O's close to deal for Erickson

Red Sox and Braves are thought to offer young pitchers

10-and-5 cloud speeds pace

Move expected to be first of many by O's

June 27, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The Orioles are apparently poised to begin dismantling an underachieving club by dealing starting pitcher Scott Erickson to any of several interested contenders, according to industry sources.

Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift was weighing several offers for the durable Erickson last night, with the Boston Red Sox's and Atlanta Braves' believed the most intriguing. The New York Mets, who scouted Erickson's last start in Seattle, apparently have expressed less enthusiasm but are still believed in the picture, according to team and industry sources.

Urgency surrounding Erickson's availability became clouded yesterday when reports claimed the career American League pitcher would achieve 10-and-5 status (10 years in the league, five with the same team) as of midnight last night, giving him the right to veto any deal. July 7 was believed to be the threshold until the club received correspondence from Major League Baseball listing June 26 as the date, according to an industry source.

Neither Thrift, team spokesman Bill Stetka nor Erickson's agents would confirm that last night was the deadline. However, it is believed the Orioles may be contesting the interpretation so a deal might be completed this week without the player's approval.

Erickson signed a five-year, $32 million extension in May 1998. Among its provisions was a partial no-trade clause that does not list any of the known bidders for him. Thrift recently confirmed Erickson's durability and history of strong finishes had made him the team's most highly sought player. Thrift could not be reached to comment last night but a team source insisted no deal was "imminent."

Erickson led the American League in innings pitched in 1998 and finished second last season despite a 1-8 start. He underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery March 3 for the removal of bone spurs and is 3-5 with a 7.36 ERA since returning to the rotation.

Erickson was far from impressive in last weekend's appearance against the Mariners. Pounded in an 8-3 loss, he allowed nine of his last 10 batters faced to reach base. While satisfied with Erickson's velocity, scouts have noticed that inconsistent mechanics have robbed him of control and movement on his pitches in the middle innings.

The Braves are believed to be dangling left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen, while the Red Sox also are discussing sending the Orioles young pitching in return.

The Record of Hackensack, N.J., said Mets executives worked hard to make a deal but that the Orioles' asking price was too high.

The Record's sources weren't sure whom the Mets were offering, but the Orioles were believed to be asking for Triple-A pitcher Grant Roberts. The Mets may also have been trying to get Baltimore to take right-handed pitcher Bobby J. Jones, who is making $5.25 million this season.

A trade involving Erickson would represent only a first step. Thrift has immersed himself in creating a market for shortstop Mike Bordick, left fielder B. J. Surhoff, catcher Charles Johnson and second baseman Delino DeShields, among others.

Bordick, coveted by the Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and potentially the Anaheim Angels, and Johnson are pending free agents. Surhoff acquires 10-and-5 status at the end of this season, which would virtually guarantee him remaining in Baltimore through 2002. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals are interested in Johnson.

Erickson almost certainly will be the first player dealt, according to a source familiar with organizational thinking.

Aside from wanting to make themselves younger, the Orioles would like to deal Erickson because of what they perceive as his negative influence on 23-year-old Sidney Ponson.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (5-7, 4.15) vs. Red Sox's Pete Schourek (2-6, 4.32)

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