O's could always offer Pavano an unconventional off-speed sales pitch

December 08, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE ORIOLES MADE an impressive sales pitch to free-agent right-hander Carl Pavano during his two-day visit to Baltimore earlier this week, but it wasn't entirely about the traditional ambience of Camden Yards and the homey appeal of Charm City.

Native New Englanders Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan have heard the same widespread speculation that you have - that the Connecticut-bred Pavano is leaning heavily toward the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees - so they also needed to sell him on the reasons he might not want to play closer to home.

Neither of the Orioles' top baseball operations executives were willing to reveal exactly how they went about doing that when they lunched with the local media yesterday, so we're just going to have to do a little speculating ourselves.

It isn't customary to "go negative" in baseball, but the Orioles are in desperate need of a marquee starting pitcher to fill out an otherwise promising rotation and, heck, what's a little more mudslinging in an election year.

Maybe they found some subtle way of reminding Pavano about the unforgiving nature of the sports environment in Boston and New York for a big-money pitcher who doesn't produce right away. If they didn't, they should have.

Pavano has a chance to be a big hero wherever he goes. He also has a chance to struggle while he's getting re-acclimated to the American League, and the fans of Baltimore will be a lot more patient than their demanding counterparts in the Northeast if it takes him a year to get up to speed.

New York has been especially cruel to big-contract guys who don't pan out. Just ask Kenny Rogers, Hideki Irabu and Jose Contreras what a friendly place Yankee Stadium can be for a struggling pitcher.

The Orioles have two former major league pitchers in positions of operational authority and fatherly Ray Miller as their pitching coach, a support system that should appeal to a 28-year-old pitcher looking to build on last year's 18-8 performance.

Beattie and Flanagan also could have played the volatility card. The Red Sox may have won the World Series for the first time since 1918, but about half of the team has filed for free agency. There's a pretty good chance that Pedro Martinez will sign with the Yankees or Mets and Derek Lowe will end up in Baltimore.

If that isn't enough uncertainty, catcher Jason Varitek - considered by some to be the heart and soul of this year's team - may not be back.

The Yankees aren't exactly the picture of stability, either, with Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield knee-deep in the steroid scandal and rumors flying of another major clubhouse shake-up. What a mess.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are a developing team with lots of organizational pitching depth and a chance to step into the wild-card race if the Red Sox or Yankees are unable to reconstitute this year's formula for success.

They just have to convince Pavano that playing near home is overrated. The everyday demands on a homegrown player can be overwhelming, especially in cities where the level of interest (or is that obsession?) is as high as it is in Boston or New York.

"Sometimes, you can be too close to home," one Orioles official said. "It's a little like college. You want to be far enough away, but not so far that you can't get home when you have to."

It was always going to be a tough sell. Pavano is one of the most popular pitchers in this year's crop of free agents and he's likely to be courted by several more teams before he makes a final decision.

The Orioles treated him right. They showed off their classy ballpark, toured him through the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and did everything they could to make him feel at home during his visit.

Perhaps, as a last resort, they could try offering him the most money.

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

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