Medically, Orioles in isolation

January 11, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles know so much, they can operate without a general manager. They know so much, they can attempt to trade players with no-trade clauses. They know so much, they can identify medical problems that no one else detects.

They can't blame this on Frank Wren, can they? No, and they can't blame Pat Gillick, either, even though their former GM embarrassed them last night by signing Aaron Sele right out from under their snooty noses.

All the old scapegoats are gone.

This was Peter Angelos' show, and he outsmarted himself.

If Sele is such a time bomb, then why did Gillick, Texas GM Doug Melvin and Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar all indicate they had no concerns about the condition of the pitcher's right arm?

And why did the Orioles make him a four-year, $29 million offer after receiving his medical records from Texas?

Act first, think later.

Attempt to trade B. J. Surhoff without obtaining the list of teams to which he would approve a deal. Offer Sele a contract to keep him away from Tampa Bay, then experience buyer's remorse at the first hint of a potential arm problem.

"I'm not aware of what the exact concerns were with Baltimore," Gillick said last night. "From our standpoint, we don't have any concerns whatsoever. We feel really confident that Aaron is healthy, and will be able to make his usual 30 starts."

The Orioles declined to respond, perhaps because Angelos and his crack medical team were on the verge of curing some rare disease after solving The Great Sele Mystery.

Their crack legal team, meanwhile, is in the middle of a dispute over Wren's termination.

Do the Orioles even play baseball anymore?

It's true that Angelos is a stickler for medical information, and his refusal to guarantee the fourth year that Texas and Tampa Bay offered Sele might indeed prove the correct decision, even if the pitcher is only 29.

It's also true that teams frequently make tentative agreements with players pending the outcome of physicals. Tampa Bay just signed Juan Guzman, a pitcher with a more troubling history than Sele, before examining him.

Angelos apparently became alarmed by reports of "moderate wear and tear" that potentially could worsen by the third or fourth year of Sele's contract. But such fraying is common for a six-year veteran like Sele.

Mike Mussina, 31, has thrown nearly 1,800 innings in his career, nearly 800 more than Sele. Chances are, his elbow and shoulder have undergone "moderate wear and tear." But that doesn't mean he's about to blow out his arm.

"There is going to be normal wear and tear, be it on the elbow, the rotator cuff, whatever," Gillick said. "You have to rely on your medical personnel. They know the bumps along the road that you've got to watch out for, which ones they feel pitchers will work through."

Baseball people also should develop a feel for such things, but the Orioles are no longer run by baseball people, unless you count director of baseball operations Syd Thrift. The power rests with Angelos and his sons, John and Lou. Oh, and by the way, Mussina is eligible for free agency after this season.

Cleveland is probably looking better and better to No. 35.

So much for the Big Three of Mussina, Scott Erickson and Sele. So much for the idea of contending in 2000, not that the addition of Sele was going to make up for a suspect bullpen and aging roster, anyway.

The Orioles now face a diminishing market for starting pitchers, with Andy Benes, Guzman and Omar Olivares all having signed since word broke of the Sele offer.

One of the remaining free agents, right-hander Steve Trachsel, was 8-18 last season. Another, left-hander Darren Oliver, is represented by the evil Scott Boras.

Wren, now an assistant GM for Atlanta, must be loving this. He incurred Angelos' wrath last season by signing Xavier Hernandez for $2.75 million, then renouncing the deal after the reliever flunked his physical. The club wound up settling with Hernandez for $1.75 million.

The difference with Sele is that the Orioles never announced his signing. Their change of heart would appear more understandable if other clubs shared their misgivings. But in a span of approximately 6 1/2 hours yesterday, the Mariners struck a deal.

The process began when Sele's agent, Adam Katz, contacted Gillick. Sele then was examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles at the Mariners' request. Yocum gave a positive report, and Gillick hammered out a deal with Katz. His previous offer to Sele had been $18 million for three years.

The Orioles rarely act that quickly under Angelos, who is often preoccupied with other matters. And now they've lost Sele and Arthur Rhodes to Seattle, with Gillick chortling that Sele was "like a star falling out of the sky."

The Orioles dropped him, but not to worry.

They know so much, maybe they'll just start their own league.

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