Some good-looking arms

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

August 15, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN

Admittedly, we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

The Orioles won't begin scrutinizing the list of potential free-agent pitchers until later this month, sending their top scouts for an in-depth look in September.

But their recent eight-game winning streak got us thinking: How good will they be if they add a front-line starting pitcher this offseason?

Last winter, the Orioles focused primarily on offense, landing Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro.

This year, an additional $18 million comes off the payroll when the contracts of David Segui, Omar Daal, Marty Cordova and Buddy Groom expire. So the Orioles will be in prime position again, and pitching should be their top priority.

With the Oakland Athletics coming to Camden Yards tomorrow night, the locals will probably raise their usual fuss about A's left-hander Barry Zito. Considering the way he has struggled this season (8-8 with a 4.79 ERA), Oakland may look to trade him this winter, but he's under contract for $4.5 million next season, with a team option for 2006.

So forget him for a few minutes, and consider this list of pitchers who are eligible for free agency after the season (with their 2005 Opening Day age in parentheses):

Pedro Martinez (33)

2004 stats: 13-4, 3.72 ERA.

The case for signing him: He feels jilted in Boston. The Red Sox picked up his $17.5 million option for this season, but Martinez broke off negotiations on an extension in April. He was upset with the team for raising concerns about his right shoulder. His six-hit, 10-strikeout shutout against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday proved he still has it.

The case against: Martinez is a three-time Cy Young winner, but he's getting up there in age, and after posting a 2.26 ERA his first six seasons in Boston, he looks decidedly more human this year.

Matt Clement (30)

2004 stats: 8-11, 3.18 ERA

The case for: He has been overshadowed by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior with the Chicago Cubs, and his win total would be higher if he weren't getting such terrible run support (3.66 per nine innings). His pitches have so much movement, he used to have a hard time with control, but this year he has 155 strikeouts and 61 walks.

The case against: The only concern here is that goofy scruff of hair on his chin, which goes right against Lee Mazzilli's no-goatee policy.

Carl Pavano (29)

2004 stats: 12-5, 3.11 ERA

The case for: He has blossomed into the Florida Marlins' top pitcher this season. Anyone who saw him pitch Wednesday in that frustrating 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals saw how good Pavano has become.

The case against: Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie was the Montreal Expos' general manager when he acquired Pavano in the deal that sent Martinez to the Red Sox in 1997. Can one man get lucky enough to acquire the same pitcher twice?

Russ Ortiz (30)

2004 stats: 13-6, 3.46 ERA

The case for: The Atlanta Braves fleeced the San Francisco Giants for Ortiz in December 2002, getting him for former Orioles chucker Damian Moss and minor leaguer Manuel Mateo. After going 21-7 last year, Ortiz put the Braves back atop the National League East by going 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA in July.

The case against: Unlike sinkerballers such as Clement and Pavano, Ortiz might struggle a bit more at Camden Yards because he's a high-ball pitcher. Even with a 92-94 mph fastball, that could be a problem.

Eric Milton (29)

2004 stats: 12-2, 4.81 ERA

The case for: He's left-handed, and he's a University of Maryland alum. After a knee injury limited him to three games last year with the Minnesota Twins, he has flourished since his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. "You heard what a good guy he is, and what kind of competitor he is, and he lived up to all the expectations," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. "And I think he's going to be better next year."

The case against: Milton's ERA is high, and that's partly because he's pitching at the new Philadelphia ballpark, which has been called Coors Field East.

Kevin Millwood (30)

2004 stats: 9-6, 4.86 ERA

The case for: He actually could be a bargain. His value has dropped significantly in his two seasons with the Phillies, and last week, doctors diagnosed a strained ligament in his right elbow, meaning he won't get a chance to improve upon those numbers until at least mid-September.

The case against: His agent, Scott Boras, always holds out for top dollar. Last year, Millwood accepted the Phillies' arbitration offer and negotiated an $11 million salary. Last week, he said: "I'm not going to do this one-year thing again. I'm definitely looking for some stability. Wherever that may be, I don't know."

Other notable free agents:

Odalis Perez (27) 2004 stats: 6-4, 2.85 ERA

Comment: Lefty went on the DL with inflammation in his rotator cuff last month.

Derek Lowe (31) 2004 stats: 10-10, 5.33 ERA

Comment: Thumb blister is bothering him again this season.

Matt Morris (30) 2004 stats: 12-8, 4.76 ERA

Comment: Not the same pitcher who went 39-17 from 2001 to 2002.

Brad Radke (32) 2004 stats: 7-6, 3.64 ERA

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