Pitch by O's not enough to land Vazquez

ON BASEBALL

March 07, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles came up short in their pursuit of emerging pitching ace Javier Vazquez over the winter, but not because of any weakness in the club's minor league pitching pipeline.

Montreal Expos general manager Omar Minaya said yesterday that the New York Yankees were able to outbid the Orioles because they were in a position to part with major-league-ready prospects Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, while the Orioles are just starting to build a foundation with top young outfielders Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie.

The Orioles instead hoped to acquire Vazquez with a package of quality minor league pitchers.

"We talked to the Orioles, but at the end of the day I was looking for zero-to-three players [major league players with less than three years of service time]," Minaya said. "I thought the zero-to-three guys I was getting from the Yankees was the best deal for our club at this time.

"I thought the Orioles had good players in the lower minors. They had quality guys, but we needed position guys. Nick Johnson provided that for me. Juan Rivera provided that for me. They [the Orioles] were more on the pitching side."

Vazquez has a chance to be a big star, particularly with that high-priced Yankees lineup scoring runs for him, so Minaya might have been able to hold out for even more if not for the economic constraints that have limited the flexibility of a lot of teams.

"You'd be surprised how many teams couldn't take the salary," Minaya said. "I'd say at least half the teams couldn't handle an arbitration salary of $10 million."

The Yankees not only assumed that risk, they quickly signed Vazquez to a four-year contract that Minaya thinks will be money well spent.

"You look at his stuff and figure he should get more run support than he got with us, he should win more games than he won with us," Minaya said. "I'm thinking he's good for something like 16 or 18 games. He has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter, but you have to respect what Mike Mussina has done over a long period of time."

Sosa on steroid flap

Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa has some advice for Barry Bonds and the other players whose names have surfaced in the BALCO steroid scandal.

Hang tough.

"I remember last year when I had my situation with the bat, a lot of people said so many things just like that," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I survived it. I can only say to those guys, `Stay strong. `Things happen. We're not perfect. Just keep the faith.

"I feel bad for those guys that have to go through that whole situation right now. But it's something that when the situation comes your way, you got to know how to deal with that."

Sosa, of course, was referring to last year's corked bat controversy, which he survived without serious impact on his popularity.

Of course, Bonds and Co. are not going to be so fortunate, because the steroid issue is not going to be glossed over by an exciting pennant race.

Double standard

Sosa's comments point to an interesting double standard in baseball.

There are two kinds of cheating - the traditional kind, which has largely been winked at throughout the history of the game, and the socially unacceptable kind, which involves chemicals or oddsmakers.

Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame because he was the greatest spitball pitcher in history. Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball.

Sosa got caught with a corked bat and was soon forgiven. Bonds is suspected of corking his biceps, which will never be forgotten. That's just the way it is.

Wake up, smell the coffee

Jason Giambi just doesn't get it. He's upset at the New York Yankees for obeying a Major League Baseball directive to restrict the access of personal trainers and other peripheral characters from clubhouses in the wake of the BALCO steroid scandal.

Giambi, who reluctantly has become a prominent figure in that scandal, complained that the Yankees' refusal to rehire his personal trainer, Bob Alejo, as a batting practice pitcher could interrupt his training regimen and negatively affect his play.

"When you develop a routine over 10 years, it becomes an old habit," Giambi said. "You become like an old woman; you get used to the same routine. That's definitely going to change.

"That guy's been around, he's kept me on the field. Knock on wood, I've never been on the disabled list. That's very important to me, especially with the type of money that I make. If I'm on the field, that's the most important thing when you have a contract like that. You're expected to do more than the average player."

He might be right and he might have all the right motives, but he's got to realize that - until the scandal shakes out - he's going to have to go along to get along.

Alomar's realization

Former Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar needs 321 hits to reach 3,000 and lock up his place in the Hall of Fame, but to get there he's going to have to reach back into his past and find what it was that made him one of the best all-around players in the game.

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