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Orioles, Nats in Similar Shape: Talking with Tim Kurkjian

September 19, 2006

By Craig Heist

With just one week left in the season, the Orioles have already announced manager Sam Perlozzo will return for the 2007 season. Down the road in Washington, it looks as though Hall of Famer Frank Robinson's run in uniform will end at age 71.

As both organizations prepare for a busy off-season, I sat down with ESPN the Magazine's Tim Kurkjian to talk about the Orioles and the Nationals to get his perspective on which direction each franchise is headed in.


ESPN's Tim Kurkjian thinks Sam Perlozzo "deserves another year."
(Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
CH: The Orioles announced this week that Sam Perlozzo will be back as manager despite a ninth straight losing season. Good move or not?

TK: Yeah, I think he deserves another year. This has not been a good year for the Orioles, and I don't think anyone thought it was going to be a good year for the Orioles. The thought of blaming the manager for anything that has happened to this team is just ridiculous.

I firmly believe that in most cases, it is not the manager's fault…He just doesn't have enough good players on this team. It's that simple. When you don't have enough good players you aren't going to win enough games.

CH: What do you think needs to happen here? I mean, we have seen [Erik] Bedard turn the corner. [Adam] Loewen is coming around. They have [Kris] Benson who can be a stabilizing force and has pitched, overall, better than his record indicates. But they really need more pitching.

TK: Well, they really do, but there are days where Loewen pitches and then [Chris] Ray comes in and finishes and you say, hey, they got something going here. [ Daniel] Cabrera pitches great, then Bedard pitches great, and you start to think, "Well, at least they are developing some young players."

There is at least some hope with some of the kids. That's the most important thing here. All the years that I covered the team, they didn't develop anybody and now they are starting to bring some people in. But they need a lot more. They need some veteran arms, some really good veteran guys at the top of the rotation to help the kids along.

Unfortunately, in free agency, those guys aren't out there very often, and they aren't picking the Orioles first these days either, and that's a real problem. There has to be a blend of older guys and younger guys, and that's what the Orioles need, but it's scarce out there.

CH: In the free agent market, the one guy out there who immediately comes to mind is Barry Zito. Do you think he would come here?

TK: I don't think Barry Zito is coming [to Baltimore]. It's not like the Orioles wouldn't want him, but he is going to have his choice of wherever he wants to go, because he and Jason Schmidt and a couple others are the prime guys out there.

When you are among the prime guys out there, you know [which teams are] first in line. It's the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Mets and the teams with the really big pay rolls who sell out every night.

Now maybe Barry Zito is an odd enough guy, and I mean that in a good sense, in where he doesn't want to go pitch in the limelight. He wants to pitch like he pitched in Oakland, so maybe Baltimore is perfect for him. But [the Orioles] are going to have to come up with an enormous amount of money to sign him.

CH: Back to Perlozzo for a minute. Is Sam the right guy for this job?

TK: I think he is. Give him some players to work with and see how he does. If you give him the horses and then it doesn't get done, then you make a decision. Just look out on the field. Look at the division they are in. Look at the players they have.

"There are days where [Adam] Loewen (above) pitches and then [Chris] Ray comes in and finishes and you say, hey, they got something going here." -- ESPN's Tim Kurkjian
(Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
They are trying, and they aren't giving up, and that's a good thing, and it is the managers fault if they do give up, and I haven't seen any of that. You can't win without players.

CH: Maybe the new MASN television deal can help fund some of this and increase the payroll a bit and the Orioles 'can be more competitive.

TK: Well, it's going to have to. Money is what it's all about. It's all about having enough money to buy and sell and do what you need to do, and the Orioles aren't in that boat anymore.


CH: Let's hop down the Parkway for a minute. Frank Robinson is probably gone after this season, and that's a shame.

TK: I would think Frank is not going to be back. That's my guess. I know he would like to come back. I would like to see him come back, but that's not my call. I think with new ownership, they are going to have their own call on a lot of things.

I think a lot of things are going to start to change, and already we have seen that slowly happening. They have the keys to the car, and they can do whatever they want, and my guess is that Frank is not going to be a part of that.

CH: Davey Johnson is a consultant in the organization now. There has been some talk in recent weeks about Bobby Valentine's name being thrown into the mix. What are you hearing?

TK: Again, those names are speculative, and they both make a lot of sense. I still think Johnson can manage, and Bobby Valentine is a great manager, but [the Nationals] are going to go with a younger guy. As we know, they are trying to build with some younger players, and with younger players you need a younger type of manager.

Johnson has been out of the business for a while, Bobby has been in Japan, and even though I would hire either one of those guys tomorrow if I were in charge. [The Nationals] are looking in a different direction, and I don't blame them for that.

CH: Well, the biggest problem is their pitching. John Patterson went down early. Livan Hernandez didn't pitch as well as everyone thought he would. Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio have been anything but stellar. The Nats really need to go out and get some pitching.

TK: Right, but at least they have an owner in place now, and they can go out and do it right in the off-season. The shame of what has happened to the Nationals is that they went an entire off-season without really being able to do what they needed to do. Last year was really the year they needed to go and get some pitching, and now it's showing up in the won-loss record.

They have to do the same thing this year, but they are in the same boat as the Orioles. They need Jason Schmidt…but in the end if you're Jason Schmidt and you have a chance to go home to Seattle or return to the Giants or go for the big money in New York, those are all going to be better options than coming to Baltimore or Washington. That's the problem.

CH: Tim, as a local guy who is from down that way, are you as biased as I am in saying Ryan Zimmerman should be the Rookie of the Year?

TK: Well, I think he is going to be the Rookie of the Year, but there are so many candidates in the National League, it's amazing. The whole Florida Marlins team is a candidate. It's unbelievable.

CH: And Dan Uggla especially.

TK: Uggla especially. [Hanley] Ramirez and some of those pitchers--all rookies. This is the year of the rookie and if you win the Rookie of the Year this year, in either league, you are really doing something. I am not sure I have ever seen a rookie crop, especially pitchers, like I have seen this year.

CH: Can the Nationals sign Alfonso Soriano?

TK: I don't think so. I hope he signs for their sake. I think it would be great for baseball if he did. I mean, if he just goes to the highest bidder again, I am not sure that helps the game. He wants to come back but they are going to have to pump out the money.

CH: He never knew how much his stock was going to rise for playing the outfield after all the things we went through in spring training.

TK: Well, good for him for finally understanding how much your value increases when you show people, A: I can do two positions instead of just one; and B: I am willing to try this for the good of the team. When you sit down and not play, which he considered doing, you kill your stock. He improved it by at least showing everybody "I care about playing."

Issue 1.22: September 21, 2006