Orioles' options getting thinner

Impact signing looks unlikely for team

January 12, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

One month remains before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, leaving the Orioles in a scramble mode to fill out a roster that has undergone minimal changes since last season. A closer and cleanup hitter still are priorities, though the chances of an impact signing or acquisition continue to diminish. As Syd Thrift, the club's vice president of baseball operations, makes another round of calls, he also must make certain concessions.

The free-agent market has dried up for closers - Jeff Shaw apparently doesn't want to come here and Mike Williams returned to Pittsburgh - leaving Thrift to explore trades or settle for in-house candidates. "Somebody may have to just grow up and step up," Thrift said.

He also seems more resigned to handing out minor-league contracts, with spring training invitations attached, and increasing manager Mike Hargrove's options. Perhaps strength will come in numbers.

"I told Grover to be prepared for a large camp," Thrift said. "Be prepared to work double shifts in spring training. That's my theme. Work twice as hard and twice as smart. We'll make some more moves. They'll probably be small. We'll hope we can plant them in the right soil, and they'll all rise above expectations."

Hargrove made his own concession yesterday, projecting most of David Segui's starts as the designated hitter rather than first baseman. Segui had bone chips removed from his left knee in November after missing all but one of the last 35 games.

"Right now I'm toying with the idea, and toying with it seriously, of DHing him the majority of the time to keep his bat in the lineup," said Hargrove, who's in town for today's FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Unless the Orioles can find another corner outfielder after losing out on Juan Gonzalez, Hargrove likely will alternate Jay Gibbons and Marty Cordova between left and right. Recovering from wrist surgery, Gibbons also could move to first on occasion, with Jeff Conine going to the outfield.

The Orioles don't expect Chris Richard, recovering from shoulder surgery, to become available until around the All-Star break. His extended absence magnifies the need for another bat.

Thrift has spoken to representatives for outfielders Matt Stairs and Troy O'Leary. Toronto has expressed a willingness to trade Raul Mondesi, but he'll earn $11 million this season and $13 million in 2003.

"There's always the same roadblock, whether it's a free agent or a trade. There's a lot of money involved in these players," Thrift said.

Gonzalez agreed to a two-year, $24 million deal with the Texas Rangers after the New York Mets offered him $25 million over the same period. Thrift said the Orioles' offer was "substantially, much, much lower" than the others, "so it really wasn't a contest as far as where he'd go."

Emphasizing that the Orioles aren't finished with their winter business, Thrift said, "We're never done. Put an exclamation mark on that. There are players who haven't signed and players who are available. We're just trying to sort them out. We had priorities, players who we really wanted and ranked. All of them are gone. When one thing changes, you go for something else."

Said Hargrove: "You go into the off-season and you have a wish list, but I don't think at any time did we say this was an absolutely necessary part we had to have. We've added carefully. It's been my design. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to add a veteran player who's going to take at-bats away from our younger people and hurt us down the road. We've tried to stay true to that line.

"Can we contend with the Yankees? Well, our payroll is going to be what it is, and the Yankees' will be $140 million. You tell me. Can we be competitive? You bet we can be competitive. Will we play hard? Yeah, we'll play hard. Will we make mistakes that a veteran ballclub wouldn't make? Yeah, we'll make those mistakes. But if we learn from those mistakes and we're better because of them, then it's worth the experience."

Pressed for an early lineup, Hargrove projected Melvin Mora in center field rather than a utility role, with Luis Matos gaining more experience at Triple-A Rochester. Thrift denied any interest in free-agent center fielder Kenny Lofton.

NOTE: The Orioles confirmed yesterday that they'll return home plate to its original location at Camden Yards. The plate was moved back about seven feet last year, but club officials said the new layout didn't significantly improve sight lines.

Orioles FanFest

When: Today, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

Tickets: $10 for adults, $5 for children 14 and under and seniors; available at Convention Center or at Orioles Box Office

Parking: Free at Camden Yards

Information: 410-685-9800

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