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Orioles don't have horses to trade

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Trading for Houston Astros pitcher Doug Drabek or second baseman Craig Biggio would solve a couple of problems for the Orioles. They could use a No. 4 starter, or somebody to inject some adrenalin into their stagnant offense.

Wanting Drabek and/or Biggio and having the means to get them, however, are two different matters, and the Orioles don't have much in the way of tradable commodities.

They either have veterans with expensive, long-term contracts, or very young prospects who haven't developed enough for the Orioles to know what they could become.

Making trades is a lot easier if you have something in between, legitimate prospects backed up in Triple-A or good major-leaguers with four years or less of service time.

You could break down the Orioles' major-league roster into several categories:

* Untouchables with big contracts: shortstop Cal Ripken, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and pitcher Mike Mussina.

* Untouchables because of their contracts: catcher Chris Hoiles, pitchers Sid Fernandez and Ben McDonald, second baseman Bret Barberie and third baseman Leo Gomez. (Anybody who trades for McDonald now, after he won his $4.5 million arbitration decision, must expect to pay him around $5 million next year.)

* Untouchables because of their ages and contracts: catcher Matt Nokes, outfielders Andy Van Slyke and Kevin Bass, pitchers Doug Jones, Jamie Moyer and Jesse Orosco. (Although Van Slyke, Bass, Nokes and Orosco could be moved in minor deals).

* Untouchables because the Orioles see them as an integral part of their future: outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Curtis Goodwin and pitcher Kevin Brown.

* Untouchables because they don't have a lot of trade value: pitchers Terry Clark, Mark Lee and Mike Oquist.

* Former big-time prospects whose value has diminished: pitcher Arthur Rhodes, second baseman Manny Alexander.

That leaves, at the major-league level, two players with some trade value, and even then there are qualifiers.

Third baseman Jeff Manto is coveted by several teams, but not as a regular, and as long as he's producing so much offense for such a small price ($140,000 salary this season), the Orioles should hang onto him.

The other is left fielder Brady Anderson, who has trade value because he runs well and because he can play anywhere in the outfield. He has one year left on his contract after '95, and though he probably will be getting more ($3.3 million this season) than others like him in a diminished market, he could draw some interest.

Trade prospects? Well, it depends on what your definition of a prospect is. The Orioles regard the likes of Rick Krivda, Brian Sackinsky and Scott Klingenbeck as prospects, and they may well turn into good major-leaguers. Klingenbeck is a bulldog, Sackinsky pitches smartly, and Krivda is a left-hander, and you never know with lefties. But other organizations think that the Sackinskys and Mark Smiths are players headed for jobs as middle relievers and spare parts. Those are not the kinds of prospects you need to make trades for guys such as Biggio.

You could trade Alex Ochoa, but the thing is, nobody knows how good he could be. There are major questions whether he'll ever hit consistently enough to become an impact player; one National League scout suggested that the best chance for the strong-armed Ochoa to make an impact is to convert to pitcher.

But he has shown enough tools so that you don't want to give up on him too early. This is not a Manny Alexander scenario, where you have a prospect with an established major-leaguer ahead of him. He's worth hanging onto.

Jimmy Haynes is a tradable commodity. He's highly rated, but many question whether he'll ever have enough savvy to translate into a big-time pitcher. He could go.

And that's about it. Greg Zaun doesn't have much value, nor does Cesar Devarez or some of the other minor-leaguers on the Orioles' 40-man roster.

Since late in spring training, the Orioles have successfully passed three players through waivers -- Krivda, first baseman Paul Carey and outfielder Jim Wawruck -- which indicates that maybe their prospects don't have a lot of value; any team could have claimed those players for $20,000.

Yeah, it would be nice to get Drabek or Biggio. But the Orioles don't have much to offer.

Art of a deal

The St. Louis Cardinals' trade of third baseman Todd Zeile to the Chicago Cubs had some nasty background to it. During the off-season, the Cardinals agreed to give Zeile a three-year, $12 million contract extension. But Zeile started the season on the disabled list, and both sides decided to wait until he was activated to complete the deal.

Before that happened, though, St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty was ordered to tell Zeile that the offer was off the table. Naturally, Zeile was furious. He asked for $4.2 million in arbitration; the Cardinals offered $3.2 million. Earlier this week, the Cardinals called and asked if he would accept $4 million. No, Zeile replied, he would no longer sign any piece of paper placed in front of him by the Cardinals, on principle alone. Jocketty called Zeile again Thursday night and told him that he would be traded to the Cubs -- but only if Zeile agreed to sign for $3.7 million.

Zeile, desperately wanting to get out of St. Louis, agreed.

