Like Guerrero, Beltran isn't coming here, so focus on Ordonez instead

October 13, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

HOUSTON ASTROS outfielder Carlos Beltran would look pretty good in an Orioles uniform, and the Orioles' lineup would look pretty good with one more intimidating hitter behind Miguel Tejada, but don't get excited.

The only way Beltran is going to help the Orioles become a contender next year is by drawing so much interest in the free-agent market that other marquee players may feel the need to sign quickly to avoid being caught in a late-winter budget squeeze.

It's not that the Orioles wouldn't be interested in a 27-year-old switch-hitting superstar who dominated the Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. It's just that everyone correctly assumes Beltran will end up with the Yankees after a protracted bidding war, so why waste a big chunk of an important offseason that would be better spent focused on free agents with a legitimate chance to end up in Baltimore?

The Orioles already have been down that road, offering Vladimir Guerrero the moon only to see him accept less money to sign with the Angels a year ago. They will be better served to move quickly and decisively in their pursuit of outfielder Magglio Ordonez and at least one of the front-line pitchers expected to reach the market.

The sooner they take the next competitive leap, the sooner they can start marketing the Orioles as a possible playoff team in 2005 ... and the sooner they prove they are willing to do whatever it takes to remain the dominant team in the region.

There's nothing better than a good quarterback controversy, but this is getting ridiculous. The only major pro or college football team in the area that isn't facing a QB quandary is Navy.

Ravens starter Kyle Boller looked so skittish during the team's Sunday night victory over the Redskins that rumors have surfaced the team has made inquiries about Tampa Bay veteran Brad Johnson, though rehabbing Anthony Wright seems like a more logical choice when he's ready to play.

Meanwhile, the Redskins' offense looked so anemic that a lot of fans are wondering if it's time to bench veteran Mark Brunell and go back to Patrick Ramsey.

OK, maybe not a lot of fans. I didn't do a scientific poll. But I've heard some grumbling - particularly from one of the bedrooms down the hall - that Brunell is vertically challenged (which is another way of saying that his big-play capability is being stored for future exhibition at the Smithsonian).

The toughest call may be in College Park, where Maryland sophomore Joel Statham is testing both the patience and the wisdom of coach Ralph Friedgen. Freshman Jordan Steffy is waiting in the wings, but Friedgen is understandably hesitant to make a change because he would be out of attractive options if Steffy proves unable to handle the job.

Now, for some good news. B.J. Sams' electrifying punt return on Sunday night was the first real sign that the Ravens might be serious about returning to the Super Bowl.

The team that beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl in January 2001 didn't have a big-time passing game either, but it stunned opponents with big plays on defense and special teams.

This year's model has the ability to do the same, something that was not obvious until Sams did his best Jermaine Lewis imitation to deliver the knockout blow to the Redskins.

The Phillies' managerial search probably won't be limited to in-house candidate Charlie Manuel, former Red Sox manager Grady Little and former Rockies and Cubs manager Don Baylor. Those are the three who are scheduled for interviews this week, but it would not be a major shock if former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove joins that list.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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