Able to protect 15, O's make moves in expansion shell game Club list thought to contain 11 from majors, 4 in minors

November 12, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles and the 27 other existing major-league clubs submitted their 15-man protected lists to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday afternoon in anticipation of Tuesday's expansion draft.

Teams can lose as many as three unprotected players in the draft, but the Orioles are not long on mid-level minor-league depth and probably will give up just two players to the new franchises.

The Devil Rays and Diamondbacks will draft 35 players each, and may take any unprotected player who has been in professional baseball for three years or has made an appearance at the major-league level, regardless of minor-league service time.

The protected lists are kept confidential, but a club source indicated yesterday that the Orioles will protect 11 players from the major-league roster and four from the minor leagues.

Certain players are not in doubt. Clubs must protect any player on a multi-year contract who has a no-trade clause, which means that third baseman Cal Ripken and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro have to be on the list.

That leaves nine major-league spots, several of which are no-brainers. Aces Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson will be protected. So will second baseman Roberto Alomar, shortstop Mike Bordick, right-hander Armando Benitez and left-hander Arthur Rhodes. The final three major-league slots likely will go to left-hander Jimmy Key and outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and B. J. Surhoff.

The Orioles could gamble that Key's so-so performance in the second half, $3.8 million salary and age (37 in April) will make him unattractive to the fledgling teams, but that seems unlikely at a time when the club is looking to sign a free-agent starting pitcher to fill out the rotation.

The Orioles appear certain to leave catcher Chris Hoiles exposed. They don't want to lose him, but officials aren't worried that an expansion team would commit $7 million to pick up the final two years of his contract.

Outfielder Eric Davis probably will be left available in the draft for similar reasons. The Orioles recently guaranteed his $2.5 million salary for 1998 and have to be confident that his uncertain physical status will make him an unlikely draft choice.

Though the Orioles aren't rolling in top-flight minor-league talent, they do have some good young pitching prospects who are all but certain to be protected, including rostered right-handers Nerio Rodriguez, Julio Moreno and Esteban Yan. The final minor-league spot could be filled by any of three players -- Sidney Ponson, Wady Almonte or Danny Clyburn.

So, who will go? Depending on the direction that the two expansion teams choose to take, the Orioles could lose hard-throwing right-handed reliever Alan Mills or fellow middleman Terry Mathews. Left-handed starter Rick Krivda also could be attractive to a club building a starting rotation from scratch, but the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks also could choose to stockpile young prospects for player development or trade and sign several inexpensive free agents to fill out the major-league pitching staff.

Each team is allowed to protect three more players after it loses one in the draft, so the Orioles theoretically could lose their fifth-, ninth- and 13th-best minor-league prospects. Chances are they will lose just two players, a major-leaguer and a top prospect.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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