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'Boss' too inclined to yank prospects


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One look at Sherman Obando, and you wonder how the New York Yankees failed to protect him on their 40-man roster.

Obando, 23, is a strapping 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds. His 5.2 percent body fat is second on the Orioles to Brady Anderson. His performance on a grip-strength test ranks first.

Put a bat in his hands, and he hits one screaming line drive after another.

"This guy almost kills infielders," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said.

So, why was he available in the Rule V draft?

One, because the Yankees' farm system is loaded with prospects, and they couldn't protect them all. Two, because in the George Steinbrenner Era, the Yankees routinely have given up on young players, only to see them blossom with other teams.

That's not to say they blundered this time. In fact, Brian Sabean, the Yankees' former player personnel director, said yesterday there was "no debate" within the organization over whether to protect Obando last December.

"He was in a prospect category that was down from where our depth allowed us to [protect]," said Sabean, who left the Yankees for a similar job with San Francisco in January. "The biggest reason is we had a real question where he'd play defensively."

The Orioles now face the same question. Obando demonstrated maximum strength on the grip test, but that doesn't mean he can catch a ball in the outfield, where Sabean said he is "barely playable."

Still, the Orioles seem almost certain to keep Obando, gambling that he'll develop into a quality major-league hitter like former Rule V draft picks George Bell, Bobby Bonilla, Shane Mack and Bip Roberts.

The odds aren't necessarily against them, considering the Yankees' poor track record in handling prospects. Orioles fans grumble about losing three young players for Glenn Davis, but that was only one trade. Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees have made many such deals.

Let's see, Deion Sanders, Otis Nixon, Fred McGriff, Willie McGee, Jay Buhner, Luis Polonia and Hal Morris are all former Yankees. So are pitchers Doug Drabek, Mike Morgan, Jose Rijo and Bob Tewksbury, each of whom won 15 games last season with an ERA below 3.00.

The last Yankee to do so?

Rudy May in 1980.

Sorry, it's impossible to take this team seriously now that Steinbrenner is back. The Yankees stockpiled prospects during

his suspension, and even made a theft of a trade, acquiring Melido Perez, Bob Wickman and Domingo Jean for Steve Sax. But now, they'll again fall into their familiar pattern.

You watch: Steinbrenner will disrupt the club's long-range strategy in his ruthless quest for short-term success, unloading prospect after prospect for high-salaried veterans from financially strapped clubs.

It already has happened once, with the Yankees trading J. T. Snow, Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen for Jim Abbott. That deal should prove an exception -- Abbott is only 25, and California is one of the few clubs dumber than the Yankees. But now that "The Boss" expects to contend, look out.

Even during Steinbrenner's suspension, the Yankees were something of a carnival act. Last spring, they traded Alan Mills to the Orioles to clear a roster spot for the newly acquired Charlie Hayes. Five weeks later, they waived Willie Smith, a pitcher they protected over Mills.

Smith went to Cleveland and then Texas, and Mills emerged as one of the American League's top young relievers. The topper came when the Yankees failed to protect Hayes in the expansion draft, and Colorado made him the third overall pick.

True to form, the Yankees panicked, adding veterans to their protected list instead of prospects. They lost outfielder Carl Everett on the first pick of the second round, then catcher Brad Ausmus on the first pick of the third.

Three weeks later, they parted with seven more young players -- three for Abbott, then Obando and three others in the Rule V draft. They expect to reacquire two of the draft picks, but probably not Obando and the New York Mets' Mike Draper, who last season set a Triple-A record with 37 saves.

Maybe neither will become a quality major leaguer, but were they worth losing to protect fading veterans such as Dion James, Jim Leyritz and Mike Witt? The Orioles are much more careful with their best young players. They've lost only one Rule V draft pick during Hemond's six-year tenure as GM.

The Yankees' farm system is still overflowing with talent, but who cares? The Boss is back. Let the looting begin.

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