Angelos has Orioles' front office on road, looking to make a deal

May 21, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- Doug Melvin and Fred Uhlman Sr. were in Philadelphia last week scouting Montreal's Larry Walker and Philadelphia's Milt Thompson. Frank Robinson will be in Houston tomorrow night watching San Diego's Andy Benes. Gordon Goldsberry has been following Benes all season.

It's a sight for sore eyes.

Front office on parade!

The Orioles aren't certain to complete a trade in the coming days, but they thought they were close to acquiring San $H Francisco's Dave Martinez on Thursday, and general manager Roland Hemond continues to talk to San Diego GM Randy Smith about Benes.

It's time to act, don't you think? The Orioles dropped a season-high 4 1/2 games out of first place with last night's 5-1 loss to New York. They've scored only 16 runs in their past seven games. And they're 3-10 in games started by last night's pitcher (Jamie Moyer) and today's (Arthur Rhodes).

They need a hitter, a pitcher and maybe more. Club sources indicate that the Martinez deal still could happen, but if it doesn't, Hemond can just target another left-handed hitting outfielder -- Walker, Thompson, Pittsburgh's Orlando Merced and California's Dwight Smith also are on the club's wish list.

And don't forget the right-handed Ron Gant.

We've heard it all before, but the Orioles finally are prepared to make an impact move in the middle of a pennant race, and the reason is owner Peter Angelos. If Hemond can't come up with better than Lonnie Smith, Craig Lefferts or Keith Moreland this time, then it's his own fault.

How fitting that Smith likely would be the first casualty if the Orioles succeeded in acquiring a left-handed hitter. Leo Gomez could become the right-handed DH after Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Sabo come off the disabled list. Since joining the Orioles last September, Smith has batted .172.

"We'd like to do something and not have to wait until the [July 31] deadline," Melvin, the Orioles' assistant GM, said yesterday. "We'd like to do something a little bit quicker than that. If other clubs are willing, we'd be willing to do something sooner."

Walker, 27, is the most attractive hitter the Orioles are pursuing, but after averaging 23 homers, 90 RBIs and 24 stolen bases the past two seasons, he'll also be the most difficult to obtain. The cost-conscious Expos likely would want prospects in return, and Walker is eligible for free agency.

It probably makes more sense for the Orioles to use their top young players to land Benes and lesser minor leaguers to secure left-handed hitter for the bench. The addition of Walker would muddle the outfield picture, and likely reduce Mike Devereaux -- a $3.375 million player -- to a part-time role.

That wouldn't be the end of the world -- it's Angelos' money, not yours or mine. Still, the odds of getting Walker aren't good. The Expos apparently want to trade him to clear a spot for Rondell White. But Walker is day-to-day with a sore right shoulder and a torn ligament in his right middle finger.

Martinez, 29, is more realistic. He could play against right-handers with Jeffrey Hammonds sidelined, and serve as a left-handed pinch-hitter after Hammonds returns. Manager Johnny Oates likes him -- Martinez played with Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer and Lee Smith when Oates was dugout coach for the Chicago Cubs.

Names, names and more names, but at least Hemond is showing renewed energy and focus. Uhlman and Goldsberry usually spend May scouting high school and college talent in preparation for the June draft. This year, Hemond ordered his two special assistants to stick to major-league coverage.

"If you're not scouting players, you're going on last year's reports -- that's how you can make a mistake," Hemond said before last night's game in New York. "We're spending more time on coverage of our league and the other league than we have in the past. We're better prepared."

Preparation wasn't even an issue under Eli Jacobs, who showed little interest in player acquisition. But the draft is now less of a priority -- the Orioles lost their first-round pick with the signing of Sid Fernandez, and 53 players will be chosen before they make their initial selection.

The Orioles shouldn't operate like this every year -- they acquired Jay Powell, Mark Smith, Jeffrey Hammonds, Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson with their last six first-round picks. But Angelos wants to win. The team is capable of winning. It's time to take a shot.

That's the idea behind sending Robinson to Houston. Goldsberry has been filing reports on Benes, but now the Orioles will get a second opinion. Apparently, they're still willing to offer San Diego a package of four players -- Arthur Rhodes, Brad Pennington, Manny Alexander and Damon Buford.

Benes is 2-7 with a 4.14 ERA, a .500 pitcher for his career and eligible for free agency -- along with Ben McDonald -- after the 1995 season. It's difficult to imagine the Orioles signing two Scott Boras clients to long-term contracts. But that would be next year's problem.

Hemond fears it will be more difficult to complete trades under realignment, with more clubs believing they're in contention. But that development is balanced by another recent trend -- the desire of small-market clubs to unload high-salaried players.

The GM is forewarned:

Excuses no longer cut it.

Angelos wants action.

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