Pirates could beat Orioles to Padres' wealth of talent

ON BASEBALL

July 28, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Baseball's rumor mill is thick with trade talk. Some of the deals being discussed as Wednesday's midnight deadline approaches: San Diego is talking with Pittsburgh about a possible blockbuster -- the Pirates would send outfielder Orlando Merced and shortstop Jay Bell to the Padres for left fielder Rickey Henderson, pitchers Bryce Florie, Scott Sanders and a minor-leaguer.

San Diego general manager Kevin Towers used to be the scouting director for Pittsburgh, and knows the Pirates players firsthand, always a factor when trades are considered.

If the Padres do make this deal with the Pirates, that would kill any chance of San Diego swapping for Bobby Bonilla -- which could be a nightmare scenario for the Orioles, who may be finding that the market for Bonilla is drying up.

The Cincinnati Reds, back in the NL Central race, are considering making a 3-for-1 deal with Milwaukee for slugger Greg Vaughn, and they're talking to the New York Yankees about right-hander Mark Portugal. The Reds are getting a lot of inquiries about outfielder Curtis Goodwin, but probably won't move the former Oriole, unless it's in the Milwaukee deal.

The Chicago White Sox are without Frank Thomas, but tops on their wish list is a pitcher.

The Reds are trying to move reliever Lee Smith to Texas. The Rangers prefer Jeff Brantley.

St. Louis is talking to Boston about left-handed reliever Mike Stanton.

It was assumed two months ago that Oakland would be willing to swap catcher Terry Steinbach. No more, with the Athletics climbing back into the wild-card race.

Seattle wants a pitcher, and David Wells is most attractive to the Mariners. Terry Mulholland is a distant second.

Texas still is looking to add Tim Belcher.

If the Reds don't get Vaughn, they may re-acquire Kevin Mitchell from Boston.

Colorado is looking for pitching. The Rockies always are looking for pitching.

Houston thought about taking a run at Bonilla, but if the Astros find money to spend, they'd probably spend it on pitching. A Bonilla-for-Brian Hunter swap makes some sense for the Orioles.

Atlanta quietly is checking around for an outfielder. Can't help but wonder if Mike Devereaux, a good addition for Atlanta last year, might not be a perfect fit for the Braves this year.

Regan as Red Sox manager?

Should Kevin Kennedy be fired as manager of the Red Sox, a name from the past could emerge as the front-runner to be his replacement: Phil Regan, former Orioles manager and currently the manager of Triple-A Albuquerque in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system. He was among the top choices of Boston manager Dan Duquette after the 1994 season, and the Orioles have, in a strange way, improved his chances of landing another job.

The Orioles finished 71-73 last season, and the word on Regan was he couldn't relate to players, and he was assigned much of the blame for the team's poor showing.

Regan was fired, and the Orioles went out and added second baseman Roberto Alomar, closer Randy Myers, third baseman B. J. Surhoff, pitchers Wells and Roger McDowell, and a proven winner in Davey Johnson as manager.

Well, the Orioles have almost an identical winning percentage as they had last year, effectively absolving Regan of major blame.

Mussina's status changes

A year ago, the idea of trading Mike Mussina would have seemed almost as crazy as dealing Cal Ripken. Mussina was in the midst of winning 19 games for a mediocre team, and had the Orioles qualified for the postseason, he might have won the Cy Young Award.

But there are circumstances now that could lead to Mussina being dealt, perhaps within a year.

Early in spring, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick rebuffed overtures by Mussina's agent to extend the pitcher's contract beyond 1996. Once spring training began, Gillick said, he wanted the team concentrating on the season ahead; it's a common policy among clubs, but one that slightly altered Mussina's relationship with the Orioles.

To that point, there had been an unspoken understanding between the team and Mussina -- he wouldn't fight for every last nickel in contract talks, so long as the Orioles offered him security.

But with the club's decision to hold off on an extension, the relationship between Mussina and the club changed.

Mussina has followed with what has been the worst statistical season of his career, including an earned run average that has soared to 5.24. He never has lost more than nine games in his career, and already he has eight losses. He had never allowed more than a hit an inning until this season, when he's given up 183 in 154 2/3 innings.

Gillick and Johnson are seeing him firsthand for the first time, and they aren't seeing a dominant pitcher. (Mussina's reluctance to go to a four-man rotation, too, at a time when the Orioles are trying to climb back into the AL East race, couldn't have pleased the organization.)

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