Sele off plate, Orioles scrape for leftovers

Likes of Trachsel, Nomo eyed

Sele says, `I knew I was healthy'

January 12, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The first curve thrown by Aaron Sele was aimed at the team most prepared to sign him, leaving the Orioles scrambling for another starting pitcher before heading to Florida and the early promise of spring training.

Losing Sele after coming to agreement on a four-year, $29 million deal, club officials must dip into a shallow pool of remaining free agents or take their chances on unproven talent within the farm system.

Left-hander Darren Oliver is available. So are Steve Trachsel and Hideo Nomo, although a club official last night saw Trachsel going to Colorado for one year and Oliver headed for either Texas or St. Louis for two.

Even if available, none offers the appeal of Sele, an 18-game winner last season who abruptly signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

A physical taken by Sele in Baltimore last week raised concerns within the organization about his long-term durability. Majority owner Peter Angelos wanted to restructure the contract. Sele's agent, Adam Katz, wanted no part of it.

Katz placed a call to Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, who had severed his Orioles ties after the 1998 season. On Monday, he busted up their plans to add Sele by modifying a previous, three-year, $18 million offer to the right-hander.

"If the medical would have come back OK, we would have just proceeded with the negotiations [with the Orioles] and finished the contract," said Sele, who lives in Kirkland, Wash. "When they questioned the medical. I knew I was healthy and I felt great last year; actually, the last four years since my original [shoulder tendinitis] injury in '95. They've got to listen to their guys, but I feel healthy and got clearance from other guys.

"It was pretty much a roller-coaster ride these last few days. I'm not furious or angry at them. They've got to make business decisions based on their people. We were ready to go to Baltimore. We had happily made our decision and looked forward to the opportunities out there, but the negotiations got bogged down at the last minute. Seattle stepped up and we really liked what they had to offer in terms of team, city and contract."

Asked if he thought the Orioles' front office was in disarray, Sele said, "I wasn't real familiar with the Baltimore situation up until the beginning of last week, but from my understanding, my agents had dealt with the normal circle of guys who run the team. It's hard to say. You can't get that feeling unless you've been around the team for a while anyway."

With pitchers and catchers due to report to Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 17, the Orioles continue their search for another veteran arm to place ahead of less-experienced starters Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson.

Oliver, 29, would give the Orioles a left-handed presence in their rotation and ease any temptation to rush 20-year-old Matt Riley. Oliver went 9-9 with a 4.26 ERA in 30 starts with the Cardinals last season. He was a combined 27-18 in back-to-back seasons with the Rangers before falling to 6-7 with a 6.53 ERA in 1998 and getting shipped to St. Louis.

"We're moving forward," said Oliver's agent, Scott Boras. "As I have always said about the pitching element, it's a game of musical chairs rotating around and there probably were going to be a couple clubs that didn't end up with a pitcher. It looked like Colorado's going to be one, and it looks like one or two other teams are going to be one."

Trachsel's agent, Alan Meersand, has spoken with the Rockies, but he sees the right-hander being a good fit for the Orioles as well. "I sent [Angelos and Syd Thrift] faxes today with three different proposals," Meersand told the Bloomberg News Service yesterday. "I think this is a very viable option for both Steve and the club."

Consistency hasn't been Trachsel's trademark. Coming off a 15-8 season in 1998, he slipped to 8-18 with a 5.56 ERA as the Chicago Cubs sank to last place in the NL Central. In the four previous years beginning in 1994, he went 9-7, 7-13, 13-9 and 8-12.

"Winning 60 games for the Cubs is like winning 100 games anywhere else," Meersand said. "People always ask me, `How did Steve lose 18 games for the Cubs?' My answer is, `How did he win eight?' "

At least Trachsel, 29, keeps taking the ball. He has pitched 200 or more innings the last four seasons.

Nomo, 31, doesn't bring the same certainty. A former 16-game winner and strikeout king with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nomo was released by two clubs last season while trying to quiet whispers that he had a tired arm. He latched on with Milwaukee and showed new life, going 12-8 with a 4.54 ERA.

Like Trachsel, he'd have the advantage of going to a new league where the hitters aren't as familiar with him. But the Orioles would have to be certain that his Brewers success indicated he was again ready to become a dependable, if not dominant, starter.

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