Young O's don't count on staying

July 20, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MINNEAPOLIS -- Oh, to be young and an Oriole. For years, that was the clubhouse mantra, but now it needs revision.

Oh, to be young, an Oriole and trade bait.

That's what every prospect must be thinking today.

Times change, owners change, philosophies change. And soon Armando Benitez might be packing his bags, the same way Scott Klingenbeck did two weeks ago.

Klingenbeck brought the Orioles Scott Erickson, Benitez could bring Bobby Bonilla. If the Orioles win the AL East, both trades would be considered successful. But, in this game, nothing is guaranteed.

"I know this: You're not going to buy a World Series," Klingenbeck said yesterday in the Minnesota clubhouse, where he dresses alongside Erik Schullstrom, a pitcher the Orioles traded for Mike Pagliarulo in 1993.

"If they do, I'll get my ring. I'll be happy. And I'll be happy for the guys I played with. They deserve it. Cal, Raffy, the pitching staff -- they came here for that reason.

"But it's hard to buy one. I believe you've got to do it with players from within. It's loyalty, you know."

Klingenbeck stopped, knowing he was spouting an outdated notion.

"But it's hard to be loyal in this game anymore."

Bring 'em up, ship 'em out -- such is life for Orioles minor-leaguers under owner Peter Angelos. It's not necessarily the wrong strategy for a club that routinely overrates its prospects. It just spawns a different culture, that's all.

The Orioles don't trade all their young players -- Curtis Goodwin, Manny Alexander and Arthur Rhodes are proof of that. So is Alex Ochoa, whom club officials apparently are unwilling to trade for Bonilla.

Still, most young Orioles know the deal. Remember in spring training, when general manager Roland Hemond said he didn't want to trade prospects for John Wetteland or Marquis Grissom? It was a convenient excuse, nothing more.

The Orioles tried to sign Jay Buhner last winter, knowing it would retard the progress of their young outfielders. And now they're willing to trade prospects for Bonilla, knowing he might be the slugger to win them the division.

Players change, evaluations change, circumstances change. Why should the Orioles keep their young players? Cal Ripken turns 35 next month. Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Chris Hoiles are also over 30.

This team needs to win soon.

"Honestly, I think a lot of guys don't think they're going to get a chance with this organization," said catcher Greg Zaun, who was promoted when the Orioles released Matt Nokes. "That was my feeling. That's why when I got called up, I was caught totally by surprise.

"With all the players they've gotten over the last couple of years, all the names they've gotten, guys look at it and say, 'Let's play well and somebody else will want you.'

"It's not anything bad. No one harbors any ill feelings toward the organization. It's just their style. Their approach to winning is to go out and get veterans."

The approach might be different if the farm system were deep enough for the Orioles to develop a Cleveland-type nucleus, but it's not. Benitez, Ochoa and Rocky Coppinger are the only blue-chip prospects.

Indeed, for all the talk of the Fab Five rotation at Double-A Bowie last season, Rochester's Jimmy Haynes is the most talented, and he only projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter.

For now, Klingenbeck is working middle relief for the Twins. Boston's Vaughn Eshelman is on a rehabilitation assignment with Trenton. Brian Sackinsky is in Rochester, and Rick Forney is at Bowie.

Will Haynes and Sackinsky get a chance? Klingenbeck doubts it.

"I feel sorry for guys like Brian and Jimmy Haynes," Klingenbeck said. "Look at me, I did well. What do you think they're thinking? 'He does well, he goes up, he's traded.' That was a good deal for me.

"But Rick [Krivda] goes up, does well, gets sent back down. I don't know how long that can go on for. I don't know if they're talking about signing all those guys [the veteran starters] back.

"Only a few [Rochester pitchers] will get shots next year. And some of those guys are ready. I'm thankful for the opportunity. I wish the others would get a shot somewhere."

Klingenbeck spoke in a matter-of fact tone, without any trace of bitterness. Mark Smith, the Orioles' No. 1 draft pick in 1991, is likely to be the odd man out in the outfield eventually, but he, too, understands.

"Everyone down [at Rochester] feels the same way," Smith said. "They don't want to sit and die down there. I've always wanted to play for the Orioles. But if I get traded, that's fine. That's how Haynes and Sackinsky feel. It's just business."

Zaun agrees.

"As a player, you can look at it one of two ways," he said. "You can pout. You can complain. Or you can look at it the way I did. You can look at it like they're going to be giving you an opportunity to play, period.

"Maybe the Orioles don't have room for you. So what? If you get that feeling, you should nudge yourself in the direction to play even harder, so you can show the other 27 teams you can play."

That, ultimately, is what happened to Klingenbeck, who pitched a strong game against Erickson at Camden Yards on July 4, then found himself traded for the veteran right-hander three days later.

His goal now?

To prove the Orioles wrong.

To become a pitcher they want back.

"Who became All-Stars after they let them go?" Klingenbeck asked. "Jose Mesa? Pete Harnisch? Hopefully, I can keep up that end of the spectrum. Then I'll be real happy.

"At least I know here I'm going to get a chance, whether it's at the end of the year or next year. They gave up someone who had a good career here. I know a lot of it had to with business. I just hope I'm in his situation in a few years."

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