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Team should call El Quit's bluff now


TORONTO -- Call his bluff. If Sid Fernandez is leaning toward retiring, help him make up his mind.

Pay off his salary for this season. Give him a $500,000 buyout for next season. Tell him to accept the offer, because he'll never start for the Orioles again.

Hardball? Absolutely. But Fernandez wouldn't back off his retirement threat yesterday, even after his family tried to talk him out of it.

"If he keeps saying he's going to retire, it kind of says that somewhere along the line, he has lost his desire to compete," manager Phil Regan said.

In that case, get him out of here.

The Orioles don't want to release Fernandez -- they still owe approximately $4 million on his contract, which runs through next season.

The buyout is the perfect solution.

Fernandez would collect $1.5 million. The Orioles would save $2.5 million. And the team would benefit from addition by subtraction.

Yes, everyone would win -- a novel approach, seeing as how El Quit hasn't won anything since last July 15.

"They won't do that," Fernandez said. "Why would they?

"They [the Orioles] are probably hoping I would do it [retire]. It would be like Kevin Mitchell [leaving Japan]. They wouldn't have to pay my contract."

Eloquently put, El Quit.

Peter Angelos couldn't have said it any better himself.

Sources say Angelos was seen dancing through the warehouse yesterday, weeping tears of joy and waving Fernandez's published remarks high above his head.

The owner should stop swinging from the chandeliers, get on the phone to Fernandez's agent, Tom Selakovich, and make him an offer he can't refuse.

Any moment now, Fernandez could change his mind.

"I would bet today that he won't say it," Regan predicted yesterday before Fernandez arrived at SkyDome.

Stick to the day job, Skip.

"If it does happen, when it happens, I'm not going to tell anybody," Fernandez said. "You just won't see me. I'll be gone like the wind."

Can you believe this?

Now pitching, Rhett Butler.

"I don't think he should do that [retire]. I don't know why he would do that," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "Hell, everyone goes through that. Look at what I'm doing. I'm not talking about retiring.

"It's a matter of believing in the stuff you have, that you're still good enough to get guys out. If he honestly believes deep down inside that the stuff he has can't get guys out, then you talk about it.

"Personally, I don't think he's to that point. Just to retire because you can't get guys out, that's just giving up. I could very easily give up right now. But I'm not going to quit. Why should he quit because things are bad?"

Good question, but Regan demoted Fernandez to the bullpen yesterday, perhaps giving him a final push.

Fernandez can't crack a rotation that includes two rookies (John DeSilva and Scott Klingenbeck), a journeyman (Jamie Moyer) and an unproven talent (Arthur Rhodes).

Take a hint.

"Look in their [the Blue Jays'] dugout, the same thing happened to Danny Darwin," Regan said. "He's in the bullpen. You've still got to earn your starts.

"This is a competitive game. People are always trying to get your job. You've got to perform to keep your job. Curtis Goodwin has done a job. Jeff Manto has done a job. Greg Zaun has done a pretty good job.

"It's competitive -- you either thrive on it, or you don't. Or you retire, I guess."

Gee, wonder what Regan would prefer.

Fernandez, 32, seems to believe he's finished, but he spoke yesterday with his wife, Noelani, who is pregnant with their first child, and with his parents.

He has yet to speak with Selakovich, who stands to lose approximately $80,000 if Fernandez retires with no buyout, assuming his agent's commission is the standard 5 percent.

"Everyone is trying to talk me out of it," he said. "Nobody wants me to retire. Everyone seems to think I'm making the biggest mistake of my life."

A $4 million mistake, for starters.

Fernandez insists it's not about money, and for him, maybe it's not. He lost all that weight in the off-season. He cares deeply about his performance. He takes losing as hard as any Oriole.

The problem is, his fastball is not what it once was, and he might not be savvy enough to adjust his approach. Combine that with a sudden loss of desire, and what have you got?

"I'm still here. If my heart wasn't in it, I wouldn't be here," Fernandez said. Yet, for two straight days, he has talked about retiring. Even if his heart is in the right place, his mind is somewhere else.

"When I asked him, 'Are you going to retire?', he said, 'I'm leaning that way, I don't know,' " Regan said. "I said, 'That's a decision you have to make.'

"I said, 'You're struggling, the ballclub is struggling a bit, the move we're going to make is to put you in the bullpen. You'll get up more, throw more, might get stronger, get better control.'

"He didn't really respond to that too much. He walked out, then 15 minutes later he came back and asked, 'Am I in the bullpen tonight?' I said, 'No, probably not for a couple of days.'

"When I left it there, I thought maybe he accepted that role."

Not quite.

"I'm open to trying stuff, pitching in the bullpen. I'm willing to try anything," Fernandez said. "But I don't know. I've been through losing streaks before, but nothing like this."

Enough, then.

Help El Quit into retirement.

Call his bluff.

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