SARASOTA, Fla. -- Three weeks to win a pennant, that's what we said yesterday. Three weeks to win a pennant, and the Orioles are on their way to 0-21.
John Franco to the New York Mets -- 0-1.
John Wetteland to the New York Yankees -- 0-2.
Ken Hill to the St. Louis Cardinals -- 0-3.
We won't count Brian McRae to the Chicago Cubs, because the Orioles have six Brian McRaes, and can't trade any of them.
We won't even count Larry Walker to the Colorado Rockies, because it isn't official yet, and because it would be stupid to blow $20 million on a player with physical and off-field problems.
But pull the trigger?
Roland Hemond can't even find the gun.
For those keeping score, the Yankees now have landed Wetteland and Jack McDowell for two minor-leaguers, two players to be named and cash.
No way George Steinbrenner will fire general manager Gene Michael for his recent arrest on drunken-driving charges.
Think of what Michael could accomplish when sober.
Remember, the Yankees led the AL East by 6 1/2 games when the strike hit last season -- and that was before the Orioles' annual September collapse.
Now the Yanks' staff includes McDowell and Wetteland, while the Orioles' only off-season acquisitions were a second baseman (Bret Barberie) and backup catcher (Matt Nokes).
Way to close the gap.
Let's see now if the Orioles blow the Marquis Grissom sweepstakes. They should be the leading contender for the best center fielder in baseball. Yet, even if they get Grissom, their pitching won't be good enough.
In fairness, they offered Franco $700,000 more than the Mets did, and even said they'd rent him a condominium in the Inner Harbor.
They got used.
But allowing your chief division rival to obtain a 28-year-old closer for next to nothing?
That should never happen.
Now Expos GM Kevin Malone says he probably will trade Grissom by tomorrow. And it's possible he'd snub two interested clubs, the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox.
The Expos considered it stealing from the poor when the Marlins reached agreements with Hill and Grissom when they were restricted free agents, and the Red Sox did the same with Wetteland.
Of course, Malone also can't stand Orioles owner Peter Angelos, but he said in February that if Hemond made the best trade proposal for a player, he'd take it.
Grissom for Jimmy Haynes and Alex Ochoa? If such a deal is offered, the Orioles should grab it. Grissom, Brady Anderson and Jeffrey Hammonds would form the fastest outfield in baseball -- and Grissom also is an offensive dynamo.
Then again, why even entertain such a fantasy? In 7 1/2 years with the Orioles, Hemond hasn't made a trade as meaningful as the two Michael has completed in the past four months.
Oh, the Orioles expressed interest in Wetteland. And the Expos listed the prospects they wanted. But that's as far as it got.
Where was Hemond?
Waiting for a phone call.
"I didn't know if we'd hear back from them," he said.
Hemond said the last time he spoke to Malone was three or four days ago. He implied that Malone's demands were unreasonable. But look at what the Yankees gave up:
* Twenty-year-old outfielder Fernando Seguignol, a .262 hitter in two seasons at Class A.
* A player to be named whom Malone described as a "fringe" prospect.
* And cash -- "probably a lot," Hemond said.
This is a deal the Orioles couldn't top?
Ochoa is more advanced than Siguignol. A fringe prospect is one you'd trade in a minute. And cash is something the Orioles supposedly aren't short of.
But wait, there's more.
Hemond said the Orioles weren't even involved in the pursuit of Hill, whom the Cardinals stole for pitcher Bryan Eversgerd and two minor-leaguers who spent last season at Single-A.
Hill was 16-5 last season.
The Orioles don't need bums like that.
"With any of these guys, you're taking on what is probably going to be a real long-term contract to retain him," Hemond said.
"We had interest [in Hill]. But you've got to weigh the situation."
Whoa there, Roland.
Is money now a problem?
The signals are rather confusing, but the Orioles still could make out all right -- one way or another, hundreds of players will be available this spring.
Still, they're not going to get a McDowell. They're not going to get a Hill. And they're not going to get a Wetteland.
