Orioles sitting tight . . . for now

September 18, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The 1994 baseball season barely had been pronounced over when the Texas Rangers, reassigning general manager Tom Grieve, and the Kansas City Royals, firing manager Hal McRae, sprang into action.

Meanwhile, all remains quiet on the Orioles front.

For the moment.

"Major changes in the front office or on the field, if any are to be made, likely will be made the first week of November," said Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who is in Los Angeles today to meet with officials of the Los Angeles Rams.

Off-season changes could involve Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson and Johnny Oates, but Angelos, sidetracked by baseball's labor problems the past couple of months, has not yet devoted his attention to 1995.

When he does, one possible scenario has Angelos changing Hemond's title to vice chairman, where he would not be as involved in day-to-day personnel matters, and bumping Robinson from assistant general manager to GM. The Orioles' other assistant general manager, Doug Melvin, has received permission to meet with the Rangers about their GM post.

As for Oates, his contract runs through the 1995 season and Angelos has not finalized his decision on the manager's future, but it appears likely Angelos will make a change.

If he does, look for these names to be among the candidates to surface: Orioles first base coach Davey Lopes, Cincinnati Reds manager Davey Johnson, Albuquerque Dukes manager Rick Dempsey.

If Oates is not retained, pitching coach Dick Bosman and hitting instructor Greg Biagini likewise will be replaced. Former Orioles Mike Flanagan and Merv Rettenmund, now a San Diego Padres hitting instructor, are possible successors.

In light of a strike that wiped out nearly a third of the season, several clubs are expected to curtail free-agent spending. Angelos, however, said the Orioles would not be among those tightening the payroll.

"That doesn't change my mind," Angelos said. "We want a

winner. I want a winner. The investors want a winner. Above all, the fans want a winner, and we're going to do our best to give them one."

Depending on the terms of the labor settlement, Jack McDowell of the Chicago White Sox and Tom Gordon of the Kansas City Royals could become eligible to file for free agency, though both pitchers fall just days short of six years' service time, thanks to the strike.

The more affordable Gordon would seem a better fit for the Orioles, who also will look into acquiring pitching through trade (Kansas City's Kevin Appier).

"We don't need to do a lot," Robinson said. "The nucleus of this ballclub is fine. We still have to look for a front-line starting pitcher and see if we can improve the bullpen and maybe tinker with the club's role players. Other than that, I think we have a championship-caliber club. The talent is there. It's not going to take an awful lot for us to get there."

Some of the decisions facing the Orioles are obvious. For example, two potential free agents -- third baseman Chris Sabo and center fielder Mike Devereaux -- will play elsewhere.

Count on the Orioles trying to re-sign potential free agents Harold Baines and Mark McLemore. They have options on Jamie Moyer and Mark Eichhorn for 1995 and plan to keep both of them.

Tim Hulett? Lee Smith?

Hulett can play third, short and second, but a roster spot might be more difficult to come by in 1995 because Manny Alexander is out of contract options. Still, Alexander seemingly is more valuable as trade bait than as a utility player because shortstop is his best position.

The Orioles would like to have Smith back, but clubs who have no other potential closers might be willing to bid higher than the Orioles, who have rookie sensation Armando Benitez and veteran Alan Mills available.

On the medical front, the condition of Jeffrey Hammonds' right knee remains an issue.

"At this time, we haven't done anything," Hemond said.

"We may at some point, but when he left he was OK to play and didn't need any particular attention at that time. I haven't talked to our doctor about it yet, but we will stay on top of it."

Assuming Hammonds is healthy and Devereaux leaves the organization, the Orioles will have one opening in the outfield.

They could fill it by signing a free-agent outfielder or second baseman (Mariano Duncan), shifting McLemore back to the outfield, or they could stay within the organization and give one of their Triple-A outfielders a chance. Leaving McLemore at second is the most likely avenue the Orioles will take.

Damon Buford, a potential Gold Glove outfielder, and Sherman Obando, one of the top hitters in the minor leagues, are eager for a shot with the Orioles. Mark Smith, an adequate hitting and fielding prospect, also figures in the mix.

"If Buford is given the chance to play, he would improve and mature as an offensive player," Robinson said. "Sherman xTC showed last year he could hold his own offensively. He definitely has shown he can handle his bat up here. He would be of use to a club offensively and also could be used in the outfield on occasion. I would feel comfortable with them on the team."

At the same time, Robinson said, he does not think bringing in someone from outside the organization would kill the confidence of young players throughout the system.

"You always put the best ballclub possible you can on the field," Robinson said. "You can't be afraid to trade young players to get to that point."

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