- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

BALTIMORE The Baltimore Orioles' offseason checklist was constructed around one principal priority: bring in a middle-of-the-order bat to anchor a lineup full of solid but not game-changing hitters, a guy who could make the players around him more of a threat.
With less than two weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report for spring training and eight weeks until Opening Day, the Orioles' quest has gone unsatisfied. The big-name free agents they have pursued Cliff Floyd, Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Cruz Jr. have signed elsewhere, often for more money, as the club's front office stays committed to landing the right player at the right price.
With the 2002-03 free agent class all but bereft of power hitters, the club will seek to trade for a power hitter, banking that some clubs will have to trim payroll and unload a run-producing bat.
The lack of a new and proven run-producer weighed heavily on many of the 11,000 fans who attended yesterday's Fan Fest at Baltimore Convention Center wondering if 2003 will be any more successful than the last two 98- and 95-loss seasons. And what if a good trade scenario doesn't present itself? What if Baltimore enters the season with essentially the same lineup as last season, when it finished 13th out of 14 American League teams in runs scored and last in batting average?
No need to worry, manager Mike Hargrove and players said yesterday. Given the good health of David Segui, Jeff Conine, Jay Gibbons and Gary Matthews Jr. all of whom were injured for various stretches last season they say the lineup can produce better than it did a season ago.
"Obviously, given the choice of one or the other, I'd rather have the big bat added I think all of us would, Jim [Beattie] and Mike [Flanagan] included," Hargrove said, referring to Baltimore's two from office leaders. "But if it doesn't happen, I'm still very encouraged and enthusiastic about this team, I really am. … If we come out of spring training with the people that we have available, it's not the end of the world. But obviously a bat would help."
Among potential acquisitions for Baltimore are the New York Yankees' Raul Mondesi, likely relegated to a reserve role in New York by the signing of Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui, and Kansas City outfielder Carlos Beltran, who would command a significant package in return.
Orioles officials have indicated they are not likely to pursue New York Mets outfielder Jeromy Burnitz or Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who will carry contracts in the $12million range this season.
What the Orioles have now in the middle of their order is essentially a group of solid three-, five- and six-hole hitter types in Segui, Conine, Gibbons, Tony Batista, and Marty Cordova solid, that is, when they're not injured.
Hargrove indicated yesterday that Segui is fine and swinging from both sides of the plate after a wrist injury sidelined him for all but 26 games last season. Gibbons also should be ready for spring training though he picked up a bat for the first time last week after undergoing wrist surgery in November. He needed a second surgery to remove a suture left over from the original surgery to heal a broken hamate bone.
"Our team's got to stay together as far as our health," Conine said. "If you don't have the same guys on the field every day and get that continuity going, then you're going to have some problems. … We've got a good team and have a very productive lineup if everybody stays together."
Conine himself missed seven weeks with a hamstring injury, Matthews sat out the season's last six weeks with a wrist injury. Injuries need to be dealt with and overcome by every team in every season, but their losses seemed to particularly cripple the Orioles, who didn't have the quality depth to compensate.
With or without a new bat in the lineup by Opening Day, they're banking being injury-free in 2003.
"Another bat could help you always want another bat in the lineup," Gibbons said. "It could help me, it would help everybody out. You're a young hitter, you see more pitches to hit. But I think what we have right now is pretty good [when were] healthy."

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