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  •   Dave Sheinin: Orioles to Begin Rebuilding

    Orioles Logo Dave Sheinin, The Post's beat reporter for the Orioles, was on Sports Online from Boston where he is covering the All-Star Game. Sheinin fielded questions about the All-Star Game and the state of Orioles. The transcript of the discussion follows.

    Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: I asked Richard Justice this question last week and wanted your opinion. Is B.J. Surhoff playing way over his head this season or has he moved up to the next tier of players who put these sort of numbers up every year, i.e. Rafael Palmiero?

    Dave Sheinin: For awhile, I thought B.J. was playing over his head, as you put it. But the longer the season goes on, and the longer he continues to produce the way he has, I am starting to believe he may be one of those players (such as Paul Molitor) who reach their peak around 35. B.J. himself has been at a loss to explain the boom in his production, but he is possibly the hardest-working player I've ever seen, and I believe that has a lot to do with it.

    Edgewater, Md.: Dave- Have you heard whether the dimensions of the proposed new Fenway are going to be identical to today's? Height of the new "monster"? Screen on top? Just curious.

    Dave Sheinin: I haven't heard much about the new Fenway. But I think it would be foolish to try to make an exact duplicate. There is and always will be only one Fenway Park. Better to keep it a beautiful memory than try to artificially re-create it.

    Rocco Siffredi, Italy: Dave, first of all, I have thoroughly enjoyed your work this season, especially your ability to capture the nuances of each game in your articles. I think your writing style should be an inspiration to all wannabe sports journalists.

    But flattery aside, here's my question: Is it any coincidence that the Dodgers are floundering under former O's soothsayer Kevin Malone? I think most of the Birds' current problems stem from horrid personnel decisions -for one, hiring Seattle's bullpen, from Heathcliff Slocumb to Norm Charlton to Mike Timlin, whom Baltimore routinely pummelled-. While the O's could benefit from a youth movement or two, Angelos has always maintained that he'll spend the big money to reel in whatever big name – Albert Belle – free agents he can. So, okay, my real question is this: do you think the Orioles braintrust will ever truly rebuild, or will their gm's just maintain the team's current holding pattern of mediocrity with overpaid veterens?

    Dave Sheinin: I think both the Orioles and Dodgers are learning the hard way the folly of trying to build a team solely by throwing money at free agents. Just as the Orioles' current problems aren't the sole responsibility of Frank Wren (he inherited many of the problems), all the Dodgers' problems should not be lumped on Kevin Malone. As for the Orioles' future, I believe Peter Angelos is serious about rebuilding this time, although the roster is full of long-term contracts and no-trade clauses, making it difficult to make wholesale changes.

    Falls Church, Va.: Is Orioles management having second thoughts about the loss of quality players like Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar, the money spent on Albert Belle, or is it pitching, pitching, pitching? If they could undo something they've done that helped land them in this fix, what do you think it would be?

    Dave Sheinin: That's a good question. They never intended to try to keep Alomar, and they probably ascribe his huge numbers this season to Alomar's tendency to play his best in the first year of a new contract (like he did with the Orioles). As for Palmeiro, they made a late attempt to try to keep him, but only after they failed to get Brian Jordan. I think the Orioles would like to have that one back. But the biggest mistake, by pure statistics alone, would have to be Mike Timlin. Locking him up for four years at $16 million looks bad now. But there was pressure on Frank Wren to get a closer. And they got one. He just hasn't been very effective.

    Fairfax City, Va.: In what will ultimately be another long-forgotten All-Star Game typically devoid of drama, why doesn't Major League Baseball do something to shorten the game so fans at home and at the game who were excited during the first inning are not cursing the game nine innings and 4½ hours later?

    Dave Sheinin: If it's devoid of drama, why would you even want to be watching it 4½ hours later?

    Springfield, Va.: Dave - why does the local media cover the Orioles like they are DC's team. I guarantee you that the Baltimore media does not cover the Redskins, Wizards & Caps like a Baltimore team. By adopting the O's, we have probably killed our chances of getting the Expos, or another team. Do you agree?

    Dave Sheinin: I have never thought of it that way. I think the Post covers the Orioles as an every day beat, just like the Redskins, Wizards and Caps, is because our readers are simply that interested in them. As the Orioles' lawyers would tell you, the club draws a sizeable percentage of its fans from D.C. and the surrounding suburbs. That is why the Orioles are dead-set against a team in D.C. I have never thought of the Post as being a hindrance to the effort to bring MLB baseball to the area.

    Alexandria, Va.: Which teams do you think is the biggest surprise in the AL and NL this season? Who do you think will be playing in October?

    Dave Sheinin: Biggest surprise in the AL might be Boston, which was supposed to suffer a huge offensive decline when Mo Vaughn left. Instead, they're the wild-card leaders. In the NL, no doubt it's Cincinnati, an example of a small-market club winning on effort, shrewdness and plenty of young talent. In October? A Cleveland-Yankees ALCS would be tantalizing. And in the NL, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are finally pitching to form, which makes the Braves look scary again. I guess I'm not exactly going out on a limb with those statements.