Manager Phil Regan said rookie Armando Benitez is "almost at the stage John Wetteland was at three years ago," when Wetteland was traded from Los Angeles to Cincinnati to Montreal, and his career took off.
Regan seems comfortable with Benitez as his closer, if he can bring him along slowly. Of course, the only way he can bring him along slowly is if the club finds a veteran who also can do the job.
It could be Mike Fetters, who probably won't be offered salary arbitration by Milwaukee.
It could be Jeff Montgomery, whom Kansas City probably is willing to trade.
Or it could be 37-year-old free agent Doug Jones.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are trying to land Kevin Appier, and the Texas Rangers might deal Kenny Rogers before allowing him to become a free agent.
Three weeks to win a pennant.
Now that the Mets have re-signed John Franco and the Yankees have traded for John Wetteland, the Orioles' options for late-inning relief help become somewhat limited. Some of the better relievers available:
Pitcher '-- Doug Jones, free agent
94 stats -- 27 saves, 2.17 ERA
Pluses -- He's 37 and throws nothing but slop breaking pitches, but gets the job done.
Minuses -- He has a recent history of alternating good and bad years, and if he holds to form, due for a bad season.
Pitcher '-- Mike Jackson, free agent
94 stats -- 1.49 ERA, 4 saves
Pluses -- He's got a great arm and throws hard. Held opposing hitters to .137 average.
Minuses -- Questions about his health linger, and he hasn't shown ability to close games; better as a set-up man.
Pitcher '-- Tom Gordon, K.C.
94 stats -- 11-7, 4.35 ERA
Pluses -- Good enough stuff to pitch in short relief. Can be had in a trade as Kansas City looks to cut payroll.
Minuses -- Orioles would have to give up prospect, and there's no guarantee transition to bullpen would be smooth. He'd want a long-term deal to make the conversion.
Pitcher '-- Mike Fetters, Milw.
94 stats -- 17 saves, 2.54 ERA
Pluses -- Solid season last year; can be acquired in trade for a very low price. Brewers might not tender him a contract.
Minuses -- Not much of a track record, and Montreal is after him to replace Wetteland.
VERY YOUNG GUNS
The Orioles have very little major-league experience -- totaling five years, 68 days on baseball's 172-day calendar -- among the healthy bullpen candidates on their 40-man roster, and most of it belongs to Alan Mills:
Pitcher .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Experience
Alan Mills .. .. .. .. .. .. ..3 yrs., 111 days
Brad Pennington .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..165 days
Mike Oquist .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...120 days
Armando Benitez .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...16 days
Russell Brock .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .0 days
Joe Borowski .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. ..0 days
Rick Krivda .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..0 days
ORIOLES SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE
Date .. .. ..Opponent .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Site .. .. .. .....Time
April 13 .. ..Texas .. .. .. .. .Port Charlotte, Fla. ..1:05 p.m.
April 14 .. ..Toronto .. .. .. ..Dunedin, Fla. .. .. ...1:05 p.m.
April 15 .. ..Houston .. .. .. ..Kissimmee, Fla. .. .. .1:05 p.m.
April 16 .. ..Philadelphia .. ...Clearwater, Fla. .. .. 1:05 p.m.
April 17 .. ..Boston .. .. .. ...Fort Myers, Fla. .. .. 1:05 p.m.
April 18 .. ..Philadelphia .. ...Clearwater, Fla. .. ...1:05 p.m.
April 19 .. ..Minnesota .. .. ...Fort Myers, Fla. .. ...1:05 p.m.
April 20 .. ..Boston .. .. .. ...Fort Myers, Fla. .. ...1:05 p.m.
April 21 .. ..Toronto .. .. .. ..Dunedin, Fla. .. .. ...1:05 p.m.
April 22 .. ..Colorado .. .. .. .Camden Yards .. .. .. .1:35 p.m.
April 23 .. ..Philadelphia .. ...Camden Yards .. .. .. .1:35 p.m.
April 24 .. ..Philadelphia .. .. Camden Yards .. .. .. .7:05 p.m.