Jimmy Key may be fully recovered from shoulder surgery and win 15 games. Sinkerballer Scott Erickson could thrive under the direction of a pitching coach, Ray Miller, who believes in the value of ground balls. Mike Mussina, beyond contractual distractions and a personality clash with former pitching coach Pat Dobson, could win a Cy Young Award. Rocky Coppinger could blossom into a consistent winner, and Shawn Boskie finally could harness his talent.
But probably not. The chances of all good things happening for the Orioles' staff all at once are remote, and they could be left with a mediocre rotation -- or even a poor one, if Key's velocity dips or Coppinger suffers from the dreaded sophomore jinx.
The Orioles still need one more sure thing, one more big-time, front-line pitcher. Few are available now, but as bad teams begin to fade from the pennant races or contenders develop weaknesses, they'll look to deal. Here's a look at who may become available, and who may interest the Orioles.
1. Curt Schilling, Phillies. It's not a question of if Philadelphia will deal Schilling, but when. He has indicated he wants out of what probably will be a losing situation, and Schilling has one year left on his contract, at $3.5 million. By the end of last season, Schilling was one of the dominant pitchers in the National League, striking out 98 in his last 86 1/3 innings. "He threw two great games against us at the end of the year, I can tell you that," Chicago Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said.
Even if the Phillies start the season with Schilling, there's no way they'd let him walk away at the end of the year and get nothing in return, and the Orioles are interested, according to sources within the organization.
But the Orioles may not have what the Phillies want or need: a power-hitting outfielder. Conversely, the New York Yankees have young outfielder Ruben Rivera, who hit .284 in 46 games last season, and the Cleveland Indians could dangle Brian Giles, who had 14 doubles and five homers in 51 games last season. The Orioles have Jeffrey Hammonds, but Hammonds needs to play well for a whole year before re-establishing his value.
The Orioles' best trade bait is right-handed pitching, the likes of Armando Benitez, Alan Mills and minor-leaguers Nerio Rodriguez, Chris Fussell and Billy Percibal, but before dealing anyone of Benitez's caliber, they'd probably want to extend Schilling's contract. He's 30 and will want $5 million a year in a multi-year contract.
Schilling is the best option for the Orioles. But circumstances are such that Schilling is not the best fit.
2. Darren Oliver, Texas. He's young (26), left-handed, talented, relatively inexpensive (a salary of $1 million) and Orioles sources say manager Davey Johnson loves his potential. Oliver went 14-6 with a 4.66 ERA last season.
But only desperation would compel the Rangers to deal Oliver, such as a collapse of their bullpen or an injury to closer John Wetteland. Texas has shown interest in Mills and Benitez.
3. Pedro Martinez, Montreal. The Expos' strategy is well-established -- develop and deal. They develop excellent prospects and then trade them before their salaries become prohibitive. They've done this with Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Wetteland.
And they'll do it with Martinez sometime this summer, as soon as the Expos fall out of serious contention, probably by July. Remember that Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone knows Martinez from the days when Malone was GM for Montreal, and Malone knows all that is good and great about Martinez -- his dominant fastball, his 665 strikeouts in the first 671 innings of his career. Martinez, 25, will make $3.5 million this year and will become a free agent after the 1998 season.
The Expos won't keep him around to pay him $5 million next year. The Orioles would love the chance to get him.
4. Darryl Kile, Houston. If the Astros begin fading from the race, they'll do all they can to slash payroll as quickly as possible, and Kile is the most likely to be dealt. Kile, who has one of the best breaking balls in baseball, ranges from dominant to terrible, with little in between, and it all depends on his control. He struck out 219 in 219 innings last year, but walked 97 and led the league in hit batsmen (16).
5. Mark Clark or Bobby Jones, Mets. Sharing a division with the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins, New York is doomed to third place or worse, and the Mets will be trying to establish their young trio of Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher. If they can, they'll have a couple of extra starters left over. Clark (14-11, 3.43 last year) and Jones (12-8, 4.42) are not ace material but are capable of solid contributions, which could be just what the Orioles are looking for come June and July.
Honoring J. Robinson
Fifty years ago, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line, and Major League Baseball will honor Robinson this season by having all players wear a commemorative arm patch on their uniforms.
