Baseball's expansion process will enter its final stage tomorrow, when the Orioles and the 25 other existing major-league teams submit their 15-man protected lists to the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies for a week of intense study.
It will not be a particularly happy day for the youth-oriented Orioles, though they probably had an easier time than some clubs narrowing their roster for the Nov. 17 expansion draft.
"A good part of the list was pretty easy to put together," said club president Larry Lucchino, "but the last several spaces were very difficult and required a massive amount of effort. Nothing we do is more important than protecting the talent we have in the organization."
The process lasted months and included a series of organizational meetings and mock drafts. The Orioles would assemble a hypothetical protected list and then conduct a hypothetical draft. Then they would change the 15-man list and draft again . . . and again.
"We would look at what we might lose in each situation and see how sick to our stomachs we got," Lucchino said.
The result was an organizational consensus that never will be made public, but the makeup of the confidential list may not be as hard to figure out as it was to formulate.
Who will stay and who will go? The first half of the question is not difficult to answer. The Orioles have a handful of young pitchers -- Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson, Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills and Todd Frohwirth -- who aren't going anywhere. No team is going to leave proven pitching unprotected, least of all an Orioles organization that has put together one of the most promising staffs in baseball. The protected list also is believed to include pitching prospect Brad Pennington, who excelled at every level of the Orioles' minor-league system last year.
The surprising 1992 season made a couple of decisions for the club. No one would have predicted a year ago that left fielder Brady Anderson would be an obvious keeper, but he was one of the major architects of the team's 22-game turnaround. Center fielder Mike Devereaux also locked himself in this year with a 24-home run, 107-RBI performance that made him the club's most valuable player. Catcher Chris Hoiles' status was not in doubt, but 20 home runs in an injury-shortened season didn't hurt.
Shortstop Cal Ripken is an obvious lock and first baseman Glenn Davis is a compulsory one. Davis must be protected because his contract includes a no-trade clause.
Third baseman Leo Gomez is spending the winter rehabilitating a chronic shoulder injury, but the Orioles still are high on his offensive potential. Shortstop prospect Manny Alexander is not going to play regularly in the major leagues next year, but the team cannot let go of its best middle infield prospect.
Here's where it finally gets interesting. There are a number of players remaining that the Orioles are eager to keep, but they can only be certain of keeping one more. It might be outfielder Luis Mercedes, whose name was popular in the various mock drafts that were published during the past few weeks. It could be one of a short list of minor-league pitchers who showed promise last year. It could be just about anyone, but Mercedes appears to be the most likely choice.
He may be the only player in the organization who is in a position to emerge as a full-time right fielder. Joe Orsulak has become a free agent, and Chito Martinez did not assert himself last year. Mercedes has his limitations, but he also has the potential for a breakthrough season at the plate, which is what the Orioles are going to need from an outfield spot that did not deliver sufficient run production in 1992.
The Orioles aren't saying, of course. The protected lists are secret, and for good reason. It makes no sense for any team to alienate the large group of returning players it cannot protect.
American League clubs will be able to add four players to their protected list after the first round of the draft and another four after the second round. The Orioles will lose at least two players and possibly one more, but the potential for a significant loss of organizational depth at any position is relatively low.
Who is vulnerable? First baseman David Segui seems like the perfect expansion acquisition. He's a line-drive hitter with the potential to bat .300 who also has proven to be a versatile defensive player. That could be a very attractive package to a developing team that wants to be presentable and progressive at the same time. The Orioles can afford to leave him unprotected, with Randy Milligan likely to be back at first.
Milligan probably won't be protected either, but he doesn't appear to be vulnerable. He makes more than $1 million, he is 30 years old and is coming off a difficult year at the plate. Both expansion teams seem likely to concentrate on younger, lower-priced players, which is why the club has to feel fairly safe leaving both Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore available, too.
Both second basemen are solid defensive players who would figure to be useful to a developing club, but both are nearing free-agent eligibility. The loss of one of them in the draft is not entirely inconceivable, but the Orioles are willing to take the chance. They can always protect the other afterward if that happens.
Perhaps the one area where the club could lose important depth is behind the plate, where reserve catchers Jeff Tackett and Mark Parent will be vulnerable to the draft. Hoiles underwent wrist surgery on Oct. 6, so the Orioles would like to have both of their experienced backup catchers at spring training, but both expansion teams also figure to make catching a priority.
Parent would welcome the opportunity. The prospect of an expansion job was a major motivation when he was rehabilitating a serious knee injury last year. He came back to turn in a strong season at Triple-A, and could represent the combination of experience and economy that the Marlins and Rockies will be seeking.
Tackett held his own as the No. 2 catcher last year, but does not figure to be protected for the first round. Either Tackett or Parent could show up among the four players protected after the first Oriole is drafted.
In all, there are 75 Orioles players who are eligible, the lowest total of any major-league team. But that is not an indication that the organization lacks young talent. Quite the contrary. It means that the club has the greatest percentage of young players who do not have the required minor-league service time necessary to expose them to the draft.
Expansion draft rules
Who can be drafted: All players in an organization except those with fewer than three years of professional service if signed at age 19 or older, or with fewer than four years of service if signed at age 18 or younger.
Who can be protected: Each club may protect 15 eligible players. Players with no-trade provisions in their contracts and all "10-5" players (players with 10 years of major-league service and five consecutive years with the same club) must be included among those 15 players. The protected lists must be submitted tomorrow.
The draft: Will take place on Nov. 17 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York. It will consist of three rounds in which the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies choose 36 players each. A coin flip will determine which team drafts first, and the winner of the toss may opt to choose first in the first round and second in the ensuing rounds or vice versa. Between rounds, each American League team will be allowed to protect four additional players and each National League team will be allowed to protect three additional players. Each National League team will lose three players. Eight American League teams will lose three players and six AL teams will lose two players.
Here's a look at the past three expansion drafts and how they affected the Orioles:
December 1960: The Los Angeles Angels drafted pitchers Dean Chance and Ron Moeller and infielder Don Ross for $75,000 each. Outfielder Albie Pearson was selected from the Rochester roster for $25,000. The Washington Senators took catcher Gene Green, infielder Billy Klaus and outfielders Chuck Hinton and Gene Woodling for $75,000 each. Infielder Leo Burke was selected from the Rochester roster for $25,000.
October 1968: The Kansas City Royals used the first pick of the draft to take pitcher Roger Nelson from the Orioles, then later took pitchers Wally Bunker and Moe Drabowsky and first baseman Mike Fiore. The Seattle Pilots took catcher Larry Haney and pitcher John Morris. The draft price was $175,000 per player.
November 1976: The Toronto Blue Jays made Orioles infielder Bob Bailor the second player chosen in the draft. The Blue Jays also took pitcher Mike Darr and infielder Mike Willis. The Seattle Mariners drafted pitchers Dave Pagan and Bob Galasso. The draft price again was $175,000 per player.
Peter Schmuck's projected 15-man list
Manny Alexander .. .. .. .. .. .. SS
Brady Anderson .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. OF
Glenn Davis .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 1B/D/H
Mike Devereaux .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. OF
Todd Frohwirth .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... P
Leo Gomez .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... 3B
Chris Hoiles .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. C
Ben McDonald .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. P
Luis Mercedes .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... OF
Alan Mills .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . P
Mike Mussina .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. P
Gregg Olson .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . P
Brad Pennington .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. P
Arthur Rhodes .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . P
Cal Ripken .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. SS