    New York, N.Y.: What will be the Orioles first trade following the break? I say, gut the team.

    Dave Sheinin: The first trade after the all-star break almost certainly will be Lenny Webster. They have to do something with him because he is on the disabled list, and they can't activate him without risking losing Mike Figga, whom they want to keep as their backup catcher. After that, Juan Guzman and Arthur Rhodes should be gone by the end of the month. Gutting the team is not so easy because of all the no-trade clauses (Albert Belle, Brady Anderson, etc.) and long-term contracts (Mike Timlin, Belle, Delino DeShields, etc.) To get rid of players like that would be very costly

    Arlington Va.: How do you think Orioles will play after the break?

    Dave Sheinin: It's not out of the question for the Orioles to put together another extended run, such as last year's, when they won 30 of their first 38 after the break. However, it's obvious the organization itself doesn't believe the team can contend, which is why they will try to scale down the roster as much as they can and rebuild. So, how the Orioles play in the second half depends on how widespread the "gutting" is and how the young players play.

    Charlotte, N.C.: Just recently Ray Miller had another obscenity-filled outburst after another late loss. While not as well-publicized as earlier ones, it was just as embarrassing. It's clear now that Angelos probably won't fire Miller this season, but will he attempt to muzzle him at all? Will he rethink firing Miller?

    Dave Sheinin: Honestly, I think Ray Miller has behaved very professionally, given the way things have gone. As someone who has covered a Jim Leyland team in the past, I can tell you that Miller is much more low-key and less inclined to outbursts than Leyland, who nonetheless taught Miller a lot about managing. Miller has never lambasted the media, even though we have all written some fairly scathing things. Two expletive-filled outbursts in a 35-51 first half is an acceptable ration.

    Arlington, Va.: Would you think it would benefit the Orioles to trade Scott Erickson, Juan Guzman, and Arthur Rhodes for prospects, preferably pitchers, if the Orioles don't get hot after the All Star Game?

    Dave Sheinin: I think trading Guzman and Rhodes makes a lot of sense. Guzman is at best a six-inning pitcher whose lack of focus will always outweigh his nasty stuff. He's perfect for a team with a solid bullpen who can cover those last three innings. Rhodes is a highly marketable pitcher – a power lefty – and has become so unhappy with the Orioles, his mental state is affecting his pitching. He probably needs a change of scenery. I am of the opinion that the Orioles should keep Erickson, unless the return in a trade is simply overwhelming. Now that it appears he has his mechanical problems straightened out, he is a valuable, 230-innings-a-year guy, which every rotation needs, especially one that includes two or three young pitchers, like the Orioles' likely will in 2000.

    San Francisco, Calif.: The fans obviously love the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game, but how do the players view the festivities? Juan Gonzalez's tantrums made me wonder whether the players consider it an honor to participate or if it's just another thing they have to do.

    Dave Sheinin: I don't want to stereotype or lump all the players together, but it does seem that the modern superstar is less inclined to participate and enjoy the All-Star Game and its festivities. Gonzalez is not the first player to back out – as Tom Boswell wrote today, Garry Templeton did it 20 years ago. Most players are a little more subtle about it, claiming an injury as the reason. Most players have an incentive clause in their contract (for $25,000 or $50,000) that pays them a bonus for making the All-Star team. I guess Gonzalez didn't need the money.

    Washington D.C.: What quality of prospects do you think the Orioles could get by trading their veterans?
    Specifically who could bring in the most?

    Dave Sheinin: There are clearly teams willing to give up top prospects to get what they need. (The Orioles used to be one of them, which is how the farm system came to be so depleted.) The Diamondbacks showed that just last week by giving up their best pitching prospect, Brad Penny, along with Vladimir Nunez, to get closer Matt Mantei. One thing no one disputes about Frank Wren: he knows how to build from the ground up. With Dave Dombrowski, he helped take the Marlins to a World Series title in the franchise's fifth season.

    Mesquite, Tx.: If you could make only ONE change to this team right now, what would that one change be?

    Dave Sheinin: Void the Albert Belle deal.

    Silver Spring, Md.: Dave,
    Who do you think will bear the brunt of the blame for the Orioles disastrous season? Will be Ray Miller, Frank Wren or both?

    Dave Sheinin: I think everyone deserves some of the blame, from the players to Miller to Wren and all the way up to Peter Angelos. There have been some short-sighted decisions made at the highest level of the organization that have come back to haunt them. There have been bad personnel moves. There have been winnable games lost due to questionable moves. And there have been many players who have failed to do their part. I think that's just about everybody. And come to think about it, my writing has been pretty awful on some days, too.

    Baltimore Md.: It is assumed based on his experience and integrity that Cal Ripken, Jr. is the leader of the team. How come everytime there is the slightest bit of controversy – the Rochester exhibition – he disappears?

    Dave Sheinin: Cal Ripken is many things, including perhaps the greatest ambassador in the game today, but he is not a true clubhouse leader. And he has never claimed to be.

