Angelos has raised expectations now he has to show he can deliver

BASEBALL

November 14, 1993|By PETER SCHMUCK

The list gets longer every day. The Orioles entered the Peter Angelos era with their focus on a handful of top-name players, but it has reached the point where they could make a smaller list of the players who have not been considered.

Remember when it was just Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro? Now, there's a new name almost every day. Sid Fernandez still seems like a strong possibility. Jack McDowell has been discussed. Today, Bobby Bonilla. Tomorrow, who knows?

Is that bad?

Is it possible that the Orioles are -- inadvertently -- setting their fans up for a tremendous disappointment?

It is, because it takes more than good intentions to get things done in baseball's complicated business environment, but the free-agent frenzy and the frequent trade rumors that have made the first few weeks of the off-season so exciting are an indication of just how serious Angelos is about improving the club.

He may have arrived on the scene with a certain degree of naivete about the ways of the baseball world, but the club's ever-expanding field of vision is proof that he is sincere in his attempt to build a championship team.

Lest anyone forget, there were free-agent forays during the Eli Jacobs era, but they usually were more show than go. The club would make contact with a few player representatives, who would characterize the Orioles' interest as "sincere" and then direct their clients elsewhere. Then the club would find someone willing to sign a one-year contract, invite a few others to spring training and declare the rebuilding effort a success.

Not that there weren't successes. General manager Roland Hemond and former club president Larry Lucchino deserve credit for keeping the Orioles in contention with only modest free-agent expenditures. The club got a lot of mileage out of free agents Harold Baines and Harold Reynolds and would not have been able to stay afloat in the American League East without journeyman pitcher Jamie Moyer. But the half-hearted commitment of the former ownership was always apparent.

The front office would focus on a couple of mid-level free agents and make non-competitive offers, then bottom-feed for bargains to fill out the roster for spring training.

The new ownership has done just the opposite -- targeting all of the top players in the free-agent market as well as a number of marquee-quality stars who might be available in trade. Angelos seems intent on keeping every possible option open, so Orioles fans will know the thoroughness of the club's attempt to close the gap with the two-time world champion Toronto Blue Jays.

There still could be some disappointment along the way. Clark could re-sign with the San Francisco Giants and Palmeiro could go back to the Texas Rangers. The Orioles might not have the wherewithal to pull off a deal for a player the caliber of McDowell or Bonilla. It is not a perfect science.

Angelos knows that he has raised the expectations of the fans dramatically since he paid a record $173 million for the team at auction in August, but he has not shied away from his promise to spend what is necessary to put the Orioles over the top. If anything, he has improved on that promise.

Can he keep it? There are no guarantees, but in these days of cost consciousness, the Orioles are one team that is working without any serious financial constraints this winter. It seems very unlikely that Angelos will come up empty-handed.

Fernando redux

The agent for Fernando Valenzuela said Friday that one National League club -- believed to be the San Diego Padres -- has shown interest in signing the veteran left-hander to a contract for the 1994 season.

"There is one team in the National League that we have talked to," said Tony DeMarco, who has represented Valenzuela since he broke into the major leagues in 1980, "but I told them that we have a moral commitment to give the Orioles an opportunity to sign Fernando if they want to."

The Orioles gave Valenzuela a chance to re-establish himself as a major-league pitcher when they invited him to spring training as a non-roster player last season. He won a place in the starting rotation and was the American League Pitcher of the Month for July before tiring down the stretch.

"He was very happy with the Orioles," DeMarco said, "and he was grateful for the way Johnny Oates stuck with him and gave him a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the club."

His struggles at the end of the season left room to doubt that the Orioles would make a serious attempt to re-sign him, but it might be premature to count him out for 1994. He pitched well at times last year, even though he had only a few weeks off after throwing more than 250 innings in the Mexican summer and winter leagues.

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