1 good deal, but O's miss out on others

August 01, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

That's it?

That's all the Orioles accomplished, trading Juan Guzman to the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers B. J. Ryan and Jacobo Sequea?

What about Will Clark to the Braves? What about Arthur Rhodes to the New York Yankees?

If those deals were ever close, they fell through.

The return for Guzman looks promising, but as the midnight deadline for completing trades without waivers approached, it seemed the Orioles also were on the verge of trading Rhodes.

Make no mistake, they took an important step forward, finally acknowledging that they're out of contention, finally making a trade to get younger.

But rather than take Clark, the Braves obtained left-hander Terry Mulholland and infielder Jose Hernandez from the Chicago Cubs.

And rather than take Rhodes, the Yankees chose to stand pat with their bullpen and keep the Triple A shortstop the Orioles coveted, D'Angelo Jimenez.

It's still possible that general manager Frank Wren will complete additional trades before Aug. 31, but the process becomes more difficult now that players must pass through waivers.

The good news is, the Orioles are stockpiling young arms, adding Ryan and Sequea to a pool that already includes Sidney Ponson, Matt Riley and Jason Johnson, plus four of the top 44 selections in last month's draft.

Sequea, 17, the youngest player in professional baseball last year, was rated the Reds' 10th-best prospect by Baseball America before this season. Ryan, 23, who joined the team Monday just one year after being drafted, was ranked No. 14.

The Orioles completed the deal only after picking up half of the remaining salary on Guzman's 1999 contract. But that's a small price compared with the millions they've spent on free agents in recent seasons.

Maybe Ryan will prove no better than former Orioles right-hander Nerio Rodriguez, who is struggling at Triple-A after getting traded for Guzman a year ago. But he was good enough to pitch in the All-Star Futures Game, and a 6-foot-6 left-hander is always worth a shot.

Indeed, the night would have been a major success if the Orioles had acquired Jimenez for Rhodes, a deal that apparently remained under discussion until the deadline.

Jimenez, 21, is the third-best 25-and-under shortstop in the Yankees' organization, behind Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano. Still, he plays major-league defense, and is batting .308 with 12 homers, 68 RBIs and 19 stolen bases at Columbus.

The Orioles likely planned to keep him as a utility man behind Mike Bordick next season, then install him at shortstop in 2001, forming an exciting young double-play combination with Jerry Hairston.

Now they're left with two less comforting options on Rhodes -- awarding him a contract extension or attempting to pass him through waivers and trade him before Aug. 31.

Extending a pitcher with such a tender arm was a ridiculous idea. But unless they sign Rhodes, the Orioles will lose him to free agency, and gain only draft picks in return.

A trade is the best alternative, but it's doubtful that Rhodes will clear waivers.

He is that rarest of breeds, a hard-throwing left-handed reliever. The Yankees, Mets and Cleveland Indians all expressed interest, apparently attributing his 6.44 ERA to misuse by manager Ray Miller.

But owner Peter Angelos reportedly blocked a deal to Cleveland. The Mets acquired left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy from Colorado. That left the Yankees, who also talked about acquiring reliever Roberto Hernandez from Tampa Bay, but wound up adding only catcher Jim Leyritz.

Got all that?

July 31 again proved to be baseball's Dec. 31, a frenzied countdown to a new day for several clubs -- but not the Cleveland Indians, who failed to acquire Chuck Finley from Anaheim.

The most fascinating development was the sudden emergence of the Oakland A's, a low-revenue club that evidently believes it can erase a 3 1/2-game wild-card deficit and steal a post-season berth.

A's GM Billy Beane completed four trades in the week before the deadline, culminating with last night's acquisitions of pitchers Kevin Appier from Kansas City and Jason Isringhausen from the New York Mets.

The A's dumped their supposed ace, Kenny Rogers, and their struggling closer, Billy Taylor, but added three veteran pitchers (Appier, Omar Olivares and Greg McMichael), a veteran infielder (Randy Velarde), once-promising pitcher (Isringhausen) and top outfield prospect (Terrence Long).

Of course, Doug Jones is now their closer.

Until last night, the A's were the opposite of the Orioles, a team loaded with promising youngsters, but lacking veterans. Slowly but surely, perhaps the Orioles will strike a better balance as well.

At least they ignored the pleadings of Brady Anderson, B. J. Surhoff and Co. to keep the team intact. With yesterday's loss to Seattle, the Orioles fell 11 games under .500, and 10 1/2 games back in the wild-card race.

The proper direction was obvious. And now that the organization finally seems ready to stop eating its young, it is critical that everyone -- fans, media and especially ownership -- exercise patience.

Consider the career paths of Anderson, Curt Schilling and Chris Hoiles, the three players the Orioles acquired the last time they traded veterans for prospects, in 1988.

After his first four seasons with the Orioles, Anderson's lifetime average was .219. His career blossomed only after he became the full-time leadoff hitter under former manager Johnny Oates.

Hoiles required virtually the same amount of time to become a significant contributor. Schilling, meanwhile, was traded twice more before he became a star with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Such lessons are again relevant.

They would have been even more relevant, if the Orioles had accomplished all that they attempted last night.

Pub Date: 8/01/99

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