Spring Training #1 1998
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In the latest Hot Stove Heater, Rob Neyer predicts the Orioles will decline 13 games from last season's American League-best 98-64 record. Neyer points out that pennant winners tend to perform at the peak of their ability, and that it would thus be natural for the Orioles to decline the following season. Combine that with the fact that the already-old Orioles added 38-year old Joe Carter, 35- year old Doug Drabek, and 35-year old Norm Charlton to the roster, and the Orioles could be in for a long summer.
And according to John Sickels'
minor-league report, it doesn't look like much help is on the way. Of course,
since the Orioles refuse to give any young players a chance in favor of aging
veterans, it doesn't really matter.
After insisting that Norm Charlton would have to earn his way onto the team in 1998, the Orioles today placed him on the 40-man roster and designated Hector Ramirez for assignment to make room. Although this maneuver does not guarantee Charlton a spot on the major league roster in 1998, it seems superfluous if it is not a preliminary step towards giving him a job this season. The same process occured last season, when Shawn Boskie was signed to a minor league contract and then handed a job out of spring training.
Meanwhile, scout Carlos Bernhardt will officially join Ray Miller's coaching
staff in the next few days, as the Orioles shuffled the staff to make it more to Miller's liking.
For the second consecutive year, the Orioles have raised ticket prices, ensuring that Oriole Park at Camden Yards will once again have among the highest priced tickets in baseball. Prices will rise from $2 to $5, depending on seat location, with the best tickets rising the most.
Ticket prices have gone up dramatically in recent years, but baseball tickets still remain much cheaper than those of any other major sport. The official team line will be that prices are rising to cover rising salaries, but that is public relations, not fact. Prices are rising because the market will bear the higher costs. Camden Yards is a great place to watch a game, and fans have been turning out in record numbers since the park was built.
Not surprisingly, fan reaction has not been positive, with several long
time season ticket holders questioning whether they can afford to renew.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that the stadium will again sell out just
about every game in 1998. Whether fans will continue to pay the rising
costs when the Orioles have to rebuild, as they will almost certainly have
to in the near future, is an open question, however.
Washington Post | Thomas Boswell
For the third year in a row, the Orioles will start the season with a new designated hitter. Geronimo Berroa was released on Saturday when Pat Gillick was unable to trade him. Gillick's failure to trade him was predictable from the moment the Joe Carter signing was announced, given that other GMs knew that the Orioles would be releasing him in just a few days.
Berroa was not eligible for free agency, but the Orioles decided not to offer him arbitration when he turned down their latest offer. (The Os did offer arbitration to Jeffrey Hammonds, Armando Benitez, and Tony Tarasco.) Allegedly the Orioles were afraid he would win too high a salary in arbitration, but given their recent free-spending ways on highly questionable acquisitions like Norm Charlton, Joe Carter, and Doug Drabek, this explanation sounds fishy.
The Orioles made it clear that they were unhappy with Berroa almost from
the moment he was acquired. The two reasons most often cited include
his lack of defensive skills and his "undisciplined" approach at the plate.
Since both of these factors were evident long before the Orioles traded for
him, however, it is unclear why the Orioles would have been surprised by
these traits, and the reasons given may be camaflauge for personality conflicts of some sort.
The Orioles re-signed Harold Baines to a one year contract worth approximately $1.1 million. Baines, who had been let go by Pat Gillick after 3 seasons as Baltimore's DH, had spent a year and a half with his original team, the White Sox, before being reacquired by the Orioles this past midseason in a tacit admission by Gillick that the original decision to let the Eastern Shore native go was a mistake.
Baines is very popular in Baltimore, and is expected to be the full-time designated hitter versus right handed pitching. It is unclear, however, how playing time at DH will be allocated between Baines and Joe Carter, given Carter's much larger salary. It is clear, however, that if talent is the main determinant, Baines will get all of the playing time.
Baines reportedly turned down a higher contract offer from the Yankees before
signing with the Orioles. To make room for Baines on the 40-man roster, Willis
Otanez, who had been acquired off of waivers from the Mariners a few seasons
ago, was designated for assignment. Otanez has no future as a starter, but
could be a major league utility infielder.
The Orioles signed reliever Norm Charlton to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. Charlton is guaranteed $350,000, and $650,000 if he makes the roster. He can earn up to $2.1 million with incentives, depending on playing time.
Charlton, a 35-year old left hander, was completely ineffective last season, posting an ERA over 7 and almost singlehandedly prompting the Mariners' trade of valued prospect Jose Cruz Jr. The Os loss of Randy Myers to the Blue Jays clearly prompted this signing, but given the previous signing of Doug Drabek, if Charlton makes the team, it will make it virtually impossible for Rick Krivda or Nerio Rodriguez to fit onto the roster.
It is unclear how Charlton would fit into a bullpen mix which includes veterans Jesse Orosco, Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills, Terry Mathews, and the only young player on the Orioles, Armando Benitez. Statements by the Orioles indicate that he could be used either as closer or in the setup role, but what an individual who was arguably the worst reliever in the league in 1997 can contribute in either of these roles has not been explained.
There appears to be some confusion in the front office, since assistant GM
Kevin Malone cited Charlton's "durability" as one of his strengths, while
Charlton and unnamed "Orioles officials" blamed "overwork" for his disastrous 1997.
The Orioles signed free agent Joe Carter to a $3.3 million contract. The 38-year old former Cub, Indian, Padre, and Blue Jay is expected to get playing time as an outfielder and designated hitter for the Orioles. Carter, whose on-base has always been poor and who has never been an elite slugger, had an utterly disastrous 1997 season, hitting worse than the average second baseman while playing at offensive positions like first base, DH, and corner outfielder.
This signing almost certainly signals the end of Geronimo Berroa's brief tenure with the Orioles. But where Carter, who was almost certainly the worst regular in baseball last season, fits on a team that already has Eric Davis, Tony Tarasco, Jeffrey Hammonds, BJ Surhoff, Rafael Palmeiro, and Harold Baines at the positions Carter plays, is murky.
It is also strange that a team which was already one of the oldest in
baseball would sign a 38 year old player. Both the Twins and Angels had
expressed some interest in Carter, but he was not considered a top free
agent and was not expected to command top dollar. Why the Orioles
offered him as much as they were reportedly willing to offer Berroa is uncertain.
This signing reunites Drabek with his old pitching coach Ray Miller from Pittsburgh, where Drabek had his best years. Miller, however, does not seem to be aware that Drabek's tenure with the Pirates ended years ago, and that Drabek has not been able to duplicate this success in recent years, struggling badly with the Astros for two years and the White Sox last year, finishing with an ERA well over 5.
This signing makes Mike Mussina the youngest member of the rotation, at 29,
and almost certainly means Rick Krivda will never pitch for the Orioles, and
that Nerio Rodriguez will spend a second season in AAA. The Orioles did not
explain what they felt Drabek could offer that farm system products like
Rodriguez and Krivda could not. To make room for Drabek on the 40-man
roster, the Orioles waived journeyman reliever Brian Williams, who appeared
briefly for the Orioles but who has never been an effective major league pitcher.