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Orioles hope Lynn boosts offense; Rivers' leadoff feats recalled

By Phil Elderkin / April 16, 1985



Basically there are three ways a major league team can help itself -- by digging into its minor league farm system; by trading for an established regular; or by paying big bucks to a free agent with a reputation for turning teams around. Since no franchise in recent years has had better success growing its own stars than Baltimore, why would General Manager Hank Peters this past winter spend a total of $11.4 million to sign free agents Fred Lynn, Don Aase, and Lee Lacy?

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Why, indeed, since Lynn never did that much for the California Angels; Aase had only begun to pitch again after two years on the disabled list; and Lacy, while a good hitter with both Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, has never been considered a regular?

Obviously, Peters's move had everything to do with the Orioles' 1984 fifth-place finish in the American League East -- behind Detroit, Toronto, Boston, and New York -- in what is generally considered to be baseball's toughest division.

Because Baltimore's production was down 118 runs last year from its pennant-winning total of 1983, and since none of the team's promising kid hitters are quite ready to be promoted, the choices were obvious: either go out and get some help or try to hang on until the youngsters came along. Peters clearly didn't want to take the latter course -- especially with a pitching staff good enough to challenge for another pennant with just a little more offensive help.

Much of Baltimore's RBI problem last year stemmed from the fact that the club had no consistently tough No. 5 and 6 hitters coming up after Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. Consequently the opposition ended a lot of potential rallies by taking the bat out of Murray's hands by walking him.

Even with Lynn batting fifth or sixth, of course, there are no guarantees that Baltimore can make up the 19 games it finished behind Detroit last year in the AL East. For one thing, although he has had three straight 20-plus homer years in California, Lynn never hit .300 as an Angel -- and in fact never came close to the offensive figures he produced before leaving Boston, when he achieved batting averages of .333, .331, and .314, drove in more than 100 runs a couple of times, and hit as many as 39 home runs in one season. Meanwhile Lacy, who was injured in spring training, may not be ready to play until the middle of May. And although Aase was the Orioles' winning pitcher in relief on opening day against Texas, Don still has to prove that he has the stamina to work more than twice a week.

Of course if Peters's gamble with Lynn, Lacy, and Aase pays off and Baltimore reaches the World Series, Hank is apt to be named Major League Executive of the Year. But if the Orioles don't at least win or finish well up in their division, manager Joe Altobelli may find himself working elsewhere in the club's organization next season.