- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

The Baltimore Orioles entered this offseason stating clearly what their most pressing needs were. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and manager Mike Hargrove on more than one occasion outlined the pieces they felt were most lacking from an organization that is coming off its fourth straight losing season.

The Orioles' winter wish list (in order of priority): a cleanup hitter, closer, corner outfielder and starting pitcher.

But with one month remaining until the start of spring training, Baltimore has made one significant offseason signing corner outfielder Marty Cordova while failing in several attempts to address its primary needs.

"Just because we didn't go out and sign a closer, just because we didn't go out and get a No.4 hitter doesn't mean that we feel we have not accomplished our goals," said Hargrove, in town yesterday for a team marketing function and autograph-signing session. "We still feel like we have people internally that can do that."

The Orioles courted several top-name players this winter, most notably slugger Juan Gonzalez, reliever Jason Isringhausen and third baseman Scott Rolen (the subject of a trade proposal with Philadelphia that would have cost Baltimore as many as five players).

None, of course, wound up wearing an Oriole uniform. Gonzalez signed with the Texas Rangers this week for a reported $24million over two years, Isringhausen signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in December and the potential deal for Rolen fell through when Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos found out how much it would cost to sign the star third baseman to a mammoth contract extension.

So when camp opens next month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Hargrove will look to continue the rebuilding process with the status quo, which is fine with the third-year manager.

"If the worst that happens is we open the season with Jorge Julio or Kris Foster or [Willis] Roberts or [Buddy] Groom as our closer, if that's the worst thing that happens, that's not bad," Hargrove said. "Those are four pretty good candidates."

Barring any last-minute moves in the next month, the Orioles will have few roster spots up for grabs this spring. Cordova, who signed a three-year, $9.1million contract in December, will play either left field or right field and bat sixth or seventh. Unable to land a prize cleanup hitter, Baltimore will look to manufacture runs with David Segui, Jeff Conine and Tony Batista lined up in the heart of the batting order.

"That's the way it goes," Cordova said of the team's inability to sign a power hitter. "You only have so many positions that are open and so many teams that want a guy. Juan Gonzalez [his teammate last year with the Indians] had a choice of some other teams and decided to go to Texas. That's unfortunate for Baltimore. I'd love to have Juan Gonzalez in the lineup."

Shortstop Mike Bordick and outfielder/DH Jay Gibbons return from season-ending surgeries, and three starting pitchers from last season's rotation are assured of spots: Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Josh Towers. Right-hander Scott Erickson, who missed all of 2001 after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery, was nearly ready to return to the staff last fall, Hargrove said, and will compete with Johnson for the Opening Day assignment.

The No.5 starter will be chosen from a group that includes Calvin Maduro, Sean Douglass, Rick Bauer and John Stephens.

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