Pirates could beat Orioles to Padres' wealth of talent

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baseball's rumor mill is thick with trade talk. Some of the deals being discussed as Wednesday's midnight deadline approaches: San Diego is talking with Pittsburgh about a possible blockbuster -- the Pirates would send outfielder Orlando Merced and shortstop Jay Bell to the Padres for left fielder Rickey Henderson, pitchers Bryce Florie, Scott Sanders and a minor-leaguer.

San Diego general manager Kevin Towers used to be the scouting director for Pittsburgh, and knows the Pirates players firsthand, always a factor when trades are considered.

If the Padres do make this deal with the Pirates, that would kill any chance of San Diego swapping for Bobby Bonilla -- which could be a nightmare scenario for the Orioles, who may be finding that the market for Bonilla is drying up.

The Cincinnati Reds, back in the NL Central race, are considering making a 3-for-1 deal with Milwaukee for slugger Greg Vaughn, and they're talking to the New York Yankees about right-hander Mark Portugal. The Reds are getting a lot of inquiries about outfielder Curtis Goodwin, but probably won't move the former Oriole, unless it's in the Milwaukee deal.

The Chicago White Sox are without Frank Thomas, but tops on their wish list is a pitcher.

The Reds are trying to move reliever Lee Smith to Texas. The Rangers prefer Jeff Brantley.

St. Louis is talking to Boston about left-handed reliever Mike Stanton.

It was assumed two months ago that Oakland would be willing to swap catcher Terry Steinbach. No more, with the Athletics climbing back into the wild-card race.

Seattle wants a pitcher, and David Wells is most attractive to the Mariners. Terry Mulholland is a distant second.

Texas still is looking to add Tim Belcher.

If the Reds don't get Vaughn, they may re-acquire Kevin Mitchell from Boston.

Colorado is looking for pitching. The Rockies always are looking for pitching.

Houston thought about taking a run at Bonilla, but if the Astros find money to spend, they'd probably spend it on pitching. A Bonilla-for-Brian Hunter swap makes some sense for the Orioles.

Atlanta quietly is checking around for an outfielder. Can't help but wonder if Mike Devereaux, a good addition for Atlanta last year, might not be a perfect fit for the Braves this year.

Regan as Red Sox manager?

Should Kevin Kennedy be fired as manager of the Red Sox, a name from the past could emerge as the front-runner to be his replacement: Phil Regan, former Orioles manager and currently the manager of Triple-A Albuquerque in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system. He was among the top choices of Boston manager Dan Duquette after the 1994 season, and the Orioles have, in a strange way, improved his chances of landing another job.

The Orioles finished 71-73 last season, and the word on Regan was he couldn't relate to players, and he was assigned much of the blame for the team's poor showing.

Regan was fired, and the Orioles went out and added second baseman Roberto Alomar, closer Randy Myers, third baseman B. J. Surhoff, pitchers Wells and Roger McDowell, and a proven winner in Davey Johnson as manager.

Well, the Orioles have almost an identical winning percentage as they had last year, effectively absolving Regan of major blame.

Mussina's status changes

A year ago, the idea of trading Mike Mussina would have seemed almost as crazy as dealing Cal Ripken. Mussina was in the midst of winning 19 games for a mediocre team, and had the Orioles qualified for the postseason, he might have won the Cy Young Award.

But there are circumstances now that could lead to Mussina being dealt, perhaps within a year.

Early in spring, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick rebuffed overtures by Mussina's agent to extend the pitcher's contract beyond 1996. Once spring training began, Gillick said, he wanted the team concentrating on the season ahead; it's a common policy among clubs, but one that slightly altered Mussina's relationship with the Orioles.

To that point, there had been an unspoken understanding between the team and Mussina -- he wouldn't fight for every last nickel in contract talks, so long as the Orioles offered him security.

But with the club's decision to hold off on an extension, the relationship between Mussina and the club changed.

Mussina has followed with what has been the worst statistical season of his career, including an earned run average that has soared to 5.24. He never has lost more than nine games in his career, and already he has eight losses. He had never allowed more than a hit an inning until this season, when he's given up 183 in 154 2/3 innings.

Gillick and Johnson are seeing him firsthand for the first time, and they aren't seeing a dominant pitcher. (Mussina's reluctance to go to a four-man rotation, too, at a time when the Orioles are trying to climb back into the AL East race, couldn't have pleased the organization.)

Mussina will be eligible for arbitration after this season, in line for an award of $5 million or more, and he can become a free agent after next season. A club source indicated this week the idea of trading Mussina hasn't been discussed. But the situation is ripening: a cooling relationship, a growing price tag, a diminished performance.

It says here that trading Mussina would be a monumental mistake. But don't be surprised if the Orioles consider making a move in the future.

