O's opening roster not cut and dried

March 24, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, FLA — SARASOTA, Fla. -- View it as an abundance of depth or a surplus of mediocrity. Either way, the Orioles are faced with more Opening Day roster choices than last season.

"Last year, we had maybe two decisions to make," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "More people have a legitimate chance to make the ballclub than at this point last year. This year, we have probably six position players competing for three spots and six pitchers competing for the final two spots."

The most likely Opening Day lineup against the Kansas City Royals' Kevin Appier: Brady Anderson in left, Mike Devereaux in center, Rafael Palmeiro at first, Harold Baines at designated hitter, Cal Ripken at shortstop, Chris Hoiles at catcher, Chris Sabo at third, Mark McLemore at second and Jeffrey Hammonds in right.

The Orioles will open with 10 pitchers and six position players on the bench.

Decisions. Decisions.

Starting behind the plate, Oates has the option of going with threecatchers or choosing between Jeff Tackett and Rich Gedman.

A two-catcher roster appears the more likely scenario. Tackett, the stronger thrower, has .400 batting average, two home runs and eight RBIs.

"Tackett is hitting much better this spring," Oates said. "I don't know if winter ball had anything to do with it, but he is hitting much better."

Gedman, a left-handed hitter who has that wrinkle to offer, is batting .222 this spring. For their careers, however, Tackett is a -- .215 hitter, Gedman a .252 hitter.

Never underestimate the emphasis Oates places on defense, particularly behind the plate. Tackett appears to have the edge, however slight.

Under the two-catcher alignment, that leaves five open bench spots. Count on Tim Hulett, David Segui and Jack Voigt making the cut, which leaves two open spots.

Lonnie Smith, a right-handed hitter, could platoon with Harold Baines to give the Orioles a formidable designated hitter tandem. Make that one open spot.

Three candidates can make strong arguments.

Damon Buford's speed, sound defense in the outfield and hot spring at the plate make him a worthy candidate.

Rene Gonzales, a nonroster invitee who has experience at every infield position, is accustomed to a bench role and is coming off two productive seasons with the California Angels.

Third baseman Leo Gomez hit .265 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs two seasons ago, numbers that the Orioles hope will attract suitors. So far, his .197 average in 1993 appears more fresh on the minds of most general managers.

The Orioles, interested in Paul Quantrill, discussed Gomez with Boston in the event the Red Sox trade third baseman Scott Cooper to the Minnesota Twins.

Are the Orioles and Red Sox still talking?

"Not as constantly as before," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said.

Hemond said he has spoken with roughly a dozen teams this week.

"The lines do get busy this time of the year," Hemond said. "The closer it gets to roster cutdown date, the busier they get. I wouldn't classify anything as real close."

Gonzales' future with the club could hinge on Hemond's ability to trade either Gomez or Segui. Buford, though impressive all spring, can beoptioned to Triple-A, where he would be one early-season trade or injury away from a recall.

Gomez does not have any options remaining, which means he will be traded, kept on the roster or released.

"I would not lean toward releasing Leo," Hemond said. "I would say no, we won't release Leo."

The composition of the pitching staff isn't as difficult to forecast, but isn't set either.

Only Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Jamie Moyer, Arthur Rhodes, Lee Smith, Mark Eichhorn, Alan Mills and Jim Poole can feel assured of making the staff. Sid Fernandez is set to open the season on the disabled list.

Oates likely will choose among Mark Williamson, Mike Oquist and left-hander Brad Pennington to fill the ninth and 10th spots on the pitching staff.

Gomez and Segui, the two most expendable Orioles with trade value, have not shown their best to scouts this spring.

Gomez is hitting .214 with two home runs, five RBIs and four strikeouts. Segui has a .184 average and five errors.

"If we don't make a trade, I feel confident we have 25 players we can open the season with," Oates said.

Which 25 won't be so easy to determine.

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