TORONTO -- Anybody who thought the Orioles gambled with their team chemistry by making too many changes last winter would be shocked by the look of the Toronto Blue Jays this season.
What Orioles general manager Roland Hemond did to his club during the off-season was an oil change compared to the Blue Jays' overhaul. It's doubtful if any other World Series champion has undergone such a make-over.
Eight players who had significant roles in Toronto's first World Series victory are gone. So are four other role performers, including a prime prospect who is a former minor-league player of the year.
General manager Pat Gillick said the new look is not completely by design.
"In some cases -- Pat Tabler, Rance Mulliniks, Candy Maldonado, Tom Henke -- we made the determination that we wouldn't try to re-sign them," said Gillick.
"The others [who were lost to free agency] weren't baseball decisions. The only reason we couldn't keep them was financial. If you can't pay them . . . well, I don't know how else to say it . . . you just can't pay them."
Before clinching the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, Gillick denied reports he was under orders to slash the payroll. He also said the Blue Jays, who had 14 players eligible for free agency, would be able to sign "the ones we want to keep."
He says now that was a miscalculation, but makes no apologies. His first priority was outfielder Joe Carter, who signed on for another term in Toronto after being pursued by the Kansas City Royals.
But pitchers David Cone and Jimmy Key, designated hitter Dave Winfield and shortstop Manuel Lee walked away, a fact not lost on Hemond.
"It shows how hard it is to repeat," said the Orioles GM. "Players always say they want to be with a winner, but then they leave winning clubs.
"It's not easy, but the Blue Jays made a lot of sound decisions," Hemond added. "But, like any other team, they can't predict how players they obtained will do. They've had some problems [with injuries], but they're still in pretty good shape."
He didn't expect the exodus to be as extensive, but Gillick was prepared to move in other directions.
"I really thought we'd be able to sign Winfield and either Cone or Key," he said. "With Winfield and Key, our problem wasn't money; it was length of contract. With Cone, it was strictly dollars."
That's an admission few thought would come from the Blue Jays. But it's also a sign that there's a limit, even for the most generous, and that the Blue Jays are as resourceful as they are wealthy. As soon as he realized Winfield was out of the picture, Gillick signed Paul Molitor before anyone else knew either side had an interest in the other.
Andy MacPhail, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, said the Blue Jays' turnover is a combination of baseball sense and a sign of the times.
"They are an awfully good organization," said MacPhail. "They have a good understanding of what they want to do -- and the resources to do it.
"I'm sure they made some selective judgments, but it tells you something about our system when the team with the highest payroll cannot retain its players. One of the prices we pay in today's system is a lack of continuity."
"When we won , we lost seven players -- but except for [Jack] Morris, they weren't marquee players." And neither do the Twins have the financial clout of the Blue Jays.
Toronto's payroll is $46 million, exactly where Gillick said it would last October. How it got to that point, however, required some maneuvering, including some gambles that could backfire.
The Blue Jays committed $10 million to Morris for two years, luring him away from the Twins after the 1991 season. Morris was ineffective late last season and has had a horrible start this year. He will miss his start against the Orioles on Saturday, and there are hints he could be finished because of a damaged rotator cuff.
When he couldn't keep Key or Cone, Gillick regrouped with Dave Stewart, who's on the disabled list with his $4 million salary. Toss in Carter's $6 million and Molitor's $4 million, and four players -- two of them currently disabled -- claim 41 percent ($19 million) of the Blue Jays' payroll.
"Stewart is a couple of weeks away -- at least," said Gillick. "And Morris won't pitch this weekend. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
There are no guarantees on the $9 million investment in Morris and Stewart, but the Blue Jays are not floating aimlessly. The organization is well-stocked for prospects, a situation that should only improve.
The Blue Jays did not attempt to re-sign Henke because they had Duane Ward in the wings. Pat Hentgen is 4-1 as Stewart's replacement. Scott Brow, who will face the Orioles tonight, was 14-2 in Single-A last year. And the Blue Jays still have hope for Al Leiter, who comes off the disabled list this weekend.