Even if price is Benitez, Orioles should make bid for Alomar, Cone

July 06, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Make a trade? Are you kidding? The Orioles can't even beat stinkin' Minnesota. They're eight games out, with no life, no drive, no clue.

Make a trade? Not unless the Boston Red Sox collapse. Not unless Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown return as Walter Johnson and Cy Young.

Make a trade?

The Orioles don't deserve a trade.

But should the Red Sea part, and the Red Sox tumble, here's a suggestion for the worst team $40 million can buy.

Armando Benitez for David Cone.

Or better yet, Benitez for Roberto Alomar.

Neither trade is under discussion, of course. The Orioles aren't close enough to Boston to take such a gamble. And right now, Benitez is practically untouchable.

Lose two of three to Minnesota, and you can't ask the owner to bail you out. Lose two out of three to Minnesota, and maybe you should be trying to dump salaries, rather than add them.

Any moment now, the Red Sox might acquire Twins closer Rick Aguilera, but the Orioles just went 3-4 in back-to-back series against last-place teams.

Someone take their pulse.

General manager Roland Hemond spoke with Toronto GM Gord Ash last weekend, but apparently Ash isn't ready to trade Cone, Alomar and Company just yet.

At least not to this sorry outfit.

If the Orioles want Cone -- and "if" is a silly word when the defending Cy Young winner is available -- then the way to get him is by offering Benitez.

Ditto if the goal is Alomar.

Benitez, 22, is that hot a prospect -- drop his name, and GMs listen. The Orioles should consider trading him regardless of their position in the standings. Young closers offer no guarantees.

What's more, the Orioles routinely overrate their young players, refusing to trade them when their value is highest. But even if they're right about Benitez, it might be better to trade him now.

Think about it: How many hard-throwing young closers achieve long-term success? Very few, with Goose Gossage, Jeff Reardon, Lee Smith and Randy Myers notable exceptions.

The list is much longer when the question is reversed. Gregg Olson had five good years, but that was it. Whatever happened (( to Bobby Thigpen? To Mike Schooler? To Dan Plesac?

Benitez could be the next Mark Wohlers, who struggled for four seasons in Atlanta, then became a quality closer. Or he could be the next Rob Dibble, who produced four dominant seasons in Cincinnati, then blew out his arm.

The fact is, teams rarely develop their own closers. Dennis Eckersley, John Wetteland and Aguilera are converted starters. Jose Mesa and Heathcliff Slocumb were rejects, and now they're All-Stars.

Benitez is a superior talent -- that's why his trade value is so high. Still, questions persist about his temperament. He's more mature than he was three years ago, even three weeks ago. But does he have the right makeup to succeed in such a high-profile role?

The Orioles don't know.

This is a difficult call for an organization that traded Mesa, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling, only to see them develop into All-Stars. Benitez, like Olson before him, would be a bargain performer at a high-salaried position. That, too, is no small consideration.

But what about the value of getting Cone, or even Alomar? Mike Mussina is the only starting pitcher signed beyond this season (Sid Fernandez doesn't count -- he's a reliever). McDonald and Brown both are represented by the manipulative Scott Boras. They might not be back.

Boras will demand top dollar in a depressed market, and it's difficult to imagine the Orioles re-signing McDonald ($4.5 million) and Brown ($4.225 million) at their current salaries. Cone, 32, would replace one of them in the rotation, and amount to an investment in the future.

Here's the problem: If Cone wants big money -- and that certainly has been his history -- the Orioles might not be able to sign him. McDonald is collecting his millions without ever winning more than 14 games in a season. Brown is collecting his despite going 7-9 last year.

What would be Cone's price?

The Mercenary Man negotiated a $9 million signing bonus in his most recent contract. He'd chuckle at the way the Orioles are overpaying McDonald and Brown, and demand something ridiculous, like $30 million for five years.

Sorry, that's Alomar money.

Nice as it might be to envision a rotation of Mussina and Cone, Brown, McDonald and Jamie Moyer, Alomar is the true prize if the Blue Jays start unloading potential free agents. Again, the Orioles would need him to sign long-term as a condition of the deal.

Ash said last week that he is willing to trade within the division, but the problem with getting Alomar is trying to offer a package of comparable value. Benitez would only be a starting point. The Blue Jays might also want Manny Alexander, Alex Ochoa and heaven knows who else.

So?

The Jays don't want to trade Alomar -- they'd prefer to re-sign him and make him the cornerstone of their rebuilding program. Alomar, however, indicated he might be through in Toronto after receiving a death threat Sunday. Ash can trade him now, or lose him at the end of the season.

Los Angeles reportedly is interested, and so is Cleveland -- imagine an infield of Jim Thome at first, Alomar at second, Omar Vizquel at short and Carlos Baerga at third. The club that puts together a blockbuster trade proposal could land Alomar before he gets on the open market.

That club should be the Orioles.

What else is there to lose?

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