* It is very clear that the financial framework of baseball is changing. With perhaps one exception -- the Colorado Rockies -- every team has been giving some sort of sign that they're going to cut payroll.

The Orioles' decision to offer Mussina a two-year deal rather than three years came right after the owners' meetings in Minnesota. It makes you wonder whether they heard something that made them think the salary structure will be altered.

Since the start of the season, only two players -- Mussina and Florida Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine -- have negotiated a contract beyond 1995. Used to be you could move a player on a multi-year contract, but now there is almost no market for the likes of Danny Tartabull and Greg Swindell. Times are tough.

Twin demands

Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan has three pitchers -- Rick Aguilera, Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani -- who are coveted by other clubs, but he has annoyed other GMs with what they consider to be outrageous demands.

* Orioles general manager Roland Hemond apparently played some serious head games with Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden during the Brad Pennington trade talks. Early in the week, he called Bowden and thanked him for his interest and said he was negotiating a bigger deal. There was some general talk within the organization about loading up and going after a No. 4 starter, "TC but others say there was nothing concrete in the works. Hemond kept telling Bowden he had another deal brewing -- supposedly, he once mentioned he was pursuing San Diego Padres pitcher Andy Benes, which wasn't happening -- before finally getting two players from the Reds. Hemond may have been practicing some constructive deceit, to build Pennington's trade value, and if he was, more power to him: Bowden has been guilty of similar manipulation in the past.

* The Los Angeles Dodgers are privately preparing to dump Delino DeShields and bid for Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar if he becomes a free agent after this season -- and it sure sounds as if that will be the case. "The chances of Toronto losing him are pretty big," said Jaime Torres, Alomar's agent. "We only have three or four months left [to negotiate]. Pretty soon, we're going to let other clubs have a shot at signing him." He'd be a wonderful fit with the Orioles, adding speed, power and defense. But Alomar may become one of the five highest-paid players in the game, and the Orioles may not want a double-play combination that earns $6 million a year apiece.

Quite a pitch

Dumbest comment of the week belonged to Benes, as he prepared for his arbitration hearing Thursday. Benes is represented by Scott Boras, who won Ben McDonald's case earlier this month, and Benes believed that given that result, he had a good chance of winning. "Statistically," Benes said, "I had a better year than McDonald." Better in many ways, except the one that really matters -- victories. Benes won six games, and McDonald 14. On Friday, Benes, who hasn't won since July 3, 1994, lost his arbitration case.

* The Milwaukee Brewers offered outfielder Darryl Hamilton ($2 million), pitcher Bill Wegman ($2.2 million) and nondescript middle reliever Mark Kiefer for New York Yankees doghouse tenant Tartabull, and asked the Yankees to pick up $4 million of Tartabull's $5 million salary in 1996. New York GM Gene Michael laughed at the proposed deal.

* Houston outfielder Luis Gonzalez went to a Rockets playoff game earlier this week and saw a young girl wearing an Orlando Magic T-shirt. When he teased her, she replied: "It could be worse. I could be wearing an Astros T-shirt."

* Pitching talk: Brewers pitcher Cal Eldred is facing reconstructive surgery of his pitching elbow. Pitching against the Yankees on Monday night, Tigers left-hander David Wells threw a whopping 157 pitches. Colorado is playing well, and its No. 1 pitcher has been Detroit castoff Kevin Ritz.

* Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire says he may turn down an All-Star invitation if he gets one. . . . The latest All-Star ballot results show David McCarty of the Twins is second, behind Frank Thomas. Just one problem: McCarty, a bit player anyway, has been traded to the Reds. . . . The starting rotation of the Chicago White Sox seems to be going through a rebirth, but it's too late to catch the Cleveland Indians.

Anthony Young, that lovable loser, is back with the Cubs and was the losing pitcher (naturally) in his second game since undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. Chicago might try him a closer.

* Braves right fielder David Justice won't be able to take his habitual 18-step stroll around the batter's box now that umpires will enforce rules designed to speed up the game. "Man," Justice said. "I've got my little routine: 18 steps out, talk to myself. I'm used to walking up there and taking a whole lot of steps. Once again, people with too much power are messing with the game. Who are the people saying it's too slow? It's bull." No. It's bull that crowds must wait for David Justice to take 18 steps and talk to himself.

* New York first baseman Don Mattingly sounds as if he's ready for Darryl Strawberry to wear pinstripes. "I like Darryl," Mattingly said. "I don't know him real well or anything, but I know him from seeing him around. Everybody I've talked to says Darryl's a great guy. Darryl has had his problems, but everyone who has played with him says he's a great guy. If we signed Darryl, I don't see a problem at all."

Except for the losing.

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