The future is now for 3 Orioles

On Baseball

February 04, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

They've outgrown their longtime labels as Orioles prospects, and this will be the season when the club must decide whether Manny Alexander, Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills will be a part of its future.

Alexander, Rhodes and Mills are out of options, so the Orioles cannot send them to the minor leagues without exposing them to waivers. Each has shown enough ability that there's no way they would get through this process without being claimed by another team.

For all of Rhodes' inconsistency, and despite his shoulder trouble, he is 26, left-handed and throws hard when healthy -- three attractive qualities. General managers from at least three other teams, impressed by Alexander's defensive skills at shortstop, are hoping the Orioles deal him. Even after Mills' horrible 1995 season (7.43 ERA), opposing teams continued to project good things for the right-hander.

Although others continue to see long-term potential for Mills, Rhodes and Alexander, as far as the Orioles are concerned the three need to establish themselves immediately.

Rhodes is expected to begin the season on the disabled list, and Mills could join him there, as they continue to recover from surgery. Whenever they're ready, they're both headed to the bullpen, a possible problem area for the Orioles. If they were deep in their bullpen, or if they weren't serious contenders, they might be able to carry one or two struggling pitchers. But the Orioles probably won't have that luxury this year; if Rhodes and Mills are on the active roster, they must contribute.

Alexander played 82 games at second base last year, and wasn't happy about that, saying several times he would prefer to be traded someplace where he could play regularly, and play his natural position, shortstop.

So, what will the Orioles do with Alexander this year, when they'll start two middle infielders -- Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar -- who play every day?

"I think Davey [Johnson, manager] will move him around in spring training," said general manager Pat Gillick. "He'll try him in different spots. He'll probably get a look at third base."

B. J. Surhoff or Bobby Bonilla will be the regular third baseman, and there could be a handful of starts for somebody else. However, Alexander will have to contend with Bill Ripken and Jeff Huson, two other utility players, for those precious few starts. Simply put, there doesn't appear to be much of a role for Alexander this year.

The one way he could become a regular is if the Orioles make the change everyone expects them to make in 1997 or 1998: Alexander becomes the shortstop, with Cal Ripken moving to third. Gillick says that isn't being discussed.

So what to do with Alexander?

"I like Manny Alexander," said Gillick. "We're not just going to give him away. He's a pretty good player."

Decisions, decisions.

Bullpen concerns Cubs

Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said last week that he likes his everyday lineup and thinks his team is graced with players who play hard. But he said there are serious questions about his pitching, particularly his bullpen.

In the eighth and ninth innings, Riggleman will have soft-throwing Bob Patterson and Doug Jones. "I think we'd like to get one more guy, another veteran who can help us there in the late innings," Riggleman said. He said he's considering a third base platoon of Dave Magadan and Orioles castoff Leo Gomez, who signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs.

* Ken Griffey Sr. played a major role in persuading his son to sign a contract extension to stay in Seattle. Griffey Sr. came up in the Cincinnati organization, and after being traded to the Yankees, chose to stay in New York rather than re-sign with the Reds.

"It was a mistake," Senior said. "I was miserable." He advised his son that he shouldn't take for granted the happiness he had achieved playing in Seattle.

* The estimated recovery time for some injured pitchers: Colorado Rockies right-hander Bret Saberhagen said he can rehabilitate a slightly torn rotator cuff by May, which means you might see him in July; Cincinnati ace Jose Rijo (reconstructed elbow) could be back in July, GM Jim Bowden said, or perhaps not at all; and St. Louis left-hander Danny Jackson, out with torn ligaments and tendons in his right ankle, is aiming to get back in the rotation by early July.

Bowden privately may be hoping Rijo sits out the whole year. If Rijo misses the entire season, his $5.5 million salary will be paid with insurance.

* Damon Buford grew frustrated by his lack of opportunity when Johnny Oates managed the Orioles. Now Buford must break into Oates' lineup again, after being traded last week from the New York Mets to the Texas Rangers.

* Under Gillick, the Orioles have added one extra pro scout and one amateur scout.

* St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith is donating $1 million to help construct a baseball program at his former college, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

Wrong about Boras

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