Trade winds leave O's sails empty

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 31, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Orioles aren't likely to make a trade before tonight's midnight waiver deadline, but it won't be from lack of effort. Rickey Henderson is the focus of their latest attempt to swing a blockbuster deal. The whole thing seems unlikely, but for once, it's the thought that counts.

General manager Roland Hemond confirmed the Orioles' pursuit of Henderson last night, saying he spoke "several times" yesterday with Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson in an attempt to keep Henderson from landing with Toronto.

Henderson, 34, has a no-trade clause that he probably would waive only for a contract extension or cash bonus. The Orioles also would be forced to part with young players and pay the balance of his $3.25 million salary, so don't count on seeing him here soon.

Still, if nothing else, the Orioles might drive up the price for the Blue Jays, and thus prevent them from forming an outfield of Henderson, Devon White and Joe Carter. Good for Hemond. He might be bluffing, but at least he's playing hardball.

The Orioles are determined not to trade Jeffrey Hammonds, Brad Pennington and Arthur Rhodes, not for Henderson, not for anyone. For all practical purposes, Henderson would be a two-month rental, eligible for free agency if his new team failed to offer salary arbitration.

In any case, Hemond should be careful. It would be different if the Orioles were truly one player away, but after the usual collapse in Toronto and the latest news on Mike Mussina, the chances of this team remaining in contention are slim.

Mussina probably won't come off the disabled list until mid-August, and even then he might not be the same pitcher. His uncertain status illustrates why the Orioles wanted to acquire another starter even when their rotation appeared strong -- you always, always need pitching.

Chris Sabo? Cincinnati wants too much, so Hemond inquired about another third baseman, Pittsburgh's Jeff King, but to no avail. "If Roland spent half as much time talking to other people as he has with me about the conversations he's had, I don't know when he's slept," manager Johnny Oates said.

We've heard such comments about Hemond before, but this time he's going for the kill. With Monday's bankruptcy auction looming, perhaps club officials view this as their last hurrah. They've aimed considerably higher than in past races, when they settled for Keith Moreland and Craig Lefferts.

Indeed, the Orioles still are baffled they didn't land Fred McGriff, believing they offered three players (Manny Alexander, Damon Buford and John O'Donoghue) who are better prospects than the three San Diego obtained from Atlanta.

The Padres wanted Rhodes along with Alexander, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be better off with right-hander Donnie Elliott and outfielders Vince Moore and Melvin Nieves. But as Orioles assistant GM Doug Melvin said, "People in general didn't think they got what they could have."

The Orioles were in contact with the Padres until the day of the trade, but San Diego officials claim Baltimore finished third for McGriff, behind Atlanta and Cincinnati. The point is, the Orioles keep swinging, even with owner Eli Jacobs in bankruptcy and the club about to be sold.

Ultimately, the most significant development to emerge from this series of talks might be the Orioles' apparent willingness to trade Alexander, their shortstop of the future. Until now, Alexander appeared the likely replacement for Cal Ripken, if not next season, then perhaps in 1995.

Just last August, the Orioles traded shortstop Ricky Gutierrez to San Diego to clear a path for Alexander, whom they considered a better prospect. Now club officials are questioning whether Alexander will develop into a quality hitter.

Thus, Ripken figures to remain at shortstop indefinitely -- or at least until he breaks Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record in mid-1995. Ripken would never admit it, but apparently he wants to set the record at shortstop, his position for all but the first month of the streak.

Trading Alexander would be debatable enough, but as another concession to the streak it would be outrageous. Ripken is on a pace to commit 19 errors, his most since 1988. He remains one of the game's top defensive shortstops, but his range is declining. By '95, third base might, indeed, be his best position.

But that's a problem for another time. Alexander probably isn't going anywhere -- not today, and not before the Aug. 31 deadline, when players must clear waivers. The clock is about to strike midnight. Hey Rickey, you coming to the ball?

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