O's depth could cause problems, too

On Baseball

March 09, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

For three weeks now, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick and manager Davey Johnson have bragged about the tremendous depth they see, compared with last spring. And rightly so. Whereas in 1996, when an infected hangnail or a case of gout had the potential of destroying the team's pennant hopes, the Orioles have options now, support systems, alternative plans.

But that depth is going to become a problem in the next few weeks, as the Orioles attempt to sort out their roster. On one hand, they can choose between Player A and Player B, and that's good. On the other hand, they have so many veterans and older players that, by rules, they are prevented from sending many of their players to the minor leagues.

For that reason, you could see reliever Armando Benitez begin the season in Triple-A. You could see unknown right-hander Mike Johnson on the major-league roster. Jeffrey Hammonds might hit .600 this spring and still open the year in the minors.

The Orioles' starting rotation is just about set, with Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson, Rocky Coppinger and either Shawn Boskie or Scott Kamieniecki in the fifth spot, with the loser of the latter competition going to the bullpen. They have five relievers they won't send to the minors because of rules -- Randy Myers, Jesse Orosco, Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills and Terry Mathews. That's 11 pitchers.

Those are the parameters, and here are just some of the complications that must be addressed before April 1:

The Orioles really, really like right-hander Johnson, a Rule 5 draft choice plucked from the Toronto Blue Jays. To keep him in the organization, they must hold him on the major-league roster all season or attempt to make a trade with Toronto that would enable them to send him to the minors.

The Blue Jays already have indicated they won't make a trade. Johnson must stay in the majors. That's 12 pitchers, including the 11 mentioned before.

Left-hander Rick Krivda is thought of as a clone of Jamie Moyer, a pitcher who, with development, could ascend from a fifth or fourth starter in someone's rotation to a solid contributor.

The Orioles don't have room for him, with their rotation all but locked in, and Krivda is out of options; he cannot be sent to the minors without being passed through waivers, and lots of teams are looking for a serviceable left-hander. The Orioles really have no choice but to attempt to trade Krivda before April 1.

Right-hander Archie Corbin proved himself to be an effective middle reliever last summer (2.30 ERA, seven walks and 22 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings), and he undoubtedly has a major-league arm. He, too, is out of options and cannot be sent to the minors without being passed through waivers. Corbin, like Krivda, will have to be traded before April 1, unless injuries can create roster spots.

The Orioles have discussed the idea of carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players, but that's not preferable. They would have only three extra men -- presumably backup catcher Lenny Webster, utility infielder Jeff Reboulet and a backup outfielder (Tony Tarasco, as of today). That would leave them on the brink of trouble at all times, if a couple of guys got hurt in the same game. The Orioles' preference would be to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players.

However, of the 13 pitchers they would like to carry, only one -- Benitez -- has a clear and unencumbered path to the minors, devoid of waivers and contractual snags and the like.

If the Orioles' pitchers remain healthy throughout spring, if the club decides to go with 13 position players, the front office could take the easy way out early in the season and send Benitez to Rochester.

Gillick will be busy for the next 22 days. What do Wyatt Earp, Charles Bronson, Bernard Goetz and HTC major-league umpires have in common? They decided they know better than anybody else, and they've taken the laws and rules into their hands. Richie Phillips, counsel for the umpires' union, said last week that umpires will be more quick in ejecting those whom they deem to be offensive. Mariners manager Lou Piniella told an umpire to quit talking to one of his players during an exhibition the other day, and for this he was given the thumb.

Now, in case you forgot the particulars about the Roberto Alomar-John Hirschbeck incident last September: The Orioles maintain that Hirschbeck made a bad call, aggressively escalated the ensuing argument and then referred to Alomar with double-barreled profanity (words which, by the way, would automatically merit an ejection of a player if he directed them at an umpire). Then Alomar spat at Hirschbeck -- an act for which he should've been suspended 20 games, rather than five.

Is it so hard to believe the Orioles' version, in light of how easily the umpires are adopting vigilantism? Is it so hard to understand, this concept of umpires overreacting?

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