Biggio looks like better fit than Alomar

November 29, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

Craig Biggio, not Roberto Alomar.

That appears to be the way Orioles general manager Pat Gillick is leaning. And the more you hear about Alomar, the more Biggio appears a better fit for this club.

Gillick said it himself Monday -- Biggio is a gamer, a player who gets dirty, a win-at-all-costs type. Alomar is one of the top five players in baseball. He, too, is fiercely competitive, but some consider him moody and immature.

So here it comes, the first test of the relationship between Gillick and owner Peter Angelos. Gillick seemed lukewarm on Alomar on Monday. But Alomar's agent, Jaime Torres, said Angelos wants Alomar, "and that's who counts."

We'll find out. Gillick is wary of tying up big money in one player, and Colorado, San Diego and the New York Mets all want Biggio. It's possible Gillick will focus on pitching, and sign a lesser second baseman/leadoff type (Tony Phillips?) instead.

Gillick traded for Alomar in Toronto, then watched him lead the Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series titles. You'd figure he'd be first in line to sign him, but his apparent preference for Biggio tells you all you need to know about Alomar's falling star.

The question isn't ability, it's attitude. Alomar often appeared uninterested last season, pouting over the Blue Jays' sudden decline. He sat out in protest the day after David Cone was traded. And he sat out the final days of the season, complaining of back pain while sitting on his .300 average.

Baseball people notice such things, and it was significant when new Oakland Athletics assistant GM Dave Stewart criticized Alomar at the general managers' meetings in Arizona. Stewart, a former teammate of Alomar's, was one of the most intense and dedicated players of recent times.

"Robbie is a great player. No one can question his talent, but it doesn't matter how talented you are. When you're paid that kind of money, you're expected to go out and play . . . every day," Stewart told the Toronto Sun.

"There are some issues you take a stand on and speak up for your rights. Somehow, I don't think David Cone being traded is one of them.

"Sometimes, no matter how good the player is, a club has to say, 'This guy isn't worth all the trouble he causes.' We went through it with the A's and Jose Canseco.

"I'm not saying Robbie is the same as Jose and all his problems, but you'd hate to even see him head in that direction."

In fairness, no one said such things about Alomar when the Jays were winning -- scouts lauded his intelligence, his discipline, his love for the game. Only last season, when the Jays collapsed, did he begin to sulk.

Most likely, he'd be rejuvenated in Baltimore, playing with a contender, playing with Cal Ripken. Not even the biggest head cases dare ask out of the lineup when they're playing alongside the game's all-time Iron Man.

Still, the questions about Alomar linger. Angelos wants him, and Ripken probably wants him -- they've seen him play. But the laid-back, blank-stare Orioles could use a kick in the rear. Which is where Biggio comes in.

"Do you want a guy who's going to be a hard-nosed guy who makes a lot of good plays, or a guy who's going to make great plays but might not show up to work every day?" an American League scout asked yesterday.

"I haven't seen Biggio as much, but he's just as good a hitter as Alomar. Biggio will do more intangible things to help a club than will Alomar. He's more of an infectious player."

Simply put, the Orioles could use a right-handed hitter who batted .302 last season with 22 homers, 77 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. A player whose on-base percentage batting leadoff was .423, and .406 overall.

Alomar is a switch-hitter, and at 27, two years younger. But he has never hit more than 17 homers in a season, and his on-base percentage last season was a relatively modest .354.

Defensively, Alomar is the best, but it's not as if Biggio is a slouch -- he's a two-time Gold Glove winner, even though he began his career as a catcher.

Factor in the intangibles -- something the Orioles rarely did in the first two years of Angelos' ownership -- and it's easy to understand why Gillick might rate him ahead of Alomar.

Remember what Davey Johnson said about Biggio the day the Orioles named him manager? "He's hard-nosed. He's a man after my own heart. He plays hurt. He's great on a club. He'd look great in an Orioles uniform."

Gillick, likewise, is a big believer in chemistry -- he ripped up a largely successful Blue Jays team to find the proper mix. Biggio's National League background? Bobby Bonilla adjusted fine. It shouldn't be a concern.

Biggio's agent, Barry Axelrod, said his player would prefer to stay in the National League, "all things being equal."

But all things are not equal when the Orioles enter the picture. They've got the money, the ballpark and a baseball-mad city, not to mention the game's most admired player at shortstop.

The problem now is that Biggio might command an even larger contract than Alomar. Gillick might balk at such a commitment, especially when it might include the loss of a first-round draft pick.

The Orioles built their foundation with first-round selections -- Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina, Jeffrey Hammonds. After forfeiting their No. 1 pick by signing Sid Fernandez two years ago, can they afford to part with the 16th overall choice in next year's draft?

It's a consideration, but probably not enough to scare off Gillick. Let Alomar go to the Yankees, a team already weakened by the losses of Randy Velarde, Don Mattingly and Mike Stanley. The Orioles need to get dirty. If the price is right, Biggio makes more sense.

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