Damon Buford and Smith.

Gregg Olson also will be a free agent after next season, and he, too, is starting to look like trade bait. The Orioles could turn to Pennington, and they just drafted another potential closer, Jay Powell. Why, Olson might even welcome a trade, given his tenuous position with Johnny Oates.

Of course, Olson probably would turn into a Cy Young winner like all the rest, but enough gazing into the crystal ball. The only way for the Orioles to swing a blockbuster this season is by trading more young players. Just because they blew it once doesn't mean they should stop trying. But not now. Not yet.

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