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Drought is showing on O's farm

Curt Schilling would have waived his no-trade clause for one team, and one team only. That team was the Orioles.

How do you think general manager Pat Gillick felt, receiving the keys to a safe, only to find himself handcuffed?

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Just as Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone predicted, the Orioles lacked the minor-league prospects to complete a Schilling deal.

"We just felt Baltimore was not the club for us," Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas said.

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Ouch.

Thomas didn't merely reject the Orioles.

However unintentionally, he indicted them.

Indeed, the Orioles' failure to re-acquire Schilling was another painful reminder that their farm system is still not at an elite level.

Farm director Syd Thrift defended the system yesterday, citing several players he believes are close to the majors.

But the bottom line, Philadelphia didn't want them.

The trade suddenly looks less urgent now that the Orioles' lead over the Yankees is back to 5 1/2 games. And there's no guarantee Gillick could have acquired Schilling even if he had the prospects.

To waive his no-trade clause, Schilling wanted to renegotiate the three-year, $15.45 million extension he signed in April to make it more comparable to Mike Mussina's new, three-year, $20.5 million deal.

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Of course, the talks never got that far.

Thomas apparently insisted on three players who were either ready for the majors or close to it, and at least one potential star.

Schilling said he balked at a possible trade to Cleveland, the lone team that could have satisfied the Phillies' demands.

The Orioles?

To hear Thrift tell it, they could have put together a package comparable to the Indians'.

Gillick and Malone were unavailable to comment.

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"We've got two guys who can pitch in the big leagues right now -- Esteban Yan and Nerio Rodriguez," Thrift said. "Any scout will tell you that.

"No. 2, [outfielder Danny] Clyburn is a step away. He's a September guy, probably. And we've got [reliever] Brian Williams that people are talking about.

"The last three or four games at Rochester, we've probably had 12 or more scouts there. If we didn't have anybody, why would they be there? Not to see the other team all the time."

Thrift makes a reasonable point. The Orioles already have traded two minor-leaguers for Geronimo Berroa. They might be on the verge of a similar deal before Thursday's waiver deadline.

Rule 5 draft pick Mike Johnson could be part of a package -- he was designated for assignment yesterday. Yan is 7-0 with a 1.21 ERA since joining the Rochester rotation. Rodriguez has won five straight starts, and his opponents are batting .202.

Clyburn? Thrift predicted he will be a 30-homer man in the majors. Of course, if the Orioles thought he was that good, perhaps they would have promoted him instead of reaching to Double-A for David Dellucci earlier this season.

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Thrift, though, was adamant.

"I think other teams do think they're good," he said of the Orioles' minor-leaguers. "You'll find out in the expansion draft what they think. And you might find out in the next three, four days."

Still, the test of a farm system is whether it can produce impact players -- the type who can either become All-Stars for the parent club, or command front-line players in trades.

The Orioles are getting there, as the developments of Jeffrey Hammonds, Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes attest. They might even have had enough for Schilling, if they hadn't made so many previous deals.

Thrift's predecessor, Texas GM Doug Melvin, rattled off the names of several former Orioles minor-leaguers now with other clubs -- Alex Ochoa, Curtis Goodwin, Jay Powell, Joe Borowski.

Factor in the free-agent signings that resulted in the losses of first-round draft picks, and it's easy to understand why the Orioles were short when it came to Schilling.

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They have several pitching prospects and two catching prospects at Double-A. They have a future star in third baseman Ryan Minor at Single-A. And they're coming off their best draft in years, even if they fail to sign Darnell McDonald.

Thomas thought enough of their prospects last season to acquire pitchers Garrett Stephenson and Calvin Maduro for Pete Incaviglia and Todd Zeile. Stephenson has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies. And Maduro still has a chance.

Then again, remember the Fab Four at Bowie in 1994? None of those pitchers -- Jimmy Haynes, Scott Klingenbeck, Vaughn Eshelman and Rick Forney -- has achieved major-league success.

All teams overrate their prospects, and the question now is if the Orioles are falling into that pattern. Thrift's opinion of his own players is irrelevant at trade time. The opinion of other clubs is what matters.

Melvin said Yan and Rodriguez are "well-thought of," but the Orioles feared that trading such pitchers would leave them too thin.

So, Schilling remained in Philadelphia.

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The Braves developed players like Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, and still had enough to trade for Fred McGriff and Denny Neagle.

The Yankees developed Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, and still had enough to trade for David Cone and (heh-heh) Hideki Irabu.

The Orioles need to get to that level.

They were the only team on Curt Schilling's wish list.

And still, they couldn't get him.

Pub Date: 7/29/97


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