Great deal of glee for Thrift, O's

VP revels in 3 trades, 10 fresh players to energize system

Orioles fan base `loved it'

7 rookies on roster signals a new era

July 31, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

After a weekend of virtually nonstop negotiating, joke-telling, obfuscating and trigger-pulling, Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift took a breather yesterday.

He spent the afternoon watching a clubhouse of diminished payroll and diminished name recognition beat the Cleveland Indians behind a rookie starting pitcher and a rookie center fielder. Then he bounced through the post-game clubhouse ecstatic at what he had seen.

"The people loved it, I thought," he said, beaming.

In 48 dizzying hours, the Orioles traded four players (Mike Bordick, Mike Timlin, Charles Johnson and Harold Baines), three of them current or former All-Stars; released one player (Rich Amaral); designated one for assignment off their 40-man roster (Juan Aracena); moved another from the 15- to the 60-day disabled list (Calvin Maduro); and acquired 10 players, including six right-handed minor-league pitchers.

Thrift admits the moves have done little for the present but insists his three-punch combination will energize a lackluster farm system through increased depth and competition. If a message has been sent to the team's fan base, it is purely intentional.

"The customer is always right," Thrift said amid Saturday's free-for-all. "And I have gotten the sense, from walking down the streets the last two years, that the fans want a different look."

Who could have envisioned that this or any other Orioles team would carry seven rookies before rosters expand Sept. 1?

The Orioles' roster shuffling is almost unprecedented locally in a 48-hour span. Beginning with Friday's trade of All-Star shortstop Mike Bordick to the Mets for a four-player package headed by 28-year-old rookie Melvin Mora, the team has initiated the turnover Thrift long promised.

Thrift essentially replaced Amaral, a 38-year-old outfielder, with Mora, a utility player acquired with minor-league pitchers Lesli Brea and Pat Gorman plus catcher-infielder Mike Kinkade for Bordick.

Dealing Johnson and Baines to the Chicago White Sox Saturday night netted catcher Brook Fordyce, their projected starting catcher for 2001, and three minor-league pitchers.

Dealing closer Mike Timlin and the remainder of his four-year, $16 million contract to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Chris Richard and right-handed pitcher Mark Nussbeck allowed the promotion of rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan from Triple-A Rochester.

Thrift reveled in last week's whirlwind, following through on what many construed as bluster and puff. How it will be graded is an open-ended question.

"I'd say it's a success if two of these pitchers pitch in the major leagues," Thrift said. "And I'd say it's a success if two of these position players contribute to a winning major-league team."

Those who witnessed yesterday's 10-7 win over the Indians watched something different - a 22-year-old left-hander (John Parrish) containing a lineup of professional hitters for five innings and a 21-year-old center fielder (Luis Matos) tying the Orioles record with four stolen bases in a game.

The Orioles yesterday scored 10 runs without a home run. They pressured the Indians defensively rather than vice versa. In spite of a 45-58 record, they played one of their tighter games in weeks. Whether these Orioles are now sentenced to a last-place, 95-loss season is unclear. But whatever the destination, they will arrive by taking a different route.

With young players, "You push the envelope a little bit," Hargrove said. "These are fun games."

There was some sadness, too. "It's never easy to say goodbye to guys that you pretty much lived with for a period of time," Hargrove said. "You get very close. ... But it's also exciting in that we're bringing back good, younger players. That's obviously what we need to do."

The unpopular trade of Johnson brought them a catcher, Fordyce, signed through next season with the comical $10 million club option attached for 2002.

Fordyce heard rumors that the White Sox were looking for a catcher of Johnson's caliber, with postseason experience to lead a staff unaccustomed to such pressures, so the trade didn't come as a surprise. What it did, however, was take him from a first-place club to one in a rebuilding mode.

"It's a business. I think we all realize that," he said. "I want to play baseball. It doesn't matter. I'm in a big-league uniform. I'm playing and I'm healthy and I'm looking forward to being with this great organization, with a lot of history. I'm happy. I'm here, and I'm ready to play."

Despite the recent meeting between Johnson's agent, Scott Boras, and majority owner Peter Angelos, the chances of Johnson returning here remained minuscule. At issue was whether the Orioles could do better by trading the four-time Gold Glove catcher or parlaying the first-round and sandwich draft choices they would have received as compensation for his loss via free agency.

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