Penny-pinching O's a pitcher away from squeezing into wild-card race

December 20, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

I TAKE IT all back.

The Orioles obviously know what they're doing. They haven't spent a dime on a marquee free agent or traded for a significant player and their chances of winning the American League wild-card race seem to get better every day.

The Oakland A's just ceased to be a playoff contender in 2005, unloading two of the best pitchers in baseball (Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) for a busload full of top prospects that will need a year or two to confirm that Billy Beane really is the smartest GM in baseball.

The Boston Red Sox lost Pedro Martinez to the New York Mets, don't figure to re-sign Derek Lowe and won't have a healthy Curt Schilling on Opening Day. Matt Clement isn't going to be enough. Look out below.

The O's need only a couple of modest pitching moves late in the offseason to jump over the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers and into the postseason next year.

Throw in Carlos Delgado and a CD of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America," and Camden Yards will be packed tighter than Sidney Ponson in a pair of size 38 jeans.

Maybe it really will all work out for the best, but I can't let the team get away with some of the rationalization that has been filtering out of the B&O Warehouse and the Law Offices of Peter Angelos.

The notion that the uncertain situation in Washington has forced the Orioles to be more careful this offseason isn't going to wash, because Angelos said right here in this space a couple of months ago that the Orioles would make enough money available to put the team back in playoff contention in 2005 regardless of the status of the Expos-turned-Nationals.

Even assuming that Washington resolves its stadium stalemate tomorrow (and I'm betting the whole thing unravels faster than a Kobe Bryant marketing deal), the Orioles need to spend what it takes to position themselves as the most attractive team in the region. It's not a tough concept.

Once the Nationals land, the O's will be able to look at real numbers to determine the financial impact of a second team in the market and they can adjust their spending accordingly, but they need to act preemptively to protect as much of their market share as possible.

It's OK to applaud Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan for being prudent, but there's a fine line between prudence and passivity. Mulder, Hudson, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez and Brad Penny have either been traded over the past few days or are close to it, and the Orioles are one big pitcher from being a strong wild-card contender.

I'm reminded of a slogan that is plastered all over the Orioles clubhouse: "Need To Find A Way."

There's nothing worse than getting up on Sunday morning and realizing that the NFL game you can't wait to see does not start until 8:30 p.m. So I made a to-do list yesterday to pass the time.

1. Recover from great Christmas party on Saturday night.

2. Leaf through Pennysaver. Try to upgrade to '93 Celica with no rust.

3. Call up Beane and outbid Orioles for Barry Zito.

4. Listen patiently to son insist that Redskins "still have an outside chance" at playoffs. Ask for urine sample.

5. Examine pending Randy Johnson deal. Is there really a player named Yhency Brazoban?

6. If so, stop complaining about being named Peter Schmuck.

7. Call local marketing guru Bob Leffler. Several Eagles fans want to know what "xenophobia" means.

8. Invite Linda Cropp over to help with refinance.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that in addition to the $53 million he will get from the Mets over four years, Martinez also will get the use of a luxury suite at Shea Stadium for every home game.

Now, that's living.

I heard the Mets actually offered two luxury suites, but Martinez was able to negotiate that down to one by giving back some salary.

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

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