Farm won't be strike haven for borderline vets

INSIDE PITCH

August 02, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When Tom Bolton lost his touch against left-handed hitters, he also lost his job. And that probably isn't even the worst of it.

Because rookie Armando Benitez was so impressive in his first two major-league appearances, Bolton became the odd man out when the Orioles brought Arthur Rhodes in to pitch last night's game against the Minnesota Twins. After an impressive start, the veteran had fallen on tough times, and the luxury of two left-handers in the bullpen was one manager Johnny Oates no longer could afford.

For the time being -- which in this case figures to be 10 days --Jim Poole will carry the left-handed relief burden alone, which could work to his short-term benefit. Instead of being restricted to late-inning appearances, often to face just one hitter, Poole may now get some needed extra work.

But that doesn't mean Bolton will remain with Triple-A Rochester. Don't be surprised if he returns to the Orioles as soon as he completes his required 10-day stay in the minors. That would bring him back one day before the Aug. 12 strike date established by the players.

Which, of course, would be just in time to have his salary stopped.

When it comes time to juggle their 25-man roster in preparation for the strike date, the Orioles will approach the situation the same as the other 27 clubs. The line drawn will be hard and fast, with an eye on the future and no sentiment involved.

The final spots on the roster are likely to be filled with veteran players who do not figure prominently in the future. The higher the salary, the more vulnerable the player.

It is virtually certain the Orioles will return Benitez to the minor leagues rather than risk having him sit for a prolonged time. In the case of Rhodes, the decision may not be as easy, despite the obvious desire to keep him active.

Because he has two years of service, Rhodes doesn't have a split contract, which means he earns his major-league salary regardless of where he is performing. From a financial standpoint, which is the consideration all clubs can be expected to rank first on the priority list, the Orioles will be better off if Rhodes remains on the big-league roster during a strike.

The same also will be true for Bolton, even though he originally signed a Triple-A contract with the Orioles. Because of his veteran status, he commands a higher salary than the younger players. Even though the amount is not very significant, the owners' response to a strike will be the same as always -- to make it as difficult as possible by inflicting as much financial damage as they can.

Some of those decisions will be weighed against future considerations, but for the most part the players with the biggest contracts will be the biggest losers.

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