Sosa a hit, but O's amiss on pitching

February 04, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

THE ORIOLES are talking about other moves, now that Sammy Sosa's presence in the lineup and right field gives them flexibility. But these moves are about first base, center field, catcher.

Pitching? Months after Tim Hudson flashed on the radar screen, we're still waiting.

In theory, it's admirable that the Orioles want to give far greater weight to drafting and developing young talent, particularly pitchers, than acting on impulse for short-term gain.

This is why the Orioles don't have Hudson for the 2005 season.

Boy, though, imagine if they did.

Maybe Miguel Tejada could have then given the trade for Sammy Sosa an unqualified endorsement this week. Instead, the message wasn't mixed, just infused with telling subtext.

"I hope we're going to score a lot of runs," Tejada told reporters in Mazatlan, Mexico, where the Caribbean World Series is being played. "But this game is not just about hitting. It's about pitching, too. We've got some young pitching and with all the hitting that we have, the pitchers will give a great effort to give us a good team."

This is the same Tejada who, during the worst losing stretches last summer, called his agents and told them to tell the Orioles' front office: "I am not a loser. Tell them I am not a loser."

Will Tejada be compelled to make those calls again this summer?

Maybe the Orioles have dedicated themselves too strenuously to the philosophy of developing pitching and developing position players, at the expense of missing an opportunity they can't afford to miss - both for on-field results and attendance boosts.

Even beyond wins, losses and ticket sales, Hudson presented the Orioles another attractive characteristic: leadership. Imagine the kind of influence Hudson could have been on whoever was left on the Orioles' young staff.

Even by trading the apparently untouchable Erik Bedard, the Orioles would have still had one of the youngest, most inexperienced staffs in the major leagues. In other words: a staff that could benefit tremendously from a front-line pitcher, not only to stop the bleeding, but also to teach and lead by example.

Coach Ray Miller's return to Camden Yards was a boon to the pitching staff last season, but there's nothing like a peer to make an impression on teammates. Sidney Ponson, who was raised in the Orioles' ace-barren system, could use this kind of help, let alone Daniel Cabrera, Rodrigo Lopez, Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, John Maine, Matt Riley, Adam Loewen, Bedard or any of the other fleet of wet-behind-the-ears pitchers that stock the Orioles' bullpen and farm system.

As it stands, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the major league mentor who gives the most insight and advice to Orioles closer Jorge Julio. Rivera calls and points out ways for Julio to improve, because there is no Arthur Rhodes to lead the way in Camden Yards. In all facets of the pitching staff, there has been a major shortage of veterans, dating back to the days of Jimmy Key and Mike Mussina - unless Scott Erickson is supposed to count.

In a perfect world, the Orioles could plug in at the top of their rotation with Carl Pavano or Brad Radke. They could spend another $88 million in contracts (Pavano and Carlos Delgado offers) and not have to give up any of their home-grown talent.

If the carnival-like arrival of Sosa to the Orioles showed anything this week, it's how quickly the presence of one player can alter the makeup and the perception of a team. Did anyone see which story led SportsCenter on Wednesday night? The Orioles are getting a fair amount of juice out of Sosa's signing, even as national baseball analysts continue to lament the team's inexperienced pitching staff.

If the Orioles are pleased to experience the bounce that a one-year experiment like Sosa gives them - in ticket sales, potential RBIs and homers - then it's not too late to lament (again) the lost opportunity to upgrade the one area the Orioles professed was critical.

The arrival of Sosa to a team that was already third-best in the American League in batting average (.281) doesn't do much to diminish this problem. With Sosa in a lineup that could already knock out hits and runs, the addition of Hudson would be worth a lot more right now - even taking into account the risk of trading away home-grown pitching talent.

The short-term advantage of a particular deal in some instances deserves a little more weight. The short-term advantages can outweigh the risk of making an exception to a long-term plan.

The Sosa deal may have fallen into the Orioles' lap, coming without much risk, but it only helps boost the reality that the Orioles can't afford to stand stone still in markets they don't like or won't afford.

These are the kinds of times when sacrifice is worthwhile - especially when unique situations present themselves, when a team can't afford to pass up a deal.

Imagine if the Orioles had both Hudson and Sosa. It might have been philosophically wrong and a betrayal of "The Plan," but wouldn't it have made for a good summer?

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