It'll pay O's, and Myers, to re-sign him

October 18, 1997|By John Eisenberg

The Orioles almost surely will have to swallow hard before signing closer Randy Myers to another contract.

Coming off his sensational 1997 performance, in which he converted 45 of 46 save opportunities, Myers will be able to command more money and guaranteed years than the Orioles envisioned.

It will be more than they want to give a 35-year-old pitcher almost certain to experience a falloff from a near-perfect season, but they should swallow hard and do whatever it takes to bring Myers back.

Failing to put a check by their No. 1 off-season priority would undermine all their other efforts to improve.

Every attempt should be made to preserve a raging bullpen that served as the cornerstone of their success this season.

If the Orioles let Myers go, they would have to give his job to Armando Benitez, who matured and improved in 1997 but still isn't ready to become the everyday closer, as the Indians proved in the American League Championship Series.

As crazy as Myers drives fans with his habit of getting into trouble before getting out of it, he is still far more dependable, polished and accomplished than Benitez.

Benitez has 15 career saves and Myers has 319, ranking him sixth on the all-time saves list.

The Orioles gave him a two-year deal in 1995 and would love to bring him back for another year or two -- general manager Pat Gillick hates giving pitchers long-term deals -- but the demand for quality closers all but guarantees that someone will offer Myers three guaranteed years.

That means the Orioles will have to make the same offer.

Fine.

The concerns about giving him such a deal are that he might lose his motivation after assuring himself of a long-term payday, or lose his stuff to age and become a long-term liability -- and the risks appear minimal in both cases.

Some players might lose their focus after signing for three years at age 35, but Myers probably won't.

As much as he cultivates an eccentric image with his weaponry in the clubhouse, his late arrivals to spring training and his general reputation as an iconoclast -- remember his Mother's Day stand against handing out flowers? -- he is nothing if not highly professional in his approach to his craft.

He stays in shape, knows the hitters and takes pride in knowing how to excel at one of baseball's toughest jobs.

He would give the Orioles three more years of the whole package, for better or worse, from his professional approach to his gleaming hunting knife that he uses to cut up sausages before games.

And most importantly, it's doubtful that he will experience a significant decline due to age in the next few years. It's still too soon for that.

You never know what might happen, but closers tend to pitch effectively far longer than starters. Consider the careers of the game's other great closers.

Lee Smith, the all-time saves leader, led the American League in saves for the Orioles at age 36, and finally ran out of gas this year at 39.

Dennis Eckersley is still going strong for the Cardinals at 43.

Rollie Fingers led the American League in saves at 35 and had a 1.96 ERA at 37.

Goose Gossage pitched until he was 43, Jeff Reardon until he was 39.

John Franco had 36 saves at 37 this year, and Doug Jones had 36 at 40.

Their longevity isn't due to some secret; they throw one inning per outing and fewer overall innings than other pitchers, enabling their arms to last longer.

Most top closers can continue to deliver as long as they can hold up mentally to the stress of saving games.

In other words, the risk in giving Myers a three-year deal at 35 is pretty minimal.

Why, he just might be at the peak of his career, having led his league in saves in three of the past five seasons. He has blown just 14 of his last 128 saves chances -- a superb .891 percentage.

Granted, it's tough to give any pitcher a long deal knowing that his value probably is inflated after a career year, and also knowing he probably won't ever pitch as well as he did during his career year.

No one should expect Myers to go 45-for-46 again.

A more realistic performance would be an 85-percent save rate, the average for top closers.

In any case, with the Orioles asking their aging team of free agents to gear up for one more run at the World Series, they owe it to themselves to have an accomplished closer in place.

A championship team can be undone by the absence of a closer, as the Braves have learned.

There really isn't a reason for the Orioles not to bring Myers back.

Their one-two punch in the bullpen, with Benitez setting up Myers, was their greatest asset this season.

It will cost them a lot to have the same punch again next season, but they should swallow hard and just do it.

They won't be sorry.

Pub Date: 10/18/97

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