Meat of A's rotation reminds O's of need to beef up starting pitching

August 19, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE OAKLAND Athletics just showed the Orioles the difference between a great starting rotation and a merely adequate one, which should remind Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan that the acquisition of a marquee starting pitcher this winter is not an option ... it's an absolute necessity.

That the message was delivered by the A's could even be considered serendipitous, since that is the team that just might have a premier starter to spare.

Remember those Barry Zito rumors?

You'll be hearing them again.

General manager Billy Beane didn't flinch when the Orioles asked about Zito before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and he again refused to say never when he accompanied his team to Baltimore this week.

By most accounts, he would be a fool to break up the nucleus of baseball's best young rotation one second before the A's perennial budget problems force his hand, but Beane plays the front office game by his own set of rules. That's why Moneyball - the controversial book about his management style - was such an interesting read.

Beane wouldn't rule out a Zito deal in a brief interview this week. If he decides there is both economic and strategic benefit to trading one of his cornerstone starters, he just might do it.

"I'm always surprised when I hear people saying they won't even listen to something," he said. "You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't listen. If it's going to make us younger, cheaper and better, I'm going to listen."

Of course, there would be plenty of competition for a recent Cy Young Award winner who is still in his 20s, but a major league source confirmed the Orioles are one of a handful of teams that could put together the kind of package to pry Zito away from the A's.

The deal likely would have to include reliever B.J. Ryan, one of the Orioles' top young starters and at least one other quality player, but it is within the realm of possibility if Beattie and Flanagan recognize the Orioles will not be truly competitive until they acquire a top-flight starter to complete the promising rotation.

Though the Orioles have given every indication Ryan is all but untouchable, he might be the key that unlocks their future as a playoff contender.

Stopped by the Major League Baseball quarterly owners meeting in Philly and bounced my contraction conspiracy theory off a few people in a position to know. Most of them listened politely and then walked away shaking their heads.

MLB president Bob DuPuy insists the owners will plant the Expos somewhere in the next month or two. Maybe the contraction part is a stretch, but I still say the Expos are going to end up playing their home games in Montreal next year. Let's see who turns out to be right.

The Phillies dropped below .500 with their fifth straight loss on Tuesday, and speculation continues to mount that the club soon will replace manager Larry Bowa.

That's possible, but the midseason injuries that have helped to sink the Phillies might provide enough cover for the front office to keep Bowa in place through the end of the year.

Of course, all bets are off if the Phillies continue to unravel, especially if more players go public with their discontent with their fiery manager.

Final thought: Tough choice this weekend. Do you watch the Ravens take their first crack at Terrell Owens and the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia or attend the pre-game induction of Brady Anderson into the Orioles Hall of Fame at Camden Yards?

Gotta go with Brady. There's a rumor that he's going to fight Jim Palmer on the undercard.

Readers can contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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