Orioles not alone in hunt for help as deadline nears

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ten more days of checking price tags and comparing merchandise, 10 more days of trying to see what fits and what doesn't. The trade deadline is midnight July 31, and teams throughout both leagues are trying to plug holes.

The Orioles are looking for young players in return for Bobby Bonilla -- some pitching, maybe an outfielder, maybe a catcher.

Here's what some other teams are talking about as they prepare for the final two months of the season:

Texas Rangers: They suddenly have problems with two spots in their rotation, with Kevin Gross on the disabled list and Bobby Witt going through another of his patented streaks of wildness. They need a pitcher.

Trouble is, they don't want to part with much from their farm system, so Texas is looking for a second-line pitcher. The Rangers have talked to Boston about Jamie Moyer, but might be setting their sights on Tim Belcher of Kansas City.

Seattle Mariners: Even with Randy Johnson coming back, they want a veteran pitcher to stabilize the rotation. Belcher makes sense, as does right-hander Curt Schilling of Philadelphia. They like David Wells, but as long as the Orioles linger in the race, it's doubtful Wells will be dealt.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are in baseball purgatory. Not quite in it, not quite out of it. But they're shopping slugger Greg Vaughn, who is a free agent after this season. Dealing him would be a dicey move, however, because they'd look like they were quitting too soon.

Chicago White Sox: They need pitching, and could go after the usual suspects -- Belcher, Schilling, Wells, or John Smiley or Mark Portugal of the Reds. Smiley is especially attractive because he's left-handed, and the best AL teams, the Indians and Yankees, are vulnerable to lefties.

New York Yankees: They're babying Andy Pettitte's sore arm, and Mariano Rivera could hit the wall after carrying this staff for four months. It never hurts to add a pitcher, like Smiley, Schilling, et al.

Atlanta Braves: Jeff Blauser is out for a couple of months and Atlanta may be in the market for a shortstop. Their pitching will prevent them from losing any ground in the race, but don't be surprised to see them go after someone like Shawon Dunston of the Giants or David Howard of the Royals.

Montreal Expos: They'd love to add another bat. They can't afford to do so.

New York Mets: They're getting closer, but similar to last year, the front office may figure they don't have enough to be serious contenders. They're playing well with what they have, anyway.

Florida Marlins: This team is the sleeping giant of the National League, with two dominant pitchers in Al Leiter and Kevin Brown. But the Marlins need a bat, and might be the sleeper team in the Bonilla sweepstakes.

St. Louis Cardinals: They don't need much, the way they're playing, but could add a right-handed reliever for depth.

Houston Astros: They need help in the bullpen, but owner Drayton McLane has laid down a hard financial line.

Cincinnati Reds: They're in the business of selling more than buying now.

Chicago Cubs: Ditto. Brian McRae is the most attractive of what they have to offer.

San Diego Padres: San Diego needs a bat for its outfield, and, right now, the Padres are the front-runners to get Bonilla.

Los Angeles Dodgers: L.A. is talking to the Phillies about Jim Eisenreich. The Dodgers need a third baseman with Mike Blowers out, and may take a run at Pittsburgh's Charlie Hayes or Philadelphia's Todd Zeile. They'd love to get Boston's Tim Naehring, but the Red Sox won't part with the gritty third baseman, who along with Mo Vaughn forms the heart of the team. Bonilla and his $4.6 million price tag may be a little too expensive.

Colorado Rockies: The team needs pitching. What else would a team that plays at Coors Field need?

San Francisco Giants: The club has talked to California about a deal for outfielder Garret Anderson, possibly for pitcher William Vanlandingham. They may be too far out of contention now to consider taking on a veteran like Bonilla (they could have used him two weeks ago, before they started a 2-9 road trip).

Orioles not blameless

Everybody feels the heat when a team doesn't play to expectations, from the players to the manager to the front office. Some of the criticism aimed at the Orioles' front office is baseless when examined within the context of the time it made its decisions. However, it is not blameless.

Harold Baines is having a terrific season for the White Sox, hitting over .300. He could finish with more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Why didn't the Orioles re-sign him?