Ripken sheds some weight

Two AL scouts in town last week raved about Cal Ripken's physical condition, talking about how much it has improved since April. Indeed, a club source indicated Ripken has lost nearly 15 pounds since the beginning of the season.

The Oakland pitching staff has adopted a system of punishing anyone who walks more than four men during an appearance. The offending pitcher must have his head shaved the next day. Doug Johns walked five last Friday, and the next day, he had a buzz cut. "Hey, Hannibal Lechter," reliever Jim Corsi yelled. Pitching coach Bob Cluck, who has a buzz cut, said, "That's the way my son would look if I married a very ugly woman."

Seattle catcher John Marzano was mortified when told Edgar Martinez, injured in a collision with Marzano, was going on the disabled list. "Great," Marzano said. "They'll probably shoot me when we land in Seattle."

Texas first baseman Will Clark is on the disabled list for the third time since June 8. Last season, only four players were on the disabled list three times -- Eric Anthony, Vaughn Eshelman, Jim Gott and Andy Van Slyke. Gott and Van Slyke have retired.

It slides off back easier

AL umpire Rocky Roe has returned to his job, after taking time off and losing 70 pounds. "They'll still yell at me," Roe said, "but there is less to yell at."

Last Monday, Cleveland third baseman Jim Thome was awarded a three-ball walk by rookie umpire Mike Everitt, and no one from Toronto complained -- not pitcher Erik Hanson, not manager Cito Gaston. "Normally, you rely on the umpire," said Gaston, "but we should have had the count. I take full responsibility. Erik pitched a great game, but he didn't get much support from his teammates or from me, either."

Minnesota's Frankie Rodriguez struck out Ripken three times last week. "I remember in my first big-league spring training," Rodriguez said, "I struck out Ripken and called everybody I knew. I'm a little beyond that now."

Rockies outfielder Larry Walker expects to be activated from the disabled list Aug. 5, the second game of a three-game series with Florida. Walker has been on the disabled list with a broken collarbone since June 9.

Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman and infielder Scott Livingstone, who both live in the Dallas area, are in a fantasy football league and have named their team The White House -- the nickname of the infamous house in Irving, Texas, where Michael Irvin and others allegedly held a number of illicit parties.

Dusting off the press

Giants manager Dusty Baker takes trade rumors a little more seriously than games. "Sportswriting is getting more and more into gossiping and stuff that doesn't count, know what I mean?" Baker said.

"You got guys on a team not giving names, talking about who's to blame, who should be traded . . . looking for scapegoats. You might as well go back to McCarthyism."

Yo, Dusty, lighten up. There's no crying in baseball.

Giants outfielder Glenallen Hill, out with a broken wrist, figures to be back by mid-August.

Pirates pitcher Paul Wagner may have to have reconstructive elbow surgery.

Boston left fielder Mike Greenwell is resigned to the fact he'll be ,, playing elsewhere next year. "I don't want to press the issue with the team because I know Reggie Jefferson should be playing every day," Greenwell said. "I was involved in that [with Jim Rice] as a young player myself. I just want to do the right thing."

Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte sat down with doctors after winning his 15th game last week, and they discussed tests on his elbow.

"I'm realizing that being a big-league pitcher means sometimes having to pitch with this stuff. Everyone in the room has had to pitch through something. For me, it's the same old story. I'm just going to have to forget about this and pitch."

By the numbers

San Diego catcher John Flaherty is on a 25-game hitting streak, a major-league high for this season. Before 1996, his career-long hit streak was six games.

Alex Rodriguez's 26 career homers before his 21st birthday are the seventh most in major-league history, behind Mel Ott (61), Tony Conigliaro (56), Ken Griffey Jr. (38), Mickey Mantle (36), Frank Robinson (35) and Al Kaline (32).

Former Orioles farmhand Miguel Mejia got his first major-league hit for St. Louis on July 19, after going 0-for-14 in the first 3 1/2 months. The Cardinals took Mejia in the Rule 5 draft and must keep him on their big-league roster all season.

In his first nine seasons, Barry Bonds hit .517 (14-for-27) on his birthday (July 24), with a double, triple, homer and nine RBIs. But this year, Bonds went hitless in three at-bats.

Cleveland traded Eddie Murray because the Indians didn't think he hit for enough power. Yet, Murray's 14 homers would lead Minnesota, which doesn't have a player with more than 10.

The Colorado Rockies, who have the second-worst road record in the NL (16-32), begin a stretch of games tomorrow that has them playing 17 of their next 20 on the road.

Rob Deer has six hits in 29 at-bats since joining San Diego -- and still doesn't have a single. Deer has three doubles and three homers.

Cincinnati has had great pinch hitting from Thomas Howard (10-for-20, three homers, nine RBIs) and Lenny Harris (10-for-27, six RBIs).

Still outta here

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