Orioles have put themselves in pinch by keeping Gomez

April 14, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

DETROIT -- If Leo Gomez has one purpose with the Orioles, it's to play when Chris Sabo gets hurt. So, who started at third base yesterday with Sabo sidelined?

Why, Tim Hulett, of course.

Manager Johnny Oates said he probably will play Gomez at third today if Sabo is again unavailable due to a sore lower back, but his lineup decision yesterday only underscored the obvious:

Gomez has no place on this team.

Why is he still an Oriole? Apparently because owner Peter Angelos wants the front office to trade Gomez rather than release him -- the right idea in theory, but an impractical one in reality.

"He's a very able player," Angelos said yesterday.

So able, the Orioles signed Sabo.

The Orioles keep blowing it with Gomez. First, they gave him a raise from $312,500 to $500,000. Then, they missed their chance save three-fourths of his salary by releasing him on March 29. Now, they're wasting a roster spot on him, deluding themselves into believing they can still make a trade.

It's a small thing, perhaps -- with such a powerful lineup, Oates will use his bench sparingly -- but if the Orioles want to be a World Series contender, they should start acting like one.

Sid Fernandez comes off the disabled list on Sunday. The Orioles could demote Damon Buford or even Jack Voigt without compromising their bench, but why should either be forced out by Gomez?

Eventually, the Orioles are going to need Gomez's spot -- for an extra relief pitcher, a left-handed pinch hitter, whomever. They need to swallow their pride, admit their mistake and release Gomez when Fernandez is activated.

Think about what Oates did yesterday. Hulett was 2-for-7 off Detroit starter John Doherty, Gomez 0-for-2. "Those numbers are not really enough to base it on," Oates said. Yet, he opted to play a utility infielder over his starting third baseman the past three seasons.

"What can I say?" Gomez asked.

Maybe Oates just wants to get both players at-bats -- Gomez would get the nod today because he's 5-for-17 off Mike Moore. But Oates kept starting Hulett and Mike Pagliarulo after Gomez came off the disabled list last September. His feelings on the subject seem rather clear.

Why not play Gomez to showcase him? Because it wouldn't matter. No one wants him -- not Boston, not Minnesota, not the New York Mets. Hard to believe, but each of those clubs had the nerve to resist the Orioles' fervent sales pitch this spring.

The Orioles need middle-relief help -- the bullpen ERA soared to 6.62 after Mark Eichhorn allowed a two-run homer in yesterday's 6-3 loss to the Tigers -- but Gomez can't even bring them the ever-popular player to be named.

At one point, it appeared they might trade Gomez for Boston reliever Paul Quantrill, provided the Red Sox could deal third baseman Scott Cooper for Minnesota outfielder Shane Mack.

But those talks collapsed when Mack opened the season on the disabled list. Now, the Red Sox are talking about signing Ron Gant. That way, they can keep Cooper, an All-Star who merely hit for the cycle Tuesday night.

The Twins? Gomez would be an improvement over their Scott Leius-Chip Hale platoon, but like the Red Sox initially, they appear content to wait out the Orioles, figuring Gomez will be released sooner or later.

The Mets? They rejected the Orioles' offer of Gomez and David Segui for pitcher Anthony Young, acquiring Segui for a lower price (two minor-leaguers), then trading Young for a player far better than Gomez (shortstop Jose Vizcaino).

So, here's Leo, doing the limbo.

"They said all spring training that they wanted to do something with me, and nothing happened," he said. "At the last minute, they told me I made the club."

How's that for planning? We don't want you, we don't want you -- boom! -- you're on the team. Gomez tries not to think about it. "Whatever they do is fine," he said. "I know I can play in the big leagues."

But not in Baltimore. Not over Sabo. What would the Orioles lose by releasing Gomez? Only the chance of his replacing Sabo next season, which is highly unlikely, and about $400,000 of his salary, which they'd have to pay anyway.

Maybe Angelos thinks Gomez could help the Orioles land Minnesota's Kevin Tapani, but the Twins probably won't move Tapani until the July 31 trading deadline, when they can cut the best deal.

That's too long to wait. It's not like Gomez is Russ Davis, the New York Yankees' hot third-base prospect who is considered a dealmaker in many trades. The Orioles might not get Tapani with Gomez, much less without him.

This is an exercise in futility. No other team wants Gomez; why should the Orioles? They made a mistake keeping him this long. There's no need for them to compound it further.

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