O's need to ponder value of Benes, Gant

INSIDE PITCH

May 15, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If the Orioles are serious about pursuing free agent outfielder Ron Gant and San Diego right-hander Andy Benes, there's a word of advice that should be heeded.

Caution.

Whether or not the Orioles can get either or both players depends on two things: How deep does owner Peter Angelos want to go into his already lightened wallet and how deep into the minor-league system can the organization go hocking the future?

But the biggest question of all is how much of a dividend, even on a short-term investment, could the Orioles expect? It might not be as much as a lot of people think.

The big factor here is the difference that now exists between the National League and the American League. It is considerable.

"This is the first time I've seen an American League game this year," said one AL scout who visited Camden Yards last week and shall remain nameless for obvious reasons. "I've been in the National League ever since the season started.

"They say the umpiring is better over there and the games are faster, and it's not true. And there is a big difference in the talent between the two leagues.

"We [the American League] have more good young players than they do.

"And they've also lost some of their top players through free agency. It's not a very good league at all."

The scout's opinion merely reflects what recent All-Star Game and World Series results have strongly suggested -- that the National League has surrendered the advantage it once held over the AL. There are some weak teams in both leagues, but the early success of the Florida and Colorado expansion teams is perhaps a good indication of the parity that exists in the NL.

The Atlanta Braves are clearly the class of the league, and can compete with anybody -- but they would not be nearly as dominant in the AL.

Gant put up some good numbers with the Braves before celebrating a $5.5 million contract with a dirt bike and a broken leg. And Benes has been consistent with a bad team -- his career ERA is 3.44 and he's never had a season when it was higher than last year's 3.78 or lower than the 3.03 he posted in 1991.

The gamble with Gant, who will be a free agent at the end of the year and may not be able to play even a half-season this year, is one involving money. Benes, who can be a free agent after next season, would require equal pounds of flesh.

Before either expenditure is made, the Orioles have to determine what kind of production they can expect. The numbers Gant and Benes posted have come at the expense of National League teams -- a factor that cannot be dismissed, and can't be overlooked by the Orioles.

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