The future of Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates officially remains undetermined, but there are indications that his return for the 1992 season is a foregone conclusion.
The Washington Post, quoting unnamed team sources, reported yesterday that Oates' contract would be renewed before the end of this season, though the team official who should know the most about the situation said it hasn't even been discussed.
General manager Roland Hemond said yesterday that Oates' status had not been addressed at the upper levels of Orioles management.
"I don't know where that would come from," he said. "That hasn't been discussed yet. It will be addressed at the proper time."
Not that there is any reason to doubt that Oates will be back, other than the club's wait-and-see approach. He inherited a team in crisis and has taken it in the direction favored by the front office. No one expected him to lead the club back into contention after injuries depleted the offensive lineup and the starting rotation disintegrated.
Hemond won't say why the Orioles have waited to re-sign Oates, but he will say that Oates has done nothing to cast doubt on his future with the club.
"John is a very capable man," Hemond said. "He has done a fine job. But we just haven't addressed [the contract] yet. When we do, there will be an announcement.
"People are always trying to rush you into doing things when it's not necessary to be doing them. Clubs do what they feel they should."
Why wait? The most likely explanation may be that the front office is anticipating changes in the coaching staff and realizes that rehiring Oates now without re-upping his coaches would make that too obvious.
Oates remains in the dark, but he refuses to campaign for the job or question the way the club is handling the situation.
"I don't know anything about it," Oates said yesterday. "The story brought it to my attention. I have not been offered a contract."
Perhaps he would be more comfortable with the security of a new contract, but his job description is the same either way. He has to try to win a respectable number of games in September while shaping the club for the future.
Oates has been confident enough to put the youth movement first, even though the presence of several inexperienced pitchers in the starting rotation -- particularly Class AA prospect Arthur Rhodes -- could cost the club a few victories.