Best bet to catch Red Sox? It's O's

June 11, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

Roger Clemens is back in the rotation, Lee Tinsley and Mark Whiten are back in the outfield, and, during the next 10 days, the Boston Red Sox will get designated hitter Jose Canseco and pitcher Aaron Sele off the disabled list.

Everybody's wondering whether the Red Sox, who nearly achieved a double-digit lead in the standings this week, can overcome their tradition of botching a good thing.

Here's a better question: Does anybody in the AL East have the right stuff to catch the Red Sox, once Boston goes through a slump?

Detroit has played better than expected, but this is a fact: They have no chance. They stink.

The Blue Jays may have three or four future Hall of Famers in their lineup. But Paul Molitor, a Major League Baseball Players Association leader who talked wearily of calling it quits if the strike lingered, is having an awful season.

John Olerud isn't producing much, and the pitching staff is a mess; to date, the team's best starter has been Al Leiter, and the Jays really don't have an established closer now that Darren Hall has established the fact that he in no way resembles Duane Ward. Toronto has blown six of 13 save opportunities.

But more devastating to Toronto is the fact that the team is in the process of being sold. In the past the Blue Jays have gone out and acquired the players they needed to compete, even in the middle of the season, like Tom Candiotti, David Cone and Rickey Henderson. That may not be possible this year.

The Yankees still have that great core of talent -- Jack McDowell, John Wetteland and Wade Boggs. But their rotation is a problem as long as Jimmy Key is out. The situation is ripe for panic, and nobody is more capable of panicking than New York owner George Steinbrenner.

A month ago, the Yankees were laughing at the idea of signing Darryl Strawberry. Now, it seems, the New York tabloids seem to have convinced Steinbrenner that signing the Straw Man is somehow going to help the Bronx Bombers.

He may draw a few more fans, but lost in all the hype is the fact that Strawberry has proved in the past two seasons that he really can't play anymore.

The Yankees also have talked to the Houston Astros about acquiring left-hander Greg Swindell, who is talented but has shown that he is sensitive. New York is no place for a sensitive left-hander.

That leaves the Orioles, who may be the only team capable of taking a run at the Red Sox.

The Orioles' starting pitching is beginning to come around, with Ben McDonald joining Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown to give the club three pretty good starters.

The bullpen should stabilize with the addition of Terry Clark and Mark Lee, who throw strikes.

Curtis Goodwin and Manny Alexander have given the lineup speed, and Jeff Manto is the Orioles' answer to Tinsley or Troy O'Leary.

The Orioles could use another marquee starter. They talked to the Twins about Scott Erickson last week, but Erickson may be a right-handed Arthur Rhodes, a guy with tremendous stuff who mostly frustrates his manager and pitching staff.

A more interesting possibility is Doug Drabek of the Astros. Houston owner Drayton McLane has told club executives that if the Astros don't get into the race soon, they should look to deal Drabek. The right-hander is a perfect fit for the Orioles, a veteran who could give them good innings.

The Orioles may need him to have any chance to catch those Red Sox.

"When you get a lead like that, you've got to win," Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said this week. "You can't lose now."

You can lose that kind of lead -- the Red Sox proved that in 1949, 1974 and 1978 -- but somebody has to be prepared to make a run at them.

Only the Orioles.

McDonald should stay put

Now that he has beaten the Orioles in his arbitration case, fair and square, the only chance that Ben McDonald has of returning to the team next year is if he negotiates a multi-year deal for substantially less money than he's making now -- and this is something that he should seriously consider, because his value is greater in Baltimore than anywhere else.

McDonald makes $4.5 million this year, and he's in line to make $5 million or more next season if the Orioles choose to offer him arbitration. Which they won't do.

He's a good pitcher with the potential to be more than that, but he's not a $5 million-a-year pitcher yet.

The Orioles, however, probably would strongly consider signing McDonald to a contract for about $3.5 million to $4 million a year for three years.

It might seem crazy to McDonald to take a pay cut, but he should think about this: How many teams in baseball would be willing to pay him $5 million a year?

The Yankees? Probably not. They'd like to keep McDowell and Wetteland.

The Colorado Rockies? They'll have their choice of some other pitchers, too, so they probably wouldn't have to give McDonald that money. The Red Sox? No way. The Atlanta Braves? They already have pitching.

Who else in baseball spends money in this era of moderate fiscal restraint?

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