General Manager Pat Gillick had good reasons. At the time he took over, Gillick had little more than a week to decide whether to offer arbitration to Baines or give him up and lose the rights to signing him until May 1 of this season.

Gillick had a good shot at signing Paul Molitor, a player who would have improved the Orioles' speed, and, more importantly, the righty-lefty balance in an Orioles lineup overloaded with left-handed hitters (the overabundance of left-handed hitters has turned out to be a problem; Baines' presence would have only made this worse).

Also, Davey Johnson's thinking was that he wanted to use the designated hitter as a way to rest slightly injured players -- which he has done this year with Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson and B. J. Surhoff. Molitor could have played first or third base, and Baines can be used as a designated hitter only.

So Gillick chose Molitor over Baines, but Molitor chose Minnesota over Baltimore and has gone on to have a strong season for the Twins, leading the majors in hits. Was Gillick wrong in taking a shot at Molitor? Hardly.

The Orioles did not re-sign right-handers Kevin Brown or Ben McDonald, and both have pitched well this year. But, again, within the context of last December, those were reasonable decisions.

Brown had just finished a 10-9 season in which he pitched erratically and drove his teammates nuts with his emotional highs and lows. No one doubted then and no one doubts now he has an exceptional arm -- Mike Flanagan, the pitching coach last year, has said Brown may have the best arm he has ever seen -- and ability. But no one knew whether Brown could collect his wits enough to be a successful pitcher.

Nonetheless, the Orioles wanted to give him a one-year deal. Brown got a three-year deal from the Marlins, and $13.2 million. Case closed. The Orioles may want to gamble that kind of money someday on a pitcher, but not on someone as volatile as Brown.

McDonald won three games in '95 and made $4.5 million, and he was found to have small tears in his rotator cuff. That injury didn't necessarily mean that major surgery was imminent, but it was enough to raise fears. Despite that, the Orioles floated a $2.8 million offer, and agent Scott Boras rejected that, thinking he could get a two-year deal someplace else.

Turned out Boras was right. Well, so were the Orioles, who would have been insane to offer a multi-year contract to a pitcher coming off a bad year and bearing a bad shoulder.

The Orioles have been looking for catching help since January. At first, they wanted a player with the wherewithal to step in and be an everyday catcher in the event that Chris Hoiles proved he couldn't throw well enough to hold down the job, someone like Randy Knorr or Pat Borders.

In January and February, they talked to Boras, the agent for Benito Santiago. But they couldn't reach an agreement because they couldn't say for sure Santiago would be their everyday catcher, and Santiago wanted such assurances. Santiago eventually signed with the Phillies.

According to club sources, the outgoing regime believed last season the Orioles needed to replace Hoiles with a catcher with a better arm, and a few weeks into spring training, the new regime realized Hoiles' arm wasn't going to improve. However, it was too late to sign Santiago.

All of which begs the question: Why didn't the new regime take a close look at Hoiles in the off-season and determine then whether his throwing was going to be a problem and the team would need someone like Santiago?

Darryl Strawberry looked unbelievably fit last weekend, when the Yankees were in town, a big, strong hitter only a few years of personal problems removed from being one of the premier power hitters in the game.

A club would be justified in avoiding a player with Strawberry's history; trouble follows him, from drugs to tax problems to his failure to pay child support. Always something.

That seemed to be the club stance in May and early June -- no interest in Strawberry because of philosophical differences. Gillick and owner Peter Angelos have avoided players like Strawberry.

However, in late June, the Orioles, dying for more production from the bottom third of their order, reversed themselves and began scouting Strawberry. Too late. He signed with the Yankees.

If Strawberry's personal problems weren't going to prevent the Orioles from signing him, then where were they in late May and early June? Why didn't they scout and consider signing him then?

No interest in Morris

While the Orioles were scouting Strawberry in St. Paul, they also took a look at pitcher Jack Morris, but apparently didn't see anything compelling about him.

From July 6 through July 17, this is the production the Dodgers got out of some of their top players -- center fielder Chad Fonville, no homers, two RBIs; second baseman Delino DeShields, no homers, no RBIs; catcher Mike Piazza, one homer, six RBIs; first baseman Eric Karros, no homers, two RBIs; right fielder Raul Mondesi, no homers, no RBIs.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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