JUPITER, Fla. - Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift yesterday said the club will make "probably one, possibly two" trades before the end of camp, suggesting that the Orioles may stock their bench with younger players over veterans.
"There are still some things up in the air that need to be addressed. They're being addressed, but they need to be resolved," said manager Mike Hargrove. "We have a better idea what the 25-man roster will look like now than we did three or four days ago. As we go through the rest of spring, it will start sorting itself out."
The Orioles have decisions about their backup catcher and reserve corner infielder and are considering keeping nonroster prospect Brian Roberts as a backup middle infielder.
Fernando Lunar and Greg Myers are vying to back up catcher Brook Fordyce. Lunar, 23, is without major-league options and the only available player obtained in last July's trade that sent left fielder B.J. Surhoff and since-released pitcher Gabe Molina to the Atlanta Braves. (Outfielder Trenidad Hubbard was released last winter and pitcher Luis Rivera is on the disabled list.)
Slowed by the flu earlier in camp, Lunar has received only eight exhibition at-bats over six games. Myers, who has received sporadic playing time this spring, is on the second season of a guaranteed two-year deal. Thrift is shopping him.
A more complicated mix involves veteran Jeff Conine and rookies Mike Kinkade and Jay Gibbons. Kinkade, who also lacks options, was acquired from the New York Mets in last July's Mike Bordick trade while Gibbons was obtained from Toronto in December's Rule 5 draft. The Orioles either must offer Gibbons back to the Blue Jays for $25,000 or work out a trade if he doesn't make their Opening Day roster.
Gibbons' breakout camp - he is batting .440 while receiving 25 at-bats, second-most in camp - makes it unlikely Toronto would give up its former Double-A first baseman if provided the chance to reclaim him.
Without confirming any trade as imminent, Hargrove implied the club may look younger by Opening Day. "It's safe to say we'll go with younger guys. That's the whole idea of this thing," the manager said. "You have to balance that with the fact we want to have a good mix. Being able to achieve that gives our young kids a better chance to succeed."
Given Hargrove's preference for a 12-man pitching staff on Opening Day, one scenario has a bench comprised of Lunar, Conine, Kinkade and Gibbons. Starting center fielder Melvin Mora also would become the reserve middle infielder. However, a trade involving Conine could permit 23-year-old Brian Roberts to make the club as a utility player.
Roberts was selected in the first round of the 1999 draft and hasn't played above Single-A, partly due to an arm injury sustained in spring training last year.
The Orioles view the two-time NCAA stolen-base leader as competent defensively and a base-stealing force while recently changing his primary position from shortstop to second base
"We know that he can play shortstop," said Hargrove. "We want to see what he can do at second base given the fact that Ed Rogers is at shortstop. If he can play second base, it adds value to him for the organization."
Hargrove hesitated when asked about Roberts' status. "There is some school of thought to him being the utility player. But I think the consensus of opinion is that he needs to play [every day]."
Ponson en fuego
Hargrove has already aligned his starting rotation so that off-season free-agent acquisition Pat Hentgen will throw the season's first pitch, but Sidney Ponson's clean five innings in the Orioles' 3-2 win over the Montreal Expos yesterday prompted a question about whether the decision is final. Hargrove abstained from answering, holding to a tradition of not announcing his Opening Day starter until the final week of camp.
He did allow that Ponson's command has opened eyes. The Orioles have long tried to get Ponson to embrace an off-speed pitch. Now they hope to witness the benefit.
"I think the qualifying factor is it's this early in spring," Hargrove said. "The more we see it, [the more] my excitement will increase."
Ponson, who by all appearances has been slotted ahead of incumbent 14-game winner Jose Mercedes in the rotation, sounded unimpressed about the possibility of facing Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez on April 2 at Camden Yards. "I have to worry about their hitters, not Pedro," said Ponson. "If I pitch six innings and give up no runs and Pedro pitches six innings and gives up no runs, that's OK. I'm facing hitters, not Pedro."
More arm surgery
The Orioles yesterday announced that pitcher Mark Nuss- beck underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a partial tear of his right rotator cuff and will likely be lost for the season.