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Star-light Orioles need to clear some roster space


When the All-Stars take the field tomorrow in Toronto, all but one of the Orioles will be home resting. There's no controversy here. No one's feelings are hurt. Nobody got jobbed. It wasn't like somebody had an unlisted number. The Orioles who are stuck home for the break were grounded on merit.

This lack of star quality is reflected in the standings, where the Orioles, at this halfway point, long after the previous manager was fired, sit all too comfortably in sixth place.

Where they finish, however, isn't nearly as important as who is doing the finishing. Let's just say you're not likely to be blinded by the talent on hand.

Here's how little luster the Orioles can muster: In the fan voting, Cal Ripken, the league's first-half MVP and only All-Star, was the lone Oriole to place in the top five at his position. This once, the vox populi had it exactly right.

Which Orioles look like All-Stars, or even potential All-Stars, to you?

There is Gregg Olson, of course, who was an All-Star last year and could be many times again. In a poor start for him, he has 17 saves in 20 tries. It's just that two of his blown save opportunities were so horribly blown that the memory stays with us.

There is Ben McDonald. Or is there? Nothing more than the future of the Orioles rests on that question.

There could be Randy Milligan, if he ever began his season in April instead of June. Milligan is certainly having an All-Star month, which relates directly to the Orioles' modest run of late.

There could be Leo Gomez, but it's much too early even to suggest as much.

Then who? Dwight Evans used to be. It's hard to see who else might ever be.

What we know for sure is that after 80 games, Jeff Ballard is the only Orioles pitcher with as many as five wins. Sometimes, I feel like I'm the only person in Baltimore, aside from Ballard, who still thinks he can get batters out consistently. When John Oates says that a six-inning, 10-hit, four-run game is typical for Ballard, he's saying, in effect, that his pitcher is reliably average -- or worse. Maybe so.

The pitching staff, with an ERA approaching 5.00, doesn't need stars so much as it needs solid work. Bob Milacki was supposed to provide that. Dave Johnson, who will be back soon, might, too. What do you say about a team that boasts Roy Smith as its most effective starter? Certainly, it can't be much longer before the Orioles bring up Mike Mussina, who is said to have star potential, from Rochester. How about trading Johnson and Mussina for Kevin Hickey and Paul Kilgus? That might be an Orioles trade that actually worked.

Another trade would be Evans, who's due back, for Juan Bell, who is simply due. Hasn't that experiment lasted just about long enough?

They are easy calls, not that the Orioles are a sure bet to make even those. Or haven't you wondered what took them so long to give Chito Martinez a try?

The tough call is the one waiting to be made on Glenn Davis. Remember him? It was on April 29 that the Orioles suggested he might be back taking batting practice in two weeks, giving new dimension to the word optimism. Were they kidding themselves or us or both? Now, no one wants to make any predictions as to his return. Davis has seen more doctors, who say he's making progress, which is fine. But what does progress mean? And what does it mean to the Orioles?

If Davis, who is playing -- actually, not playing -- on a one-year contract, cannot come back this season, or even if he comes back with inconclusive results, what do the Orioles do? Can they afford to let him go? Can they afford to sign him to a major contract if they're unsure of his future?

It was always my opinion that the present Orioles owner was never going to re-sign Davis, no matter how much he accomplished this season. But now Eli Jacobs says he is considering selling the team, and a new owner, if he or she were to be in place by season's end, might bring a different philosophy to the position.

Whatever Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley are doing in Houston, the Orioles made the right trade getting Davis, but only if they meant to sign him. Maybe he'll come back and make it clear that he's the Davis of old and must be in the Orioles' plans. Maybe his condition will remain murky, in which case you'd hope the Orioles could sign him to an incentive-laden contract under which he could play his way back. What you worry about is that the Orioles, though in desperate need of quality players, see his injury as a ready-made excuse for letting him go.

A second half that included Davis and Mussina with a blossoming McDonald and a hot Milligan and the continued brilliance of Ripken and a run at, say, third place could be fun. But all we've really learned from the first half of this season is that there is much to be done in the second half, and beyond.

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