O's need Hudson, even if it takes wild pitch

Baseball

December 15, 2004|By JOHN EISENBERG

REGARDING THE Orioles' standstill offseason, I'm thinking along lines that probably would make sense to Yogi Berra:

It's too soon to panic, but don't let me stop you.

That sounds like a contradiction, but so are the principles the Orioles need to observe during these crucial months.

They need to be smart, and mostly have been. But they won't better themselves, or uphold their pledge to do so, unless they get a little stupid at some point.

An example of the latter? How about trading three promising, young pitchers to Oakland for ace right-hander Tim Hudson?

The Orioles should do it. Forget about trying to sign Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson (please), at least for now. Make Hudson the priority.

The A's reportedly want Erik Bedard, Hayden Penn and John Maine in return, and that's a high price, especially since Hudson is only signed through 2005. But the Orioles have a lot of young pitching. They can afford to part with some. A No. 1 starter is what they need most. They could field a winning team in 2005 and beyond just by making that one key addition in the wake of a 78-win season.

This offseason was supposed to be about pitching, remember?

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense for the team to go out and blow away the competition, get Hudson in a Baltimore uniform and then overpay to lock him up to a long-term contract.

Hey, give him the $88 million they wouldn't give Mike Mussina, who has never been replaced at the top of the rotation.

Overpaying isn't a problem when you do it for the right guy, which Mussina was, and which Miguel Tejada was, too. Hudson is in the same class, a 29-year-old with a 92-39 career record.

Carl Pavano, on the other hand, has a losing lifetime record. That's why it didn't make sense for the Orioles to go after him so hard, or for the desperate Yankees to sign him to a $40 million deal.

Since when does a guy with a 57-58 record represent salvation?

The Orioles wasted their time going after Pavano, and not just because he was destined to go elsewhere. He wasn't what they need to fix their starting rotation.

They need dependability. Guys they can count on to chew up innings and perform consistently.

Most of the starters on this year's market weren't worth the investment in that respect, especially when their prices soared. Four years and $50 million for a declining, reportedly injured Pedro Martinez? What are the Mets smoking? Kris (47-53 career record) Benson? Jaret (5.09 career ERA) Wright?

Veterans Brad (127 career wins) Radke and Jon (100 wins) Lieber best fit the Orioles' on-field needs and fiscal para- meters, and neither appeared on the team's radar before signing elsewhere.

Hudson would be better than all of them, giving the rotation a consistent, winning anchor for years.

But do the Orioles have the organizational fortitude to pull off such a bold move? Let's just say it's hard to imagine them doing it.

In recent years, with the exception of the Tejada signing, they have always acted just deliberately and conservatively enough not to get the players they supposedly wanted. Bold, they aren't.

That's not a blanket criticism. Their restraint serves them well at times. They were wise to stay out of the free-agent pool that badly overheated at the winter meetings. Forty-five million for sore-shouldered Troy Glaus?

Most of those signings will be regretted by their teams within two years. Before condemning the Orioles for not indulging, ask yourself: Is there one guy they missed who was worth the money?

Didn't think so. But, of course, there's a problem with such logic: Restraint only gets you so far in baseball today - like, to third place, at best, in the American League East.

To compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, you have to go a little crazy at some point. Be bold. Trade for a Hudson. Overpay. Take a risk. What move isn't risky?

The offseason began with owner Peter G. Angelos telling The Sun he was committed to being "right on the heels of the Yankees and Red Sox" in 2005.

"The [rebuilding] plan is still in effect," he said.

But so far, all the Orioles have done is re-sign 40-somethings Rafael Palmiro and B.J. Surhoff. They haven't addressed any primary concerns. They still need an everyday first baseman, a backup catcher, a right-handed setup man, and most importantly, better starting pitching.

Most of the market's best position players are still available. An offseason is a marathon, and this one is far from over.

It's time to get stupid.

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