At crossroads, party is over for O's

BUSTER ON BASEBALL

September 10, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

Streak Week became a celebration of baseball, a party in which a nation of sports fans participated. As of Friday, however, Streak Week hangover had set in for the Orioles: Future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken may be a living legend, but he is still shortstop for a bad team facing an uncertain future.

The more Ripken stays the same, the more the Orioles change. Consider all that must be decided by the time spring training starts in 1996.

* The identity of the next general manager. Now that word is out that the Orioles asked about the availability of Cleveland Indians assistant GM Dan O'Dowd, it seems a foregone conclusion that Roland Hemond's tenure with the Orioles is at an end.

Who will follow? Well, by all accounts, Indians owner Richard Jacobs is serious about denying O'Dowd permission to talk to the Orioles. He may have second thoughts if he catches flak for not giving O'Dowd the opportunity to pursue a promotion, but the Orioles should assume, for the time being, that they're not going to get him.

San Diego GM Randy Smith may be next in line, assuming he parts company with the Padres and CEO Larry Lucchino. Whether it's Smith or O'Dowd, it's likely the incoming GM will bring along two or three sidekicks. (Smith, for instance, may wish to retain the services of Steve Lubratich, currently his assistant general manager.)

Once this decision is made, the next major decision is elementary, even something more important than the fate of current manager Phil Regan.

* In what direction is the organization headed? In other words, how will the organization define itself?

Will it be a team devoted to its farm system, such as the Atlanta Braves have been? Will it be a fiscally savvy club, such as Cleveland, which locked up many of its young players to long-term deals? Will the team combine the development of prospects with the signing of middle-class free agents, as the Boston Red Sox seem to be doing? Is this a team that, because of its extraordinary resource -- Camden Yards -- merely lives and dies on the free-agent market?

The GM, whether it be Hemond, or O'Dowd or Smith or somebody else, needs to establish a plan, and stick to it. Time and again, it has been proved that the best teams develop their own players, and when a potential contender is created, the club is augmented with free agents. The Atlanta Braves had good young talent, and then went out and traded for Fred McGriff and signed Greg Maddux.

As soon as this is accomplished, there is this:

* What will be Regan's fate? He started this job under the worst of circumstances, a long players' strike delaying spring training and preventing him the opportunity to evaluate talent. The abnormally high number of roster moves suggests that Regan hasn't liked the makeup of his disappointing team.

So, do you hold one skewed year against a first-year manager who, 12 months ago, was considered the hottest managerial prospect in the game? Or do you recognize and honor the distaste that Orioles fans currently have for Regan, eat the last year of his two-year contract, and move on?

If owner Peter Angelos and the new GM decide to make a change, they could have some big names from which to choose. Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter, Tom Lasorda, Sparky Anderson, perhaps Jim Leyland, if he asks out of his Pittsburgh Pirates contract.

Then come the dozens of player personnel decisions. Among those:

* Which pitchers are going to be retained from the current staff? The Orioles hold options on relievers Jesse Orosco and Doug Jones, and it figures that Orosco will return for sure, based on his performance. Jones, on the other hand . . . good question. Figure that only one pitcher among right-handers Ben McDonald, Kevin Brown and Scott Erickson will return; the Orioles already have a core of six players under contract for 1996 for a total of $26.5 million.

* What to do with Brady Anderson? Rafael Palmeiro will be at first, Bobby Bonilla in right and, quite possibly, Curtis Goodwin in center field. Club officials say that if the team wants to upgrade its power -- sign someone such as Sammy Sosa, assuming he's granted enough time to qualify for free agency -- then Anderson will have to be traded to free up salary and create an opening in the lineup in right or left.

* The bullpen. The Orioles may begin concentrating on player development, but they learned a hard lesson this year, failing to sign enough veterans capable of throwing middle relief -- a time when the Orioles lost so many games this year. They need to start the year with more depth, more experience. In retrospect, they were kidding themselves when they believed that they could get by with Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington holding down critical roles at the start of the season.

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