Oates: Smith signing doesn't oust Olson

January 31, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Manager Johnny Oates said Saturday's signing of Lee Smith was almost a necessity but yesterday said there was still room on the Orioles' pitching staff for Gregg Olson.

"Sure, I feel there's a place for Gregg, and as far as I'm concerned we haven't closed the door," Oates said. "But we've put a lot of time, effort and money into this team during the winter and I didn't want to see us go into spring training without a proven closer. You have to take first things first, and we didn't have anybody under contract.

"You can talk about a bullpen committee all you want, and I think those guys [Alan Mills, Mark Eichhorn, Jim Poole, Todd Frohwirth] could get the job done -- but that still leaves a hole to be filled. This guy [Smith] had 46 saves last year and [that] speaks for [itself]."

Oates said he was pressing the Orioles to sign either Olson or another closer. "I don't think we could wait much longer -- with the possibility of losing both of them," said Oates.

"My No. 1 goal for Gregg is that I want to see him healthy. My No. 2 goal is that I want him to pitch for the Orioles. But we have to get him under contract, and that hasn't happened.

"I'm in a position where I can't afford to sit around and wait. A few weeks ago, we only had six or seven pitchers. Now we're getting to the point where we're starting to get a little depth for our staff.

"But we had to have somebody [a closer] under contract. I didn't wantus to end up holding an empty bag."

Smith admittedly wasn't very high on the Orioles' list until last week. When they decided they wouldn't accept a proposal from Jeff Moorad, Olson's agent, the Orioles decided to pursue Smith, the all-time saves leader with 401.

The big right-hander had a 4.50 ERA and allowed 11 home runs in 50 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals before being traded to the Yankees on Aug. 31. Still, he was the National League leader with 43 saves at the time of his trade, and added three more in eight scoreless appearances with the Yankees.

General manager Roland Hemond acknowledged that the Orioles probably couldn't have signed Smith if they had Olson under contract. "He most likely would've gone someplace else," said Hemond.

Even though both sides say there were no promises or guarantees, there is no doubt the Orioles signed Smith to fill the role of closer. Should they be able to lure Olson back, which seems unlikely, he undoubtedly would have to start as a setup man before competing for his old job.

"Whether it's with us or another team, Gregg has to get a contract signed, then get himself in shape to pitch and prove he can get people out," said Oates.

A slightly torn elbow ligament in early August sidelined Olson for the last two months of the season.

Olson, who still finished with 29 saves and is believed to be seriously weighing offers from the California Angels and New York Yankees, has not been available for comment since the Orioles announced Smith's signing. It's doubtful the Orioles can talk him into returning, but Hemond, Oates and owner Peter Angelos insist the door still is open.

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