O's still seeking pitching, and Schilling may top list

On Baseball

February 02, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Jimmy Key may be fully recovered from shoulder surgery and win 15 games. Sinkerballer Scott Erickson could thrive under the direction of a pitching coach, Ray Miller, who believes in the value of ground balls. Mike Mussina, beyond contractual distractions and a personality clash with former pitching coach Pat Dobson, could win a Cy Young Award. Rocky Coppinger could blossom into a consistent winner, and Shawn Boskie finally could harness his talent.

But probably not. The chances of all good things happening for the Orioles' staff all at once are remote, and they could be left with a mediocre rotation -- or even a poor one, if Key's velocity dips or Coppinger suffers from the dreaded sophomore jinx.

The Orioles still need one more sure thing, one more big-time, front-line pitcher. Few are available now, but as bad teams begin to fade from the pennant races or contenders develop weaknesses, they'll look to deal. Here's a look at who may become available, and who may interest the Orioles.

1. Curt Schilling, Phillies. It's not a question of if Philadelphia will deal Schilling, but when. He has indicated he wants out of what probably will be a losing situation, and Schilling has one year left on his contract, at $3.5 million. By the end of last season, Schilling was one of the dominant pitchers in the National League, striking out 98 in his last 86 1/3 innings. "He threw two great games against us at the end of the year, I can tell you that," Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said.

Even if the Phillies start the season with Schilling, there's no way they'd let him walk away at the end of the year and get nothing in return, and the Orioles are interested, according to sources within the organization.

But the Orioles may not have what the Phillies want or need: a power-hitting outfielder. Conversely, the New York Yankees have young outfielder Ruben Rivera, who hit .284 in 46 games last season, and the Cleveland Indians could dangle Brian Giles, who had 14 doubles and five homers in 51 games last season. The Orioles have Jeffrey Hammonds, but Hammonds needs to play well for a whole year before re-establishing his value.

The Orioles' best trade bait is right-handed pitching, the likes of Armando Benitez, Alan Mills and minor-leaguers Nerio Rodriguez, Chris Fussell and Billy Percibal, but before dealing anyone of Benitez's caliber, they'd probably want to extend Schilling's contract. He's 30 and will want $5 million a year in a multi-year contract.

Schilling is the best option for the Orioles. But circumstances are such that Schilling is not the best fit.

2. Darren Oliver, Texas. He's young (26), left-handed, talented, relatively inexpensive (a salary of $1 million) and Orioles sources say manager Davey Johnson loves his potential. Oliver went 14-6 with a 4.66 ERA last season.

But only desperation would compel the Rangers to deal Oliver, such as a collapse of their bullpen or an injury to closer John Wetteland. Texas has shown interest in Mills and Benitez.

3. Pedro Martinez, Montreal. The Expos' strategy is well-established -- develop and deal. They develop excellent prospects and then trade them before their salaries become prohibitive. They've done this with Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Wetteland.

And they'll do it with Martinez sometime this summer, as soon as the Expos fall out of serious contention, probably by July. Remember that Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone knows Martinez from the days when Malone was GM for Montreal, and Malone knows all that is good and great about Martinez -- his dominant fastball, his 665 strikeouts in the first 671 innings of his career. Martinez, 25, will make $3.5 million this year and will become a free agent after the 1998 season.

The Expos won't keep him around to pay him $5 million next year. The Orioles would love the chance to get him.

4. Darryl Kile, Houston. If the Astros begin fading from the race, they'll do all they can to slash payroll as quickly as possible, and Kile is the most likely to be dealt. Kile, who has one of the best breaking balls in baseball, ranges from dominant to terrible, with little in between, and it all depends on his control. He struck out 219 in 219 innings last year, but walked 97 and led the league in hit batsmen (16).

5. Mark Clark or Bobby Jones, Mets. Sharing a division with the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins, New York is doomed to third place or worse, and the Mets will be trying to establish their young trio of Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher. If they can, they'll have a couple of extra starters left over. Clark (14-11, 3.43 last year) and Jones (12-8, 4.42) are not ace material but are capable of solid contributions, which could be just what the Orioles are looking for come June and July.

Honoring J. Robinson

Fifty years ago, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line, and Major League Baseball will honor Robinson this season by having all players wear a commemorative arm patch on their uniforms.

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