Angelos: O's can make waves without making splash

November 16, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

PULL UP A CHAIR. Sit back. Peter Angelos is going to tell you a story about how the Orioles intend to proceed.

Not that the owner can name names on the Orioles' free-agent shopping list or outline the team's juiciest trade scenarios. Vladimir Guerrero or Miguel Tejada or Mike Lowell? "Hell, I'd want all three of those guys, then we could hoist the flag and say let's go get the Yankees," Angelos said.

"You want to deliver for the hometown, especially when you're the hometown owner. You want to be appreciated and strike a blow so you can go out and win the division, go to the World Series. It's that way. That's the emotional component."

But these baseball decisions are up to general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, two smart guys who know how to play ball. How good are they? Some say this is the big test for the dual GMs, whom all of baseball is watching and waiting to see what moves they make. Angelos chuckled and suggested the pair is good enough to be a step ahead of the game, so far.

Flanagan and Beattie say they aren't in the market for a pitcher? That this is not a priority? They're fine going into 2004 hoping Rodrigo Lopez has a comeback, Eric DuBose and Kurt Ainsworth can deliver "W's" and Omar Daal can mop up? For about one week after the GMs spread this line around the sports pages and airwaves nice and thick, we finally smelled something funky: They're yanking our chain, of course. Better yet, they're mocking the agents of free-agent pitchers who think the Orioles are desperate for a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, so they'll shell out dough for anyone who wants to sign with Baltimore.

"You can't take what they say and believe them. Nobody knows the value of pitching more than those two," Angelos said.

In other words: The O's know they need a guy at the top of the rotation to take the pressure off everyone: pitching staff, manager, the offense and the fans.

You can't win without pitching. That was Beattie's and Flanagan's mantra upon taking the job last winter. They signed a first-round draft pick, Adam Loewen, for a huge bonus, convincing Angelos to open the checkbook. They traded Sidney Ponson, who must want that three-year deal now, for three pitchers. Get the picture? In other words: Do not believe everything you hear and read, even when it comes from the two guys in charge of restocking the Orioles' major league team with real, live major leaguers.

In an interview with Beattie's and Flanagan's boss, one thing seemed clear: The Orioles are letting the game come to them this winter.

"There will be no splash. We will do our best to avoid the upward spiral of salaries in baseball. ... That doesn't mitigate the goal of getting the Orioles into a competitive level with an eye toward the most difficult division in baseball," Angelos said.

This hedging on how much to spend on players has left fans to wonder how the team can afford to merely dip its toe into the free-agent waters. Angelos said there's no chance a player will sign for $18 million anywhere in baseball. He also said $15 million a year might be too rich.

"I don't know what Jim and Mike will suggest, but personally, I would be opposed to that," said Angelos, who scoffed at the suggestion that the Orioles have to overpay, at least for one player, to re-establish Baltimore in the eyes of free agents and invigorate the fan base.

"We need to overpay? That's simply not correct. Players like to come here. We haven't been competitive, but let's put that aside. Players like Camden Yards. They know they are appreciated and treated well in this city," he said.

"It's been said that our only attraction now is that we have money to spend. That's not true, either. We have a nucleus of young guys, new general managers, a new manager. I haven't met [Lee Mazzilli] yet, but as soon as Jim and Mike interviewed him, he was their guy."

Perhaps it's best to think of the Orioles as stock traders this winter. There are 210 free agents. The market will further flood Dec. 20, when players not offered arbitration by their own teams will be looking for jobs. Better for the Orioles to take their first good cut after the market has peaked and prices for the blue chips backslide.

The danger here is that waiting too long could lead to a swing and a miss - or several misses, like last winter. However, some conditions have changed. The Orioles have more money, they've targeted their needs, they have stated their goal to significantly improve the team.

If Orioles fans are nervous about how the team is proceeding, how nervous are agents and players? They're so squirrelly about the depressed market, they've considered filing grievances charging collusion. At some point, agents are going to run numbers by the Orioles, who everyone knows are sitting on $40 million.

"The agents look for us to do something, to make a splash [since] let's say competing with the Yankees is our desired goal. But we're not doing the first part. We're not going on a spending spree to produce a winner," Angelos said.

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