- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf visited the press box this spring in Fort Lauderdale for an Orioles exhibition game.Too bad Peter Angelos didn't offer him a job.They could do worse. In fact, they have done worse.
The Orioles youth movement engineered by Syd Thrift and the front office braintrust will expire this year with another losing season. Angelos has vowed publicly not to settle for another year of mediocrity. So when they finish this season with 70 wins and next to last in the American League East, the owner will go out and overspend on the few free agents who would want to come to Baltimore.
Will the circle ever be unbroken?
Under Angelos, the Orioles have gone from the elite of the league, with stars like Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina and Rafael Palmeiro, to an imitation of the Kansas City Royals. They played the free agent market just right under general manager Pat Gillick, who could have bought them time to develop young players, to create a cycle of replenishment befitting a team with the finances the Orioles had at their disposal.
The team crashed and burned after Gillick left, and after several more years of throwing worse money after bad Albert Belle, your tee time is 9 a.m. Angelos decided he would just settle for sprinkling his money around. That way the bad didn't hurt so much unless you were an Orioles ticket buyer.
The Orioles opted for the minor league approach selling a minor league team with major league ticket prices. But that act is getting old, and it will pass away this year, if anyone notices.
The idea of watching young prospects emerge only works if the players you have are prospects. Do you know how many prospects the Orioles really have? In the past two years, the publication Baseball America listed just one Orioles player in each of its annual rankings of the top 100 minor league prospects and I'll bet that was just a token to get the team on the list.
There are no Alex Rodriguezs in the organization, no Vladimir Guerreros. You need two or three of them to be a competitive major league team these days, and the Orioles have none. Johnny Oates once said you need three players on the roster who can drive in 100 runs and score 100 runs to be a championship team. The Orioles may not have three players who will drive in 80 runs this season.
Don't tell me David Segui will. His body is breaking down. He played in just 82 games last year and was limited this spring because of an Achilles' tendon problem. He may soon be joining Albert on the fairway.
Don't tell me Marty Cordova. The Orioles' free agent prize had a career year last year with Cleveland, but that was when he was surrounded by a strong Indians lineup. He won't see Jim Thome or Roberto Alomar batting in front or behind him this season.
Jeff Conine, bless him, played his heart out last year for the Orioles, batting .311 with 97 RBI, and, at the age of 35, has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. But he will have to be better this year if the Orioles are to compete.
The pitching is even shakier. Scotty Erickson has had a fine career, but this is not the kind of guy you want leading your staff. He is not a No. 1 starter when he is healthy, let alone coming off major surgery. Jason Johnson proved to be a pleasant surprise last year as their most consistent starter, going 10-12. He will have to be better. Sidney Ponson will never reach his potential. It simply is not in him, and they should have dealt him before that was clear to everyone else in the league. Sure, Josh Towers looked like the real deal, winning six of his first seven starts. But then it seemed like he had been figured out the second time through the league, and he finished 8-10. He will have to be much better than that.
There probably will be some good players. Jerry Hairston may finally emerge as a consistent solid second baseman and leadoff hitter, and Jay Gibbons may be enough of a slugger to hit 30 home runs. But there is simply not enough there to build a winner, and people are wising up to that.
The one thing the Orioles have going for them the one thing Angelos has not been able to wreck is the ballpark. Camden Yards will still draw crowds. Even if the Orioles flounder around 70 wins, the ballpark will still draw 3 million fans.
They will definitely need a scorecard.


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