Decision due on Rhodes?

INSIDE PITCH

April 22, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

There is an adage in baseball that advises it's better to trade a player one year too soon rather than a year too late. It's one general managers generally try to follow, though not always with success.

The philosophy is, with proper judgment, that you get true value before a player hits the top of the hill as opposed to the equivalent of a case of cracked bats once he hits the down side.

It is a sound theory that, however, does have its flaws (see Frank Robinson, Cincinnati, 1965; Baltimore, 1971).

The flip side of this trading logic presents the perplexing situation with which the Orioles are now performing mental gymnastics. It dictates that it is much wiser to wait an extra year for a player to develop than to prematurely abandon young talent.

Such is the case with Arthur Rhodes, the youthful left-hander whose career has been an unequal mix of potential and `f frustration.

As the Orioles ponder how to get their bullpen in proper working order, manager Johnny Oates and general manager Roland Hemond are rapidly approaching the point where they'll also have to decide what is best for Rhodes -- and the club.

Fresh in their minds has to be the fact that the Orioles, in effect, gave up on Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling at the same age (24) -- and that Ben McDonald, now 26, is only now coming into his own. There is no consensus at the moment to trade Rhodes, though there are several teams willing to assume the unfinished project.

But what the Orioles must decide is whether their interests can best be served by Rhodes continuing to get his education in the big leagues -- or if he needs more time at Triple-A Rochester, where he has yet to spend the equivalent of a full season.

He has been on a roller-coaster ride since making the jump from Double-A Hagerstown in 1991, when he lost his only three decisions.

There were flashes of brilliance in 1992, when he was 7-5, but Rhodes has never been clearly defined as a regular starter in the big leagues. The engulfing shadow of the minor leagues always has been evident.

The fact that Rhodes has lost all three of his starts this season, despite showing some improvement in each of the past two, makes his situation even more tenuous. He seemingly has been on trial with each start in the big leagues, and the uncertainty has to take its toll.

"Sooner or later we've got to just give the kid a chance to pitch," Oates said after last night's game. "When I took him out the last time it was 2-1; this time it was 3-1. Both times it didn't look like we were going to get many runs and you don't want to let the

game get out of hand -- but they did anyhow. With a few runs on the board, you can do it differently and give him a chance to pitch out of it."

The Orioles can't afford to give up on Rhodes' talent. There is simply too much raw ability. But it would be to everybody's advantage if a way could be found to remove the uncertainty.

Either get him entrenched here as a starter, or give him a little more time to refine his tools, and his confidence.

This is not a decision that is irreversible, but the Orioles are rapidly closing in on the time when, right or wrong, they're going to have to make it.

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