Depth perception: Orioles now looking to pad pitching staff

January 16, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Now that they have added Chris Sabo to the lineup, the Orioles will return their attention to bolstering their pitching staff.

His lineup revamped by the addition of Sabo and Rafael Palmeiro and the starting rotation fortified by the acquisition of Sid Fernandez, manager Johnny Oates likes what he sees, but still wants more.

fTC "We can still use more defensive and pitching depth," he said.

And, while not ruling out another trade for a starter, the pitching depth the Orioles seek could be provided by some familiar names. Oates has made no secret of his desire to bring back Rick Sutcliffe as a possible fifth starter, and he likely will get his wish.

In addition, the Orioles have maintained contact with relievers Todd Frohwirth and Mark Williamson, both dropped from the roster after last season. They also want to re-sign closer Gregg Olson, who became a free agent when he wasn't tendered a contract by the Dec. 20 deadline.

"We've kept some communication going," said general manager Roland Hemond. "I don't want to discount anything, but sometimes I have to remind people that you don't have to do everything in the winter.

"Sometimes you're better off waiting to see what develops in spring training, or early in the season."

That would seem to indicate that the Orioles, while not ruling out more off-season moves, will be cautious in their pursuit of a pitcher.

"I'm not averse [to making a trade], but ever since I've been in baseball I've heard, 'You need another pitcher,' " said Hemond. "But I've tried to be careful not to make commitments too early."

One commitment the Orioles seem intent on keeping is not parting with young prospects, such as left-handed starter Arthur Rhodes and shortstop Manny Alexander.

"You always try to keep your best young players, and we've been on the other side of that before," said Hemond, alluding to the trade of Pete Harnisch, Steve Finley and Curt Schilling to the Houston Astros for Glenn Davis three years ago.

"I didn't see anybody get upset with them [Harnisch and Schilling] going, but they became good pitchers. You don't like to see that happen. You have to have patience if you're going to give young players a chance to grow."

The addition of Sabo gives Oates a diversified lineup that could be one of the best in baseball. It has good left-right balance, ample power and more speed than the Orioles have had in a long time.

By committing $42 million for free agents Fernandez, Palmeiro and Sabo, new owner Peter Angelos has overseen a radical change, and he doesn't rule out additional moves.

"The pitching needs to be supplemented and refined," Angelos said. "That's the feeling of Roland and Johnny, and we'll try to address that.

"But from my limited experience, I think we've made some strong moves to help the club. I think it's going to be an exciting team to watch."

Sutcliffe is among those excited about the Orioles' prospects. He met Angelos for the first time at the "Tops In Sports" banquet Friday night at Towson State, and both came away impressed.

"I told him it [his return] wasn't even a matter of money," Sutcliffe said. "I don't want a contract that could hurt my chances of making the team -- let me earn my money once the season starts."

Sutcliffe said the best offers he has had have come from the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, but he rejected both almost immediately.

"If I don't play with the Orioles, then I don't want to stay in the American League," he said.

Oates has been pushing for the club to bring back Sutcliffe, and he's expected to get his wish, though Hemond remains noncommittal.

"The difference between my position and that of the people in uniform is that I have to look at the big picture," Hemond said. "You've got to be careful you don't block the progress of others."

One concern is that a veteran pitcher, such as Sutcliffe, could impede a youngster, such as Rhodes. But Oates seems convinced he can avoid such a scenario while adding depth he feels the Orioles need.

* Hemond has decided not to attend the owners' meetings in Florida this week so that he can concentrate on the remaining contracts to be negotiated. He has three players unsigned who are eligible -- and who filed before Friday's midnight deadline -- for arbitration: pitchers Ben McDonald and Alan Mills and outfielder Mike Devereaux.

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