Now, Cone, Finley are O's targets

Addition of either seen as rotation boost, but deals uncertain

Working `night and day'

Thrift insists Riley, Maduro still in mix

November 19, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles took a step toward shoring up their troubled bullpen with Wednesday's signing of free-agent reliever Mike Trombley to a three-year deal. And they intend to keep moving forward.

The organization covets another starting pitcher, with the Anaheim Angels' Chuck Finley and New York Yankees' David Cone the most alluring on the market.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' director of player personnel, has spoken with their agents and said the club is working "night and day" to continue restructuring a high-priced roster that produced another fourth-place finish this season and led to the firings of manager Ray Miller and general manager Frank Wren.

"We're paying attention to the ones who are available, but there aren't very many," Thrift said. "The laws of supply and demand somewhat makes it in the seller's favor. We have to be patient and wait and see what happens.

"There's a very small number of starting pitchers. They know it and their representatives know it."

Trading for a starter appears to be a less-viable option. "It's tough but not impossible," Thrift said. "It's hard to get a pitcher without giving up a pitcher. There's no use going sideways."

For now, the rotation includes right-handers Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson. Left-hander Matt Riley, who made the jump from Single-A Frederick to the majors this season, is a candidate for the fifth slot, but could be bumped if another pitcher is added.

Landing someone such as Finley or Cone wouldn't insure that Riley, the organization's top prospect, would begin next season at Triple-A Rochester.

"It would be nice if we could go to spring training with six starters, with someone you could use in long relief and kind of promote them from their production without putting a lot of pressure on a young pitcher," Thrift said.

Thrift emphasized that the club isn't ignoring its in-house candidates for the rotation, including Riley and Calvin Maduro, who led Rochester with 11 wins and ranked second in the International League with 149 strikeouts.

"One of the things we're doing is paying very, very strict attention to our own players," he said. "Guys like Riley and Maduro or someone we already have, they're the ones we're going to focus with a very organized winter program for conditioning physically and mentally."

Thrift talked to Cone's agent, Steve Fehr, on Tuesday. "It was just a conversation. There really wasn't any depth to it," Thrift said.

He's had contact with Tim Shannon, who represents Finley. They spoke during the general managers' meetings in California and again on Tuesday, three days after Thrift talked to Finley.

Still looking to upgrade the bullpen, he's also held discussions with the agents for relievers Mike Jackson and left-hander Graeme Lloyd, and remains interested in resigning Scott Kamieniecki.

Jackson's agent, Laurie Gildan, confirmed she's been in contact with Thrift, but said the Orioles haven't made an offer. "Several other teams have," she said. "I think we'll have something done in the next few days. Obviously, we'd welcome one from [the Orioles], but we're certainly pursuing other avenues."

Asked if the team is close to finalizing any deals, Thrift said, "No, I don't feel we're getting close. You know how this thing works. Most of them like to go around and around and around, and before you know it, it's December."

The Orioles are trying to keep one of their left-handed relievers, Arthur Rhodes, who has said he'd prefer to remain with the club that chose him in the second round of the 1988 draft.

Rhodes, who is getting married next month in Perry Hall, wants a four-year deal worth more than $3 million per season. He's received six offers, with the interested clubs including the Yankees, Boston, Cleveland and Seattle.

"It will be a four-year deal; I can tell you that," said Danny Horwits, who is negotiating with majority owner Peter Angelos. He wasn't as sure about the money involved. Asked if Rhodes will get more than $3 million a year, he said, "Maybe. I don't know."

Horwits indicated a deal should be struck within the next few days. He hasn't spoken with Angelos since last Friday and said the Orioles still are mulling whether to offer four years, but insisted they haven't fallen behind the other clubs.

"Nobody's moved ahead of anybody. I'm just waiting to hear from Arthur. If it can be worked out, he'd like to stay with Baltimore, but the other teams are attractive to him," Horwits said.

Horwits said some clubs have discussed making Rhodes a closer.

"He's just looking at the teams who are interested and what their particular roles are and how he fits in and where the team is headed and the terms of the contract," Horwits said.

Thrift hasn't spoken with Michael Watkins, the agent for first baseman Jeff Conine, since last week, but hoped to reach him last night. Conine is seeking a three-year deal, but Watkins said two plus an option would be acceptable under the right circumstances.

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