Angelos isn't ready to get off joy ride yet

January 16, 1994|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

They didn't have to sign Chris Sabo. They could have kept Leo Gomez at third base and said, "Hey, we've got to cut the payroll somewhere." Under Eli Jacobs, the Orioles took that approach to practically every position. But under Peter Angelos, no corner gets cut, be it the hot one or any other.

The addition of Sabo gives the Orioles millionaires at eight of nine positions -- your time will come, Jeffrey Hammonds -- and this Rotisserie-style joy ride still isn't over. Once again, the Orioles are trying to acquire Pete Harnisch. If one trade fails, move onto another.

Sabo represents an obvious upgrade at a position that has haunted the Orioles since the departure of Doug DeCinces and, going back further, the retirement of Brooks Robinson. Sabo vs. Lay-o, it's not even close -- and if Sabo breaks down, there's always Tim Hulett.

No, they didn't have to do this. They could have stopped after Rafael Palmeiro and still been strong contenders. But Angelos just won't quit. Every signing is another slap at Jacobs, another indication of how things might have -- and should have -- been.

Barring a flurry of activity by Toronto -- and everyone in baseball knows the Blue Jays will do something -- the Orioles will be AL East favorites. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, but the best teams address as many holes as possible. The Blue Jays are a perfect example. Now, the Orioles are following suit.

Oh, Angelos hasn't been perfect. He nearly alienated his front office by losing Will Clark to Texas. He has yet to resolve the Doug Melvin-Frank Robinson power struggle. And he might have xTC badly miscalculated the gamble of making Gregg Olson a free agent.

Still, the debate now is at an entirely different level. You can question Angelos for this move or that, but you can't question his motives. That's what distinguishes his ownership from Jacobs'. The goal no longer is the bottom line. It's winning baseball.

Suddenly, the status of Olson is the only dark cloud. If the Orioles get Harnisch, the rotation will include three of the best young right-handers in baseball (Harnisch, Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald) and two capable left-handers (Sid Fernandez and Jamie Moyer or Arthur Rhodes).

The batting order? It will get along fine without Bobby Bonilla. Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux will again be the 1-2 hitters. Palmeiro, Harold Baines and Cal Ripken figure to rotate in the 3-4-5 spots. Chris Hoiles, Sabo, Hammonds and Mark McLemore are the likely 6-7-8-9.

Speed at the top, speed at the bottom, nine tough outs, a pitcher's nightmare. Sabo was a 21-homer, 82-RBI man for Cincinnati last season. His gritty play inspired the Reds in the 1990 World Series, and it makes him a perfect fit for the laid-back Orioles. Where have you gone, Mike Pagliarulo? No one cares now.

The switch-hitting Bonilla would have made the lineup even more dynamic, but according to sources on both sides, the New York Mets insisted on Manny Alexander, and the Orioles wouldn't budge. Sabo could be a one- or two-year bridge to Alexander. When his contract expires, the Orioles can move Ripken to third.

The end of the Bonilla hunt virtually ensures that Devereaux will return; general manager Roland Hemond, never one for big proclamations, said it was "most likely." However, this could be Devereaux's last season in Baltimore. He's eligible for free agency, and the Orioles plan to sign him for only one year.

Devereaux's agent, Ray Anderson, said he was "sorely disappointed" that the Orioles won't offer a long-term deal -- as they did with Anderson, who signed for three years. The Orioles haven't had good luck in recent years with eligible free agents -- see Ripken and Mickey Tettleton. But Devereaux has something to prove.

It appears almost certain now that Gomez will be traded; he's proficient at only one position, so he'd be useless as a bench player. The Orioles would like to find an opportunity for David Segui as well, but he's versatile enough that manager Johnny Oates probably wouldn't mind having him back in a utility role.

Gomez and Segui -- they were regulars last year, and Luis Mercedes started in right on Opening Day. Those three have been replaced by two former All-Stars (Sabo and Palmeiro) and a future one (Hammonds). That's significant improvement, not a spring-training prayer. For once, it's the Jays who must respond.

The lack of a closer still could haunt this team -- even if Olson returns, he might not be healthy. But the Orioles still have Alan Mills, Brad Pennington and Mark Eichhorn. Mostly, they've got Peter Angelos. The season is three months away, and he's already earned the save.

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