Orioles must seize day -- Johnson, too

April 13, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SARASOTA, Fla. -- They blew it with David Cone. They blew it with John Wetteland. But all will be forgiven if the Orioles trade for Randy Johnson.

"We'd win it all," Rafael Palmeiro said.

Is that incentive enough? Or do the Orioles need to be reminded of the importance of keeping Johnson away from the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays?

Do it.

Do it now.

Do whatever it takes to obtain Johnson from the Seattle Mariners.

General manager Roland Hemond phoned Seattle GM Woody Woodward yesterday to express the Orioles' belated interest in Johnson. Woodward said he would study the Orioles organization and get back in touch.

The Mariners would rather move pitcher Chris Bosio and/or third baseman Edgar Martinez, and reportedly are reluctant to trade Johnson. Make them.

Make them an offer they can't refuse, so they can save face and still contend for the AL West title.

If the Mariners want Jimmy Haynes and Alex Ochoa, pack the kids' bags, shake their hands and put them on the next flight. And if they demand more immediate help, give them a choice of Sid Fernandez or Arthur Rhodes as well.

Even without Rhodes, the Orioles still would be left with four No. 1 starters and Fernandez, who would be a No. 2 or 3 for most teams. Of course, Fernandez is the pitcher they'd prefer to trade, for economic reasons.

Johnson is guaranteed $15.9 million on the final three years of his contract. Fernandez is guaranteed $6 million for the next two years. The Mariners could still win the pathetic West, and save nearly $10 million in the process.

Indeed, Hemond had better not be calling Woodward just for show. Even if the Mariners won't trade Johnson now, the Orioles can start laying the groundwork for a midsummer deal.

Please, not a word about how the starting rotation is set. No rotation is set when there's a chance to acquire Randy Johnson.

Four 20-game winners, just like the '71 Orioles?

It wouldn't be out of the question.

The team that gets Johnson wins the AL East. Fans know it. Baseball people know it. And the players know it, too.

"If the Yankees get him, in my opinion, we'd have to play out of our minds the whole year to beat those guys," the Orioles' Ben McDonald said yesterday.

"You start throwing out Johnson, [Jimmy] Key, [Melido] Perez and [Jack] McDowell, you're talking about some of the best pitchers in baseball.

"With that pitching staff and that lineup, I would think they're favored as it is. Throw in Randy Johnson, and it would make it that much tougher.

"I'm not saying we can't do it -- I think we can pitch with anyone. But it would definitely put the edge in their favor."

The edge is already in their favor. The Orioles are in their usual position, one big move away from pulling ahead of the best team in the division -- formerly the Blue Jays, currently the Yankees.

They've contended four times in Hemond's seven-season tenure -- in 1989, '92, '93 and '94. But the 65-year-old GM has yet to make an impact trade to put them over the top.

He didn't get Wetteland.

He didn't get Cone.

But now, he can get Johnson.

"I don't look at it like, 'Wow, we're not doing anything,' " Mike Mussina said. "That's not my first reaction. My first reaction is, 'That's a big move for that club.'

"I give our guys the benefit of the doubt, that we're not going to stand idly by and watch everyone else load up and do nothing. I don't believe that's going to happen.

"Mr. Angelos didn't go through all that heat, take all that criticism, do all the things he did for the past eight to 10 months, to let everyone else load up on him."

Granted, it's not that simple -- the addition of Johnson could result in commitments of nearly $35.5 million to eight players in 1995. The entire payroll last season was $39.8 million.

Angelos remains willing to spend, and doesn't hold his front office to a strict budget. But at some point, money becomes a concern.

A major concern, when you've spent $173 million to purchase the team, then added nearly $50 million worth of free agents and taken a $20 million hit on the strike.

The Orioles backed out of deals for Wetteland and Marquis Grissom last week partly because they didn't want to trade prospects and partly because they didn't want to re-sign those players to expensive multi-year contracts. Fair enough.

But on Oct. 4, 1993, the day he took control of the Orioles, Angelos said he understood the importance of seizing such moments, claiming his ownership group would not have hesitated to trade for Fred McGriff.

"When Fred McGriff was available, I think if our group had been around, McGriff would be here today," Angelos said. "You have to make exceptions at the right time. I would have made that exception."

Eighteen months later, it's time.

Somehow, some way, the Orioles must get Randy Johnson.

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