O's GM will find workload heavy Delay in hiring will add to crunch

November 23, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' efforts to sign major free agents like Roberto Alomar and Ron Gant likely won't be hurt by the fact they haven't hired a general manager to replace Roland Hemond, according to others in baseball.

But whoever gets the job will have to crush a lot of work into a short period of time. "The key thing is, this is an important three weeks coming up right now," said new San Diego general manager Kevin Towers.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has interviewed at least seven candidates. For several weeks, former Montreal general manager Kevin Malone and ex-Detroit GM Joe Klein appeared to be the front-runners, with New York Mets scouting director John Barr a possibility.

However, the lengthy deliberations have even some in the organization wondering if Angelos is considering someone besides Klein and Malone, and Malone continues to contact other teams about job opportunities -- just in case he doesn't get the Orioles' GM job.

"I don't think anybody [in the organization] really knows what [Angelos] is thinking," said an Orioles source.

The Orioles are operating with a skeleton staff, for the moment. Director of player development Syd Thrift is serving, in effect, as the interim general manager. He's taken calls from agents, and represented the Orioles at the general manager meetings.

Thrift and scouting director Gary Nickels met with free-agent reliever Rick Aguilera on Tuesday, and club officials also met for cursory talks with Jaime Torres, the representative for free-agent second baseman Roberto Alomar (no contract terms were discussed).

Club sources have indicated no significant signings will take place until after a general manager is in place, and a prominent agent said last night that should make little difference because of the Orioles' standing in the market. The Orioles, a relatively wealthy club, help set market value.

"If you have a player like an Alomar or Gant," the agent said, "you're talking about someone who has a lot of experience in baseball, and they are under demand. They're not going to be leaping at the first offer made to them. They'll always go back to Baltimore [for a counter-offer] before they go and make a deal someplace else, because Baltimore is one of the teams with deep pockets."

Towers said, "You have a different situation there [with the Orioles] than with some other teams."

Towers acknowledged, however, that he is swamped with work since being hired last Friday, and he will continue to be swamped right up until Dec. 20, the day when teams must tender contracts to unsigned players on their 40-man roster.

And Towers has an advantage over whoever is hired by the Orioles: Towers worked in the Padres' organization as scouting director, and knows the club's players and needs first-hand.

Klein, Malone or the stealth candidate will have to spend days talking with new manager Davey Johnson, Thrift, Nickels and most other members of the organization and reading reports to get a stronger read on the Orioles.

"You've got the free agents to talk about," said Towers. "Then you've got to learn as much as you can about the players in the farm system, and prepare for the Rule 5 draft coming up [Dec. 4].

"You've got to decide which players on your 40-man roster you're going to try to sign, which guys you're going to let go."

The Orioles aren't expected to tender contracts to second baseman Bret Barberie, third baseman Leo Gomez and pitcher Ben McDonald, and will weigh options on pitcher Alan Mills.

"You have to decide which of your free agents you're going to offer arbitration to by Dec. 7," Towers said. "If you don't offer arbitration, then you can't re-sign them until May 1, and that's a big decision."

Free-agent pitcher Kevin Brown, whom the Orioles want to re-sign, falls into that category.

"Then even after Dec. 20, it starts right up again," Towers said. "If there's truth to what I've heard, there could be as many as 120 to 150 guys who aren't tendered contracts. You want to be ready to talk to the ones you want, and move fast.

"There's a lot to do right now."

Thrift, formerly the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, feels comfortable handling the duties until the next general manager is hired. He chats with Johnson once or twice a day -- they talked before the Orioles claimed pitcher Oscar Munoz on waivers last weekend -- and spends hours on the phone with agents, about major-league and minor-league free agents.

"It's just like getting back on a bicycle," Thrift said. "It's kind of exciting, to tell you the truth. I like the action."

Whether it's Klein or Malone or someone else, the Orioles' next general manager will have a load of action fall right into his lap, most of it marked ASAP.

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