Nobody seems to know for sure whether Ben McDonald will pitch for the Orioles against the Boston Red Sox tomorrow night. At least nobody, other than the pitcher himself, is admitting as much.
But this much is for certain: If McDonald pitches this, or any other, game this season, the only real benefit for the Orioles will be their act of good faith.
The Orioles have absolutely nothing to gain, and possibly something to lose, by prolonging what has admittedly been a lost season for McDonald. It might be argued that the club needs to find out about the right-hander's health to make a decision on his status for next season.
But anything the Orioles learn from a cameo appearance or two will be shared with any other team caring to scout McDonald as a possible free agent. Their own bottom line probably could best be served by observing private workouts.
For his own peace of mind, it will be good for McDonald to make a few
quality starts. But it's way too late for him to help the Orioles in a late-season push for a playoff position.
And it's highly unlikely that anything will happen in the last three weeks to drastically change McDonald's market value. By virtue of losing an arbitration case last winter, the Orioles are paying McDonald $4.5 million this year, which currently prorates to $2.25 million per win.
That's part of the process every team has to accept. Injuries are always the X-factor in trying to determine a player's worth over time, and nobody has yet come up with a formula to predict when they will occur.
Regardless of how McDonald fares the rest of the season, there is little he or the club can salvage from 1995 -- other than his peace of mind. And there are no guarantees that he'll benefit more by pitching now than he would if he simply took off the rest of the year.
Whether McDonald pitches well or not, he is just one of many decisions the Orioles have to make during the off-season. And at this point they are limited to two options.
The one that seemingly makes the most sense also requires another gamble with arbitration. The Orioles can either offer McDonald arbitration with a contract calling for the maximum 20 percent cut in salary (to $3.6 million) or not tender him a contract and take their chances on a "soft" market.
As it was a year ago, arbitration could be the best route for McDonald, assuming the Orioles are willing to chance the process again. That most likely represents his best financial opportunity.
It's not imaginable that any team, including the Orioles, would be willing to enter into a top-dollar, multi-year arrangement based on what they've seen from McDonald this year -- at least thus far. And they will not benefit any more than any other team by whatever McDonald might do the rest of the way.
It's a toss-up as to whether the Orioles have more to win or lose, but it's clear that McDonald has the most to gain by pitching again before the season is over. The club would have to be content with its position of dealing in good faith.