Trade-off appears in O's future

Even Belle, Anderson aren't untouchable

July 15, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles as currently configured enter their final 17 days beginning tonight against the Montreal Expos. The stretch offers 12 home games for fans to pay last respects.

General manager Frank Wren has initiated talks with "eight to 10" teams about trades that potentially could involve starting pitchers Scott Erickson and Juan Guzman, reliever Arthur Rhodes and even outfielders Brady Anderson and Albert Belle, both of whom carry leverage to veto deals. Beginning as soon as this week, as many as four moves could reshape and reduce what has proved to be a dysfunctional $84 million roster.

Contenders including the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, New York Mets and Texas Rangers used the All-Star break to express strong interest in players who might help them reach a World Series but are no longer considered part of the Orioles' future.

Industry sources confirmed during the last two weeks Wren circulated a list of "untouchables" consisting of pitchers Mike Mussina, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson; catcher Charles Johnson; third baseman Cal Ripken; and left fielder B.J. Surhoff. Everyone else, including Anderson and Belle, is in play. Their availability is interesting given that both have the right to veto any deal -- Anderson as a player with 10 years service in the same league and five with the same team; Belle because his five-year, $65 million contract includes a blanket no-trade provision through 2001.

Anderson, signed through 2001 and believed to be a target of the Braves, said last month he probably would not approve a deal but stopped short of ruling out the possibility.

Belle's contract, his relatively sluggish production and his penchant for controversy might lessen his appeal but Wren will seek a market nonetheless, according to a club official. Last weekend, Wren suggested that the club could overcome any no-trade language for the right deal.

"You're not only looking short term but long term," says Wren. "You can move them but does it make you better? In some cases you might be better today but are you better in the future? Clubs have interest in our guys. The question is how much each has to offer.

"From my standpoint, I want players capable of helping us quickly and in the long term."

Indians general manager John Hart and Wren met at length in Boston. Hart, who has assigned a rotation of scouts to follow the Orioles, made clear his interest in Erickson and Guzman as the Indians attempt to augment the game's most potent offense with credible starting pitching.

Rangers general manager Doug Melvin is keenly interested in Guzman, a pending free agent with a dominant postseason resume. Melvin narrowly missed dealing for the right-hander last July when the Orioles outbid them by sending pitcher Nerio Rodriguez to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The AL West leaders are believed to have made Guzman their priority over others, including Colorado Rockies pitcher Darryl Kile and St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Darren Oliver.

The Mets, Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers have expressed interest in Rhodes, a left-handed power reliever who is also a pending free agent.

Unlike last season, when the Orioles decided to acquire rather than dump players, Wren anticipates deals will occur sooner than later. However, no organizational meeting has yet taken place to discuss philosophy. Such a tact has previously created lag time for general managers to shuttle prospective deals to majority owner Peter Angelos. Yet, it is Angelos, club sources say, who approved making Anderson and Belle available.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Montreal Expos

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS

Starters: Expos' Mike Thurman (3-5, 4.52) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (7-6, 4.10)

Tickets: Information unavailable

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