With O's on course, next GM should come from within organization

BASEBALL

July 10, 1994|By Tom Keegan

In some corners, the perception of Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos holds that he already has uttered, "Ready, aim," and is prepared to holler "fire" so loudly the walls of the B&O warehouse will come tumbling down.

Angelos, the thinking goes, will sweep everyone out of the front office if the Orioles don't make the playoffs this season and will steal Baltimore native John Schuerholz from the Atlanta Braves and make him the general manager.

Angelos likes the fact Schuerholz grew up in Baltimore and admires the work he has done with the Braves. Who wouldn't? Schuerholz has spent owner Ted Turner's money wisely, acquiring free agents Terry Pendleton and Greg Maddux and trading for Fred McGriff.

Never mind that current Braves manager and former GM Bobby Cox and scouting director Paul Snyder were the true architects of the Braves. Cox stubbornly refused to trade young pitchers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, turning down attractive offer after attractive offer.

Never mind that Schuerholz, during one eight-month stretch of his GM reign with the Kansas City Royals, traded David Cone and Danny Jackson and got in return Ed Hearn and Kurt Stillwell. Cone and Jackson went on to combine for a 43-11 record in 1988, finishing second and third to O(times 59)rel Hershiser in the Cy Young Award voting.

These realities notwithstanding, Schuerholz deserves most of the praise he gets.

But as the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The Orioles ain't broke.

Through the combined efforts of scouting director Gary Nickels and his staff, and assistant general manager Doug Melvin, the once-laughable farm system steadily has gained momentum.

In order of their trade value, pitching prospects Jimmy Haynes, Armando Benitez, Brian Sackinsky, Scott Klingenbeck and Rick Krivda have drawn the attention of other organizations.

Swift Curtis Goodwin and strong-armed Alex Ochoa give the Orioles a pair of players most scouts believe will be everyday outfielders in the major leagues by 1996, perhaps even impact players.

The Orioles could have traded one of these top prospects in a panicky attempt to bolster their starting rotation. Wisely, they have held onto them.

"It's exciting now to be able to rattle those names off," assistant general manager Frank Robinson said. "That all goes back to the scouting philosophy of going out and scouting aggressively. Not only scouting these guys, but also signing them."

Starting with 1988, the year Cone and Jackson won the silver and bronze medals in the Cy Young race, every Orioles first-round draft choice has made it to the majors leagues with the exception of 1993 pick Jay Powell.

The Orioles did just as well this past off-season on the free-agent market as they have in the amateur free-agent draft.

With Angelos, general manager Roland Hemond, Robinson and Melvin pooling input, the Orioles signed five free agents. Three -- (Rafael Palmeiro, Lee Smith and Mark Eichhorn) have been huge successes, one (Chris Sabo) a solid acquisition, one (Sid Fernandez) a mild disappointment thus far.

Sure, the Glenn Davis trade (Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley) was nothing short of atrocious, but other than that, can you name a young talent the Orioles gave up who has come back to haunt them?

The Brady Anderson and Chris Hoiles deals more than make up for the Davis blunder. Hemond acquired Anderson and Schilling for Mike Boddicker and got Hoiles for Fred Lynn.

Subtract Schilling from the equation because he was acquired and dealt. What remains is a ledger in which the Orioles subtracted Harnisch, Finley, Boddicker and Lynn and added Anderson and Hoiles.

Boddicker and Lynn have retired. Would you trade Anderson and Hoiles for Finley and Harnisch? If you would, I'll trade you my eight-track player for your compact disc player.

By recognizing they were more than one player away in 1992 and 1993, the Orioles held onto the likes of Jeffrey Hammonds, instead of panicking him away in a trade.

It has become fashionable to talk about Orioles front-office gridlock these days, but the truth is the impending strike and divisional realignment are responsible for trade inactivity.

"There are no egos up here," Robinson said. "If you asked Roland if he has an ego he would ask you if you have a dictionary so that he could look the word up. Doug wants to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. I want to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. Roland wants to continue to be a GM and there's nothing wrong with that. No one's trying to push anyone out of the way or step on anyone. There is no gridlock. It works."

Said Melvin: "We all have specific roles. I make sure I've got a feel for our players and prospects. We all have our different areas we are responsible for. It works OK."

Angelos, not as ignorant on baseball matters as some think, is smart enough to realize that the best means of maintaining the organization's momentum is to stay within.

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