Play time for O's kids

Expect younger cast on field in Aug., Sept.

July 28, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

It is the time of season that causes one team's front office head to call another man's trade offer a stinky dairy product. It is a time that can energize the fan base of a team branded a fatal underachiever. One minute Mike Bordick is the underappreciated All-Star and the next he is swallowed whole by a maw of New York media.

But as tempting as it might be to call Monday's 4 p.m. waiver deadline an ending, it is more appropriate to consider it a beginning.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift's desire to transform his fourth-place team into something "younger and faster" will largely hinge upon how much the club can subtract payroll while acquiring high-ceiling prospects. A 43-57 record has invited turnover that could create a two-month coming-out for a younger cast.

Thrift has worked diligently to wring offers for a number of Orioles veterans from the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, among others, but has been handicapped by salaries, no-trade clauses, injuries and his own ambitious demands for a club with the second-worst record in the American League.

Club sources say he has tabled offers for numerous players until this weekend, when the Orioles could become the catalyst for a frenzy of activity.

Fallout from a combination of deals could create lineup permutations unthinkable on Memorial Day. Unable to develop a starting position player for themselves since Cal Ripken became an everyday player in 1982, the Orioles can envision putting three rookies on the field at the same time.

The Orioles furthered the process yesterday after placing infielder Mark Lewis on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. The roster spot will likely be filled by 26-year-old third base prospect Ryan Minor, who completed a rehab assignment at Frederick last night.

While manager Mike Hargrove deflects questions about the infusion of youth in deference to the game's most veteran clubhouse, his lineups speak for him.

Matos, 21, is receiving regular time in center and right field against left-handed pitching. His presence has meant an occasional shift of Brady Anderson to right field for the first time since 1995 and Albert Belle to designated hitter. Anderson also has been benched repeatedly against left-handed pitching.

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff so far has been immune from such experimentation but he also remains a trade target for the Yankees, who yesterday appeared closer to a deal for Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Jeromy Burnitz than for either Surhoff or Montreal Expos center fielder Rondell White.

With Ripken and Minor injured, rookie Ivanon Coffie has received plenty of exposure at third base, sometimes at the expense of veteran Jeff Conine.

Thrift played to his audience during an impromptu press briefing Tuesday by classifying the Yankees' bid for Surhoff as "Limburger cheese." Reiterating majority owner Peter Angelos' stance that no "fire sale" will be conducted, Thrift insists he will allow the waiver deadline to pass without a deal unless he receives appropriate value.

The St. Louis Cardinals have asked about left-handed reliever Buddy Groom while apparently backing away from a deal for catcher Charles Johnson. A pending free agent given little chance of returning next season, Johnson has more recently attracted the White Sox's interest. The Florida Marlins would like to reacquire Johnson but may wait to pursue him as a free agent.

The Indians arrive for this weekend's three-game series at Camden Yards deliberating whether to discard or acquire players. Closer Mike Timlin has their interest, according to industry sources, though Thrift's demands for infielder Enrique Wilson and/or pitcher Jaret Wright have been considered exorbitant.

Desperate for a shortstop, the Mets want Bordick. The Yankees continue to express interest in Surhoff.

In Matos, the Orioles believe they see the first of a wave of young outfielders who will challenge for roster spots in the next two years. Darnell McDonald, Tim Raines Jr., Larry Bigbie and Keith Reed are projected as major-league players, though Raines and Reed remain at Single-A.

The pitching staff will continue to undergo a face lift today when Scott Erickson is placed on the disabled list with an elbow condition that has worsened for weeks.

Left-hander John Parrish, 22, replaced Jose Mercedes in the rotation based upon Monday's stunning major-league debut against the Yankees. Mercedes, who so far has refused to discuss his move out of the rotation, could be named to take Erickson's turn.

Other themes may repeat themselves.

Designated hitter Harold Baines, 41, could be traded to a contender for a second consecutive season. The White Sox have interest but may wait until after the July 31 waiver deadline to make a deal.

"I don't think about it," Baines said. "They told me last year I wasn't going to be traded and I was, so I've learned not to expect anything."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.