SARASOTA, Fla. -- For seven weeks, Phil Regan had nothing to manage except hypotheticals and his patience. But yesterday, he awakened at 6 a.m. to be ready for an early-morning conference with general manager Roland Hemond regarding the return of the major-leaguers.
There was much to discuss, like when the workouts will begin and how long they will last, how to cram an entire spring training into just three weeks. "There are a lot of crazy questions [about logistics] we have to think about," Regan said a few hours before the owners were to meet in Chicago. "With a lot of it, we just have to wait and see what they decide."
Regan and Hemond discussed at length, too, about how to best take advantage of the buyer's market that exists for teams willing to spend money -- teams like the Orioles.
Hemond confirmed that the Orioles have resumed their pursuit of free-agent pitcher John Franco, who would become the team's closer, and have opened talks with the representative for free-agent right fielder Larry Walker.
The Orioles also have expressed interest in right-hander Jim Gott, who could be signed to bolster the team's weak middle relief. And within the next few days, they are expected to finalize a five-year, $17.25 million contract with catcher Chris Hoiles.
Regan is eager to learn more about the players currently on the roster, many of whom he hasn't seen. For instance:
* Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, coming back from knee surgery. "His knee is in great shape," Regan said. "They tell me he's way ahead of schedule. But how is it going to react after two weeks of training every day? Is it going to swell up? To me, that's a big question for us that we need answered."
* Center fielder Curtis Goodwin, who could be given a shot to play center field and lead off, if the team doesn't sign a marquee outfielder like Walker.
* Reliever Armando Benitez. He will play a major role for the Orioles this year, whether or not Franco is signed.
* Starting pitcher Sid Fernandez, whose agent has told the Orioles he is down to 226 pounds, after finishing last year at 262. "It'll make me feel much better when I see him," Regan said. "I don't care if he's down to 225 pounds, or 230 pounds. If he's down in weight and it looks like he's made an effort to get in shape, I'm going to feel pretty good about it, because it will say a lot about his commitment. To me, that's important."
Regan and Hemond discussed logistical problems, although they won't know for sure how everything will work out until they get some direction from Major League Baseball.
But they have addressed some issues. Those nonroster players who've been training in camp here for more than a month and who could be on the Orioles roster when the season starts -- including infielder Jeff Huson and pitchers John Shea and Frank Seminara -- departed for Triple-A Rochester yesterday. Rather than remain in Florida and lose playing time to the major-leaguers, they will play for several weeks and be recalled, as needed, as Opening Day nears.
"I think they'd prefer to play [in the minors] rather than go through another camp anyway," said Regan.
Pitching coach Mike Flanagan will meet with Regan this morning to discuss a revised workout schedule for the staff. At some point, all of the coaches will sit down with Regan to discuss how to get in the maximum amount of work without overtraining as the players begin to arrive Wednesday with a mandatory reporting date of Friday. Regan says the position players will get extra batting practice regularly.
Hemond said the Orioles will train at their complex here before opening the season, possibly playing home exhibitions on one of the four available fields. "We'll have all the room we need to get our work in," he said.
Some of the minor-leaguers left behind for extended spring will be used as fill-ins in major-league intrasquad games, or perhaps in the major-league exhibitions. Some of the pitchers also could be asked to throw live batting practice.
Hemond looked exhausted late in the afternoon, worn out from hours in meetings and on the phone talking about possible player moves. But he sounded renewed.
"It's great," he said, "to be talking about baseball again."
ORIOLES TROUBLE SPOTS
The three biggest areas of concern for Orioles manager Phil Regan:
If Curtis Goodwin is going to be the Orioles' Opening Day leadoff hitter, as Regan has suggested, then the Orioles would have a rookie making the jump from Double-A in center and a right fielder coming back from knee surgery (Jeffrey Hammonds). This is why the idea of signing a veteran outfielder is appealing. If Larry Walker is signed and his shoulder is healthy, Hammonds could move to left and Brady Anderson could shift to center.
Regan needs to identify a closer and some setup men. "There could be as many as three or four spots open [in the bullpen] right now," Regan said. If John Franco is signed, Armando Benitez likely be the primary setup man with Alan Mills playing an expanded role. Free agent right-hander Jim Gott could be added. Brad Pennington must be kept on the roster because he's out of options, but Regan says he'd like another lefty for middle relief.
Regan must decide whether to keep third baseman Jeff Manto, who had a big year in Triple-A last year and is now out of options; utility infielder Jeff Huson, a nonroster invitee who had a tremendous spring; Damon Buford, who figures to be the fourth outfielder; outfielder Jack Voigt, who is out of options; and outfielder Sherman Obando, who likely will be kept to be the designated hitter against left-handed pitchers.