Angelos can't lay off Gant pitch

May 13, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Ever wonder what Christmas is like in the Angelos household?

"So you've got three cars," Peter Piper might say. "Here's a fourth!"

Take the Orioles.

They've got three starting outfielders.

And now Angelos is proposing a fourth.

Ron Gant is coming off a broken right leg. He probably would cost $3 million for half a season. And he likely would force the benching of Mike Devereaux -- the Orioles' $3.375 million center fielder -- against right-handed pitching.

Angelos wants him anyway.

The Orioles are 21-10 for the first time since 1970, and Angelos wants him. Jeffrey Hammonds likely will be sidelined for only seven to 10 days, and Angelos wants him. Camden Yards will be packed regardless, and Angelos wants him.

What an owner.

What a country.

When it appeared Hammonds' knee injury might be serious, Angelos suggested that club officials trade for Andy Van Slyke. Such a move won't be necessary. Signing Gant isn't necessary, either. But he's out there, isn't he? And all he'd cost is money.

"I don't know where the bottom of the well is, if there is a bottom," one club official said yesterday, almost gleefully.

Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles, Streisand flexes her vocal chords, Angelos flexes his wallet.

Why, Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere probably didn't know what hit her yesterday.

Meeting? What meeting?

"Gimme your team," Angelos bellowed, waving his bankbook.

The Rams would be the topper -- but the signing of Gant would ensure that the baseball people don't get too jealous. Gant averaged 29 homers, 97 RBIs and 31 stolen bases for Atlanta the past four seasons. How would manager Johnny Oates use him? Any way he wanted.

The Orioles aren't worried about overcrowding. Just this week, they lost Hammonds and Chris Sabo for 15 days, and nearly lost Devereaux and Harold Baines. Injuries will happen, but Oates wouldn't be starting Jack Voigt nine times in 10 games if he had Gant.

Indeed, the addition of Gant would carry an added bonus -- it probably would force Oates to rest Devereaux and Brady Anderson. Can't wait to see Anderson in September. He has started all 31 games, even though he's batting .219, even though he's in a 3-for-31 slump.

With Gant, Oates could bench Anderson against left-handers in favor of an all-right-handed-hitting outfield, or plug in another outfielder and make Gant his right-handed DH. Devereaux would be the odd man out against right-handers, but the Orioles don't care. They probably won't re-sign him, anyway.

Chemistry? It's a legitimate question. Gant, 29, is not a clubhouse problem, but his presence alone would be disruptive. vTC The bigger question, however, is whether the Orioles can even sign him. Two of their division rivals -- Toronto and Boston -- should be far more desperate to sign Gant.

Gant would replace Blue Jays left fielder Carlos Delgado, or Red Sox right fielder Billy Hatcher. If he's smart, he'll sign for the rest of the season, put up big numbers, then re-enter the free-agent market. If the Orioles are smart, they'll try to sign him long-term, rather than lose him to Toronto or Boston.

The situation is not unlike when the Orioles attempted to trade for Rickey Henderson last August -- Hammonds was injured, and the Blue Jays were involved. As it turned out, Toronto made a bad trade, parting with Steve Karsay. But who knows? Henderson might have helped the Orioles win the division.

That's how these things work -- one club's gain is another's loss. Anderson is signed through 1996. Hammonds is five years away from free agency. If the Orioles locked up Gant, they could strongly consider trading one of their young outfielders -- perhaps even Alex Ochoa.

Why not? It will take a blockbuster to land San Diego's Andy Benes, and it now appears the Orioles waited too long to trade Arthur Rhodes, Brad Pennington and even Manny Alexander. They're loaded with young outfielders -- Mark Smith, Jim Wawruck, Curtis Goodwin. Gant, then Benes. One move, then another.

Smith looms as an inexpensive replacement for Devereaux, but money evidently is no object. The Orioles aren't just after Gant and Benes. They're talking about pursuing California's Dwight Smith or St. Louis' Gerald Perry as a left-handed hitter off the bench. And they wouldn't mind adding a veteran starter to pitch middle-inning relief.

Imagine if they were 10-21 instead of 21-10.

It's not that frightening, actually.

:. Angelos would just buy the Atlanta Braves.

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