ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Orioles may have alienated opposing teams with their refusal to field a replacement team, but taking the moral high ground may also put the club in a better position to compete for the American League East title if the strike is settled soon.
In the best-case labor scenario, the collective bargaining dispute will be settled in the next 10 days, which would leave the owners to abandon the replacement scheme and substitute a new plan for opening the season with returning major-leaguers.
The most comparable situation would be the 1990 labor dispute, which was settled in mid-March. To make up a portion of lost training time, the owners delayed the start of the season and expanded rosters.
If that happened, the Orioles might be at a competitive advantage at the far end of the expanded roster, because they will have a pool of minor-league pitchers with a full spring of work, while many teams sent their best minor-leaguers home for refusing to be replacement players.
"I was talking to Roland [Hemond] about that the other day," manager Phil Regan. "I don't see [Mike] Mussina or [Ben] McDonald or Sid [Fernandez] going seven innings, so you're probably going to need some pitching. If they expand the rosters to 28, we could use as many four extra pitchers."
Though there are 38 rostered Orioles players sitting out spring training, that still could mean opportunity for some of the minor-league pitchers in the club's major-league camp. Right-handers Frank Seminara and Kevin McGehee threw five innings in yesterday's intrasquad game, which puts them way ahead of the curve at this point in spring training.
Nonroster position players -- such as shortstop Jeff Huson -- also may come out ahead, because they are getting far more playing time in the intrasquad setting than they would if the Orioles were playing a normal exhibition season with major-league players.
"The utility-type players usually get three or four innings in exhibition games," Regan said. "Jeff has about 30 at-bats. He might not have 30 at-bats all [exhibition] season, so these guys will be further ahead."
Of course, the advantage would be subtle, at best. Most of the extra players would come from the 15 rostered players who would be left over at the end of a normal spring training, but there probably will be a handful of nonroster players on each team's expanded roster.
Perhaps at first glance, it would appear that the advantage would go the other way, because clubs with replacement teams are playing outside competition under major-league conditions, but Regan isn't sure that players in that situation are in a better competitive situation.
"I don't think that will bother us," he said. "From what I understand, the competition may be better here. The only disadvantage we're going to have is, as a new manager with a new coaching staff we're putting in some new things -- like relays and bunt plays -- and we'll have only three weeks instead of six weeks."
If the major-leaguers return in mid-March, baseball likely would keep expanded rosters in effect for a month -- enough time to get major-league rotations into full-season shape. The 1990 lockout showed that position players can get ready in far less than the traditional six weeks of training camp, but pitchers need most of that time to work through a mid-spring "dead-arm" phase that saps their strength and command.
Orioles minor-leaguers are going through that now, but they'll have plenty of time to rebound before they might be needed. The only question is whether intrasquad innings are as valuable as innings pitched in an exhibition environment.
"It shouldn't make any difference," said bench coach Chuck Cottier. "You're in here to get your work in. You should take the same things to the mound no matter what.
"We try to tell them that no matter who is up, they're still trying to get a hit off you. But I guess it is a little harder to get up."
More games canceled
The American and National leagues released another list of exhibition cancellations yesterday, including all Orioles exhibitions from March 14 through March 29.
That was expected. The first two weeks of the Orioles schedule was canceled after owner Peter Angelos notified opposing teams that his team would not participate in any game in which replacement players were used by the opposition.
There still are three games on the Orioles' spring schedule -- March 30 vs. Toronto, April 1 vs. Philadelphia and April 2 vs. Colorado -- but they also will be canceled if the labor dispute is not resolved.
The games have been canceled in phases, perhaps because there was some hope that a labor settlement would be reached in time to save the final two weeks of play. Now, there is little hope that any of the regularly scheduled exhibition games will be played with major-league players.
Seminara underwent X-rays on his pitching hand after he was hit on the right little finger by a come-backer in yesterday's intrasquad game. He instinctively reached out for the ball and suffered a painful bruise, but no fracture was found.
Utility man Junior Noboa reported to camp yesterday after missing three weeks because of visa problems in the Dominican Republic, but still got a hit in three at-bats in the intrasquad game.
"He's in pretty good shape," Regan said. "He's been working out and playing winter ball. You could see that by the contact he made."