Orioles still may deal for pitching

Flanagan says team plans to use its young pitchers, but trades are possibility

Analysis

Baseball

January 15, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Orioles vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie went into the offseason insisting offense was the priority, not pitching. Coming from two former big league pitchers, this seemed hard to believe, but that's precisely how they've executed their plan.

They addressed shortstop (Miguel Tejada), catcher (Javy Lopez) and first base (Rafael Palmeiro) before finally adding a starting pitcher yesterday in Sidney Ponson.

The starting rotation is still suspect.

Ponson will head a staff that could include some combination of Kurt Ainsworth, Rodrigo Lopez, Eric DuBose, Matt Riley and Omar Daal.

"I wouldn't say we're finished," Flanagan said. "We just added a major part of our rotation [in Ponson], but we're always looking to get better. On the other side of this, I'm a complete believer in some of the younger pitchers we have."

Ainsworth, DuBose and Riley have never pitched a full season in the big leagues, but the Orioles are using a different philosophy now. A year ago, they acquired Daal and another veteran, Rick Helling, to shore up their starting rotation before spring training.

This year, because they have some young pitchers who are further along in their development, they figure they would rather let the youngsters take their lumps and gain some experience than give those innings to pitchers past their prime.

This stems not only from the confidence they have in Ainsworth, DuBose and Riley, but also from the group of prospects they have added to their farm system.

Without trying to overstate expectations, Orioles officials have privately said they could see Denny Bautista, Erik Bedard and/or John Maine making contributions at the big league level by late this season.

Another wave including Adam Loewen, Don Levinski, Ryan Hannaman and Chris Ray could be a year or so behind.

So no, the Orioles aren't finished. But Flanagan said anything they do from here on out probably will be on the trade market, not the free-agent market.

Four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux is still a free agent, and the Chicago Cubs have reportedly made the best offer at two years, $14 million. But Maddux turns 38 in April, and Orioles officials say they don't plan to make him an offer.

On the trade market, the Orioles are still in position to improve by finding teams who are trying to unload salary.

For example, the Montreal Expos might try to move Livan Hernandez after picking up his $6 million option for this season. The Anaheim Angels, whose projected payroll increased to $108 million after they signed Vladimir Guerrero, may try to move Jarrod Washburn or Ramon Ortiz.

The Minnesota Twins have Brad Radke, who will earn $10 million next season.

Another team to watch is the Houston Astros. Having signed Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, they may look to move a younger pitcher such as Tim Redding or Jeriome Robertson.

"In some ways, I wouldn't want to take away the innings we have from some of our young pitchers," Flanagan said. "So I'm not anxious about [the state of the starting rotation], but we'll certainly look at ways of improving the team."

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