Budding free-agent crop looks weak in pitching

On Baseball

June 23, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

With the Major League Baseball Players Association and negotiators for the owners honoring a general media blackout, the two sides have quietly continued working toward a new Basic Agreement. A primary issue -- one that will affect the coming free-agent class -- is whether players will receive credit for service time lost during the strike.

As it stands, there will be some intriguing free agents, although it is generally a crop weak in pitching. The potential free agents include:

Catchers: Joe Girardi, Kirt Manwaring, Tom Pagnozzi, Benito Santiago and Terry Steinbach.

First basemen: Mark Grace and Paul Molitor (both can exercise options and choose to return to their current team).

Second basemen: Delino DeShields and Robby Thompson.

Shortstops: Shawon Dunston, Greg Gagne, Kevin Elster, Rafael Belliard and Tony Fernandez.

Third basemen: Bobby Bonilla, Dave Hollins, Todd Zeile, Gary Gaetti, Tim Wallach and Kevin Seitzer (who has an option to return to the Brewers, if he chooses).

Outfielders: Albert Belle, Brady Anderson (the Orioles hold a $4 million option for 1997 on him, which, if he continues to produce, they'd probably honor), Ellis Burks, Joe Carter, Danny Tartabull, Jim Eisenreich, Brian McRae and Greg Vaughn.

Starting pitchers: John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Sid Fernandez, Jimmy Key, Melido Perez, John Smiley, Mark Portugal, the Orioles' David Wells and Kent Mercker, Kevin Gross, Jaime Navarro (player option to return for '97), Kevin Appier and Bob Tewksbury.

Closers: Jeff Brantley, Dennis Eckersley, Mike Fetters, John Franco, Norm Charlton, Lee Smith, John Wetteland (who can exercise '97 option, if he chooses), and Tim Worrell. (The respective clubs hold options on a few of the aforementioned players.)

But should the players receive the service time they lost during the strike, that list will be augmented by another group of players that includes:

Pitchers: Alex Fernandez, Darren Holmes, Tony Castillo, Mike Timlin and Mel Rojas.

Infielders: Chuck Knoblauch, Tim Naehring, Mike Bordick, David Howard, Mickey Morandini and Craig Shipley.

Outfielders: Bernard Gilkey and Moises Alou.

Catcher: Brent Mayne.

The Orioles will have a large core of players back for 1996 -- Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Mussina and Randy Myers -- and won't have a great deal of financial flexibility. But if you look into the future, there are some intriguing possibilities for the Orioles.

They have tried to make a deal for a young, everyday catcher (Seattle's Chris Widger being the best example). But given the deep crop of free-agent catchers, a better strategy might be waiting until July to give up a second-line prospect for someone such as Santiago, and then invest some of the money they save from departing free agents (Bonilla's $4.5 million, for example) and sign one of the catchers, such as Steinbach or Pagnozzi.

Eisenreich could be a relatively cheap but effective veteran.

Signing Smoltz is a nice dream. However, it would be hard to imagine the Orioles investing the major dollars that he will command in a pitcher who has a history of inconsistency -- and while they are attempting to sign Mussina.

The Orioles want more multidimensional players, guys who can run and hit and play defense. Guys like Alou. However, look for the Red Sox to make a major bid on the Expos outfielder, if he becomes available.

Assuming that Manny Alexander will either be playing elsewhere or be playing every day next year, the Orioles likely will be in the market for a utility player who can play a good shortstop. Shipley and Howard are excellent candidates.

McRae would improve the Orioles' outfield defense dramatically.

Alex Fernandez and Avery are young and accomplished. They are also represented by agent Scott Boras; remember that there are currently no Boras clients with the Orioles.

Albert Belle?

Nah.

Market down

The addition of the third division in each league and the wild card has tempered the trade market, by reducing the value of potential trade bait. Used to be that acquiring a pitcher such as David Cone for the stretch drive would cost a team three top prospects (remember the Expos' acquisition of Mark Langston, for Randy Johnson, Greg Harris, et al?), and a top position player would be worth two top prospects. Before the 1994 season, a team had to beat six other teams in its division to make the playoffs, and a pitcher like Cone was invaluable.

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