As bad as things are for the Orioles, if the expansion draft were held tomorrow, they'd engage in a heated debate over which 15 players to protect.
Alas, the draft isn't until November 1992, so it's too early to project Juan Bell as the Florida Marlins' shortstop or Jeff Ballard as the Denver Grizzlies' No. 3 starter.
Still, it will be fascinating trying to guess which players each team will make available -- especially for the Rotisserie addicts, who already are panicking over their 1993 rosters.
With apologies to the "Season to Remember," which last night churned out another game to forget, here's a look at what the Orioles might do if the draft were indeed tomorrow:
First, a word of explanation. The draft guidelines are not yet official. The only thing certain is that all 26 teams will lose three players to the two new NL clubs.
We'll work under the assumption that the draft otherwise will proceed as in the past, with clubs protecting 15 players at the start, then three more after each round.
Thus, the Orioles could lose the players they ranked 16th, 20th and 24th. Every player in their organization would be eligible, not just those on the 40-man roster.
Cal Ripken is the only player they'd be obligated to protect, for he has a no-trade clause in his contract. Oh well, they probably would have done it anyway.
As for No. 1 draft pick Mark Smith, relax. The most recent amateur selections wouldn't be eligible. But all other minor leaguers would.
So, where to begin?
It's not as simple as ranking the top players in the organization 1-24. A team must plot its future both short-term and long-term in a game that is unpredictable from day to day.
"You're worried about losing some players who could become stars," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "You're also making sure you don't lose players you need for the coming season."
If the draft were tomorrow, only a few of Hemond's choices would be obvious (this, remember, is a last-place team). The emphasis here will be on youth.
The obvious would include the club's present and future stars: Ripken, Glenn Davis, Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson, plus minor-league pitchers Mike Mussina and Arthur Rhodes.
Add Mike Devereaux, who could be the club's centerfielder for the next 10 years. And Leo Gomez, of whom the same might be said at third base.
Now it gets tricky.
You need more pitchers.
Jose Mesa (gulp) is still too promising to ignore. Jeff Williams is a hard-throwing Double A reliever who, if necessary, would replace setup man Mark Williamson.
You need other position players.
The struggling Chris Hoiles remains at catcher -- he's four years younger than Bob Melvin and displays more power potential.
The struggling Bill Ripken stays at second -- the weakest position in the organization, unless you're one of the four people on earth (all club officials) who believe in Juan Bell.
And, presuming Davis is healthy, David Segui is the choice over Randy Milligan, simply because he's five years younger, a switch-hitter and capable of playing the outfield.
To complete the list, add Triple A outfielder Luis Mercedes (a head case, but talented) and Single A shortstop Manny Alexander (the player who could force Ripken Jr. to change positions in three or four years).
So, who'd we forget?
At the major-league level, Williamson, Jeff Robinson, Joe Orsulak and Bob Milacki, at least two of whom could be protected after the first round (the club presumably would have traded Milligan before the draft).
At the minor-league level, Double A outfielder Paul Carey (the steal from the minor-league Miami Miracle), Single A righthander Erik Schullstrom (last year's No. 2 pick) and countless others.
Former No. 1 pick Chris Myers would be available. So would Ballard, Anthony Telford and Dave Johnson. Dwight Evans would be available. So would Craig Worthington, Sam Horn and Brady Anderson.
The guidelines could change 15 times before the actual draft, and there are certain to be exemptions. But the point is, the Orioles could lose a decent player or two, perhaps even a future Hall of Famer.
Jim Palmer was eligible in the 1969 draft.
Fortunately, Kansas City and the old Seattle Pilots passed.
Who they'd keep
* Here a list of the 15 players the Orioles might protect if the expansion draft were held today:
1. Cal Ripken, SS
2. Ben McDonald, RHP
3. Glenn Davis, 1B
4. Gregg Olson, RHP
5. Mike Devereaux, OF
6. Leo Gomez, 3B
7. Chris Hoiles, C
8. Jose Mesa, RHP
9. David Segui, 1B/OF
10. Bill Ripken, 2B
11. Mike Mussina (Triple A RHP)
12. Luis Mercedes (Triple A OF)
13. Arthur Rhodes (Double A LHP)
14. Jeff Williams (Double A RHP)
15. Manny Alexander (Single A SS)