Cubs manager Riggleman, weary of his players' criticism of the organization, says he wants it to stop. Center fielder Brian McRae repeatedly has said the team isn't doing enough to win, and this winter he questioned whether Chicago has what it takes to win a title. In the first couple of days of spring training, Riggleman will ask his players not to be negative about the team or their teammates.
Speaking of which, Jose Canseco became the latest Boston player to slam GM Dan Duquette, after Canseco was traded to Oakland. "Mo Vaughn is the next one to leave," said Canseco. "He will not re-sign with Boston, I can guarantee you that. Absolutely not." Vaughn has disavowed comments that he's unhappy, but you have to wonder, given that Roger Clemens made similar remarks.
Canseco says he wants to play the outfield regularly for Oakland, which is what he said in Boston, too. It won't happen.
Belle's Chicago honeymoon
So far, Albert Belle is embracing the Chicago media. He answered questions for 45 minutes last week at the SoxFest. "I'm pretty sure the last few years I've been difficult," Belle said. "I'm willing to put all that behind me." Teammate Frank Thomas said: "He's a nice guy. Some things happened that I'm sure he's embarrassed by. No way he compares to Dennis Rodman. He's not looking for attention."
As he works with Benitez this off-season in the Dominican Republic, Orioles scout Carlos Bernhardt has ordered Benitez to throw changeups, sinkers and sliders -- no fastballs. Bernhardt wants Benitez to become more comfortable throwing several different pitches, so he doesn't always rely on his fastball when he's behind in the count.
O's beat Texas to Minor
Lee MacPhail, who left the Texas Rangers to take a job as Cleveland's scouting director this off-season, said the Rangers were set to take Ryan Minor in the June draft.
But two picks before the Rangers, the Orioles selected Minor, and now the former college basketball star has committed full time to baseball.
"We really liked his athleticism," said MacPhail. The Mets picked Minor in the seventh round in 1995, but because of a technical ruling by the commissioner's office, the Mets weren't allowed to draft Minor last summer.
If the Mets could've drafted Minor, scouting director John Barr said, Minor "wouldn't have lasted that long [to the 33rd round]. We were really high on him. He's a good athlete, very strong."
The baseball field at Prince George High School in Petersburg, Va., was named for former Orioles manager Johnny Oates, in a ceremony last weekend. Roland Hemond, who once had to fire Oates, flew in from Arizona to speak, and Rex Barney and Dick Bosman were part of a crowd of about 1,000. Gloria Oates, Johnny's wife, was presented with a necklace valued at about $5,000. "It was like Norman Rockwell produced it," said one who attended. "Even the politicians' speeches were short -- that's how good it was."
Orioles scout Dean Decillis attended a recent workout for a handful of Cuban defectors who are eligible to sign, including first baseman Roberto Colina and outfielder William Ortega. Pitcher Rolando Arrojo, the ace of the Cuban Olympic team, is probably the best prospect among recent Cuban defectors but hasn't gotten residency papers for Costa Rica yet and cannot sign until he does.
Bobby Higginson and Travis Fryman are the only members of the Tigers' '97 starting lineup who were with the club for all of 1996.
The signing of utility infielder Jeff Reboulet to a minor-league deal makes it abundantly clear the Orioles have no plans for infielder Manny Alexander.
By the numbers
San Diego right fielder Tony Gwynn is 77-for-227 (.339) at Chicago's Wrigley Field with 22 walks and just four strikeouts.
Scott Kamieniecki, one of the newest Orioles, has had lots of problems with the Chicago duo of Frank Thomas and Albert Belle. Belle has a .318 career average against Kamieniecki, hitting two homers in 22 at-bats, and Thomas has a .467 average (7-for-15).
In seven career plate appearances against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, new Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick has a walk and three hits in six at-bats.
Based on his history in the American League, White Sox ace Jaime Navarro could be tough on the Orioles. Bordick is 1-for-17 (.059) against Navarro, Cal Ripken 8-for-44 (.182), Chris Hoiles 5-for-22 (.227), Brady Anderson 7-for-29 (.241).
Armando Benitez vs. Oakland second baseman Brent Gates: five at-bats, five strikeouts. Benitez vs. Oakland slugger Mark McGwire: three at-bats, three strikeouts.
Ken Griffey vs. Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson: 43 at-bats, 20 hits (.465), four homers, .910 slugging average.
Larry Walker has 36 homers in 393 career at-bats at Coors Field.
Pub Date: 2/02/97