Hargrove: Angelos' goal to finish .500 `reasonable'

Manager says young team is `on the right track'

March 22, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles manager Mike Hargrove won't guarantee his club will win half of its regular-season games this year, but he said yesterday that owner Peter Angelos' goal of a .500-or-better season is well within the realm of possibility.

"I think that's reasonable," Hargrove said before yesterday's 6-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Ed Smith Stadium. "I think that is realistic. Whether we reach it or not, I don't know. We've got a young club. We've got to stay healthy. But I don't see any reason we shouldn't be held to that standard."

The Orioles are entering the blooming stage of their youth movement, with several young players projected to play regularly this year and a handful of solid pitching prospects close on the horizon. The club doesn't figure to compete for a playoff berth in 2002, but avoiding a fifth consecutive losing season would be a major sign that the organization is moving in the right direction.

"We really expect more internally of ourselves than what's out there," Hargrove said. "We hold ourselves to a high standard, and that's the way it should be. We need to stay healthy and people have to have productive years. If we do that, we'll be all right. If we don't, then we won't."

Hargrove has been down this road before. He managed a developing team in Cleveland in the early 1990s that would grow into a perennial contender - reaching the World Series twice and the playoffs five years in a row. There is no way to know for sure whether this crop of Orioles youngsters includes a budding Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton or Manny Ramirez, but Hargrove was there once and knows it's possible.

"If you want to look at this club closely, you can see the same percolation going on," he said. "We've got Jerry Hairston, Brian Roberts and Larry Bigbie, and they are all much better players than they were a year ago. We've got Tony Batista all year. Jay Gibbons ... we barely knew anything about him at this time last year. And we've got Chris Singleton and Marty Cordova, who are young veterans.

"I think there are a lot of good things in store. Whether it will be this year, I don't know, but I think we're on the right track."

Angelos also said that if the team collapses again this year - and there isn't a wave of injuries to explain the downturn - he likely would order the front office to renew its emphasis on free agents to assure a competitive season in 2003.

The owner already is on record saying the club took a restrained approach to the free-agent market to conserve resources for a greater push next year, but seemed to imply this week that another poor season would prompt a decided shift back to big-ticket players from outside the organization.

Hargrove said he hopes this year's team mirrors the Indians of 1993, a team that blossomed enough to require only a couple of free-agent additions - former Orioles Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez - to begin a string of winning seasons that stretched for the remainder of Hargrove's tenure as Indians manager.

"I think you're seeing more strength in our minor-league system, and with Tony DeMacio and his scouting people, I can only see it getting better and better," Hargrove said. "If Mr. Angelos chooses to go that [free-agent] route, we'll have a feeder system to augment that plan and make it work.

"If nothing else, we've been able to identify young players who are going to be viable major-league players. If you can add to that with free agents, that's OK. There's more than one way to skin a cat."

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