    Arlington, Va.: Baseball has awarded four expansion teams in recent years. The D-Backs seem to be wildly successful, the Rockies need to get a better team, and the two Florida teams are just disasters – by attendance figures. How can an issue like expansion be studied so exhaustively by the league, and then they end up with new teams that regularly draw less than 20,000? In Florida, no less, where it's not cold for the first two months of the season. I am confident that, at least on weekends, there are 20,000 people at Camden Yards who live closer to DC than to Baltimore. Not only is it not fair, it defies logic.

    Dave Sheinin: I see where you are going with that. The Tampa Bay situation is awful. Folks from Tampa don't drive across the bay to St. Petersburg, where the stadium is, so the Devil Rays' target audience is about half what MLB thought it would be. South Florida never should have gotten a team without a planned new stadium, because Pro Player Stadium (formerly Joe Robbie) is simply not made for baseball. There is hope for the Marlins – the new owner, John Henry, has promised to fund a retractable-dome stadium out of his own pockets if he has to. I still don't know what that says about why D.C. hasn't gotten a team yet.

    Chicago, Il.: What do you think the Orioles will do this year and next year about the Delino DeShields and Hairston situation?

    Dave Sheinin: Remember that DeShields has been healthy for only a quarter of the season, so it is too early to say he was a free-agent bust. But in the big picture, Hairston is going to be a better player. And since the Orioles now seem committed to the big picture, I wouldn't be suprised if they try to deal DeShields. The only problem is DeShields is signed for 2½ more years and has about $10 million left on his contract. That's a lot of contract for someone to pick up.

    Anderson, S.C.: What names have you heard possibly replacing Ray Miller? Is it time for Angelos to get another "big name" like Eddie Murray or Don Baylor?

    Dave Sheinin: The "chic" managerial rumor these days is that Tony LaRussa will replace Miller. It makes sense of several levels: LaRussa's contract is up after this season, and he has not said anything about his plans. And his reputation is unparalleled. But it's too early to know whether the match can be made.

    Chevy Chase, Md.: Dave, of all the records that have a chance of falling – 30 wins, 70 home runs, 191 RBI – which do you think has the best chance of being eclipsed?

    Dave Sheinin: I'm going to predict that none of those three records will be broken this season. Players have been on pace to break all those records at the all-star break, and except for McGwire and Sosa last season, they always fall short.

    Philadelphia, Pa.: Hey Dave,
    What's the feeling around the clubhouse with the Orioles losing so many games? Do you think they think they can turn it around in the second half?

    Dave Sheinin: Actually, I was talking to Mike Bordick the other day, and I got the sense he honestly believed the Orioles could make a run and get back into contention. It's not impossible. Last year the Orioles were 15½ out of the wild-card lead at the break, and pulled into contention for a week or so. This year, they're not even that far back – only 12½ behind Boston. But nobody outside of the clubhouse believes they can contend.

    Washington, D.C: How is Ryan Minor doing and is he still on schedule to replace Cal? Does the O's picking up Cal's option affect this process in any way?

    Dave Sheinin: Ryan Minor had a slow start, but has turned it on lately, and he made the Triple-A All-Star Game. For awhile, it seemed he had been passed by Willis Otanez as the third baseman of the future, but Otanez was waived and later claimed by Toronto. For now, it appears Minor remains Ripken's eventual replacement. But having picked up Ripken's option, the Orioles are committed to Ripken playing another season. That's not to say Minor can't make the team next year and play behind Ripken, who is learning the value of days off.

    New York, N.Y.: Can we finally expect Ray Miller to be fired or are we stuck with him until the end of the season? If the Orioles are serious about rebuilding why not get an interim coach to bring in new blood?

    Dave Sheinin: Ray Miller has survived so many obvious firing situations that it now appears certain he will be allowed to finish the season.

    Fairfax, Va.: Since D.C. will not be getting a team, which other city has the current inside track? Portland? North Carolina?

    Dave Sheinin: I haven't heard too much lately on the areas most likely to receive expansion teams, but Portland and North Carolina certainly are the most discussed.

    Germantown, Md.: Do you think DC can be seriously considered for a baseball team when it didn't come close to filling RFK stadium for two exhibition games featuring Mark McGwire and the team that is supposedly moving here? Hey, even Baltimore was able to sell out exhibition football games after the Colts left.

    Dave Sheinin: I'm not so sure the level of interest can be measured by the attendance at those two games – even though McGwire is a huge draw, it's hard to drum up interest in two out-of-town teams playing a meaningless game. But people who oppose a baseball team in D.C. will certainly point to those attendance figures.

    Queens, N.Y.: Will the Orioles finish the season above .500? Will they even try to do so given this effort to rebuild?

    Dave Sheinin: Let's see... the Orioles are now 36-51. For the Orioles to finish the year at .500, they would have to go 45-30 in the second half. I doubt they can do that. However, just because they might trade off a few veterans and bring in some youngsters doesn't preclude them from playing well in the second half. In fact, you could argue that several of the team's deficiencies (speed, enthusiasm) will be strengthened by the presence of some young players. That's all the time we have with Dave Sheinin. Join us again next Tuesday for another edition of Sports Online.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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