- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

BALTIMORE The Baltimore Orioles are having a bad case of spring training deja vu.

There are so many new faces in the Camden Yards clubhouse these days that many longtime Orioles found themselves making introductions to newly arrived teammates before yesterday's game against the Cleveland Indians.

"Hi, I'm so-and-so, pleased to meet you."

That's now the Oriole way. Yesterday three more new faces appeared.

One might expect these types of things in February in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but this is Baltimore in July. This meet-and-greet show in the clubhouse was necessary because of the rash of trades made by the Orioles.

In a 48-hour span over the weekend, the Orioles traded away veterans Mike Bordick, Charles Johnson, Harold Baines and Mike Timlin and waived Rich Amaral.

The front office, possibly realizing that the roster had more problems than solutions, decided to conduct a fire sale. The Orioles actively dumped high-priced veterans for prospects in an attempt to get younger and diminish the team's $80 million payroll.

"It's good to be here; I'm in a uniform ready to play baseball," said new arrival Brook Fordyce, a catcher. "It could be worse."

Things have been tough for the Orioles this year, and that's why the club is being reconstructed. Fans might not like this process because it could take at least three years before the Orioles again can be taken seriously as contenders.

The Orioles went wire-to-wire in 1997 in winning the American League East. The organization was convinced that team's nucleus would bring a World Series championship to the city. But after paying big money for players and enduring two losing seasons and probably a third, the deep-pocketed Orioles appear to have hoisted the white flag.

And the Orioles may not be done. Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, has until today's 4 p.m. trading deadline to purge the team further.

There has been talk that the first-place New York Yankees are interested in acquiring left fielder B.J. Surhoff and utility man Jeff Conine for first baseman Tino Martinez. The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly have inquired about first baseman Will Clark.

"There always are mixed emotions because we gave up four good guys that are good people besides having a lot of talent," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Anytime you want good people in return, you have to give up good people.

"It's never easy to say goodbye to guys you pretty much live with for a period of time. It's also exciting in that we are bringing back good younger players. Obviously, that's what we need to do here."

Last year the Orioles brass thought the problem was manager Ray Miller and the bullpen. The braintrust fired Miller, hired Hargrove, acquired a new set of pitchers for the bullpen and sent out the same cast of position players. But the club didn't improve this season. Baltimore is 45-58 this season compared with 46-57 at the same point in 1999.

Of the 10 players collected in the three weekend trades, only shortstop Melvin Mora, 28, and catcher Fordyce, 30, will become everyday players. The other eight, six of them pitchers, have been assigned to the farm system.

The Orioles hope a surplus of young pitchers means healthy competition for spots in the rotation next season. A youthful infusion of talent would certainly help a pitching staff that has the highest ERA (5.79) in baseball.

The pitching uncertainty is compounded by the impending free agency of ace Mike Mussina. Mussina already has turned down a five-year, $60 million contract extension from the Orioles. With the club committed to a rebuilding process, he may opt for a better situation.

"I think we made moves for a reason," reliever Mike Trombley said. "Get younger, get more speed, and I think we've done that. Who knows? Funny things happen I was in Minnesota last year with 14 rookies, and at times we played pretty good. I don't look at it as losing a season, I look at it as maybe the first step in building something."

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