- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

BALTIMORE As the Baltimore Orioles' new front office team begins to reshape the organization in preparation for baseball's annual winter meetings, one of its potential pieces of trade bait suddenly has lost his marketability.

Right-hander Scott Erickson, who struggled last season in his return from major elbow surgery, has a torn labrum in his right shoulder, it was announced yesterday.

Club officials said Erickson will not undergo surgery and should be ready to start spring training with the rest of the Baltimore pitching staff, but the injury likely quashes any possibility of a rumored trade with the New York Mets for shortstop Rey Ordonez.

A deal involving the pair of veterans had been suggested by New York media outlets in the last week, once it became known that the Orioles were searching for a new shortstop after severing ties with Mike Bordick.

Erickson, who went 5-12 with a 5.55 ERA last season, met with orthopedist Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, where the torn labrum was discovered. Mike Flanagan, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations, said yesterday that it's possible Erickson had been pitching with the tear for some time and that it may predate his 2000 elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

"Whether it ends up being problematic through next year or not is probably not going to be known until spring training," said Jim Beattie, executive VP of baseball operations. "But it's something he's going to use rehab, not surgery, on right now."

The announcement of Erickson's injury headlined a busy day at the B&O Warehouse that also saw Flanagan and Beattie make several key decisions on front office personnel.

In the most dramatic move, Don Buford was removed as director of minor league operations and will be reassigned within the organization, the first act by the new regime to repair a farm system whose teams finished a combined 102 games under .500 last season.

"We're going to concentrate on the minor leagues, and we're going to concentrate heavy on the draft," Flanagan said. "It will take a period of time to develop players through that system, so we have to address that and get it going."

Flanagan and Beattie, however, will retain scouting director Tony DeMacio, whose job also had been in jeopardy. The duo plans to hire a replacement for Buford "ASAP," in Beattie's words, with the intention of keeping the scouting and player development departments under one roof to avoid the "friction" that Flanagan said had been apparent at times.

In other moves, Ed Kenney, a special assistant to former VP Syd Thrift who handles many of the club's administrative matters, had his contract renewed. Danny Garcia, another Thrift assistant, was not retained.

Only one week into their new jobs, Flanagan and Beattie will head to Nashville, Tenn., tomorrow for the start of the winter meetings, with their wish list fairly obvious.

"We're looking hard at shortstops," Flanagan said. "We're going to be looking for a couple of bats. We're going to be looking to strengthen the club in any way we can."

Finding a shortstop to replace Bordick, who turned down a one-year, $1.5million offer from the club and was not offered arbitration before last Saturday's deadline, is the Orioles' top priority.

With Ordonez now likely out of the picture because of Erickson's injury, Beattie named four potential free-agent targets: San Diego's Deivi Cruz, Milwaukee's Jose Hernandez, Boston's Rey Sanchez and Tampa Bay's Chris Gomez. Hernandez is the best offensive player among them, Sanchez the best defensive player.

As far as other positions go, Flanagan and Beattie said they've had contact with about half of the 29 other franchises since taking over. Beattie specifically mentioned that he spoke yesterday with Montreal Expos general manager Omar Minaya, who is looking to trim payroll and apparently is willing to listen to offers for such stars as right-hander Bartolo Colon, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and third baseman Fernando Tatis.

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