Pitching tops Gillick's blueprint New GM says mound is O's first priority in free-agent chase

Cone may top wish list

Has Alomar interest only if it fits payroll

November 28, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Before coming to the Orioles yesterday, Pat Gillick worked in the same league, in the same division and within a similar salary structure in his former role as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. He has had ample opportunity to see the Orioles up close in divisional play.

Now, he's the Orioles' general manager, and Gillick has definite ideas on what he thinks the team needs to contend in 1996 and beyond.

Gillick says he will attempt to operate next year's team on a $40 million budget. That could be tough, for the Orioles already have $27 million committed to seven player contracts -- Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, Bobby Bonilla, Rafael Palmeiro, Brady Anderson, Chris Hoiles and Jesse Orosco.

"But," Gillick acknowledged, "it will probably be a little more than that."

And how does Gillick plan to spend that money?

* Gillick says that pitching will be his priority as he courts free agents. "I'm a pitching guy, and we need at least one more starter and a closer," he said.

Gillick spoke in general terms about some available free agents, but a club source indicated during the weekend that David Cone -- a pitcher the Blue Jays traded for twice -- is at the top of the team's wish list.

But Gillick may not necessarily sign one major free agent. "The answer may be to sign two [medium-priced] pitchers," he said.

The Orioles already have talked to reliever Rick Aguilera and have talked about contacting free agents Jeff Montgomery and Randy Myers (Aguilera, Myers and Cone all played in New York when Davey Johnson managed the Mets). But Johnson has told others in the organization he may prefer a bullpen by committee.

Gillick said he didn't think Toronto will tender right-hander Juan Guzman a contract. "There will be a lot of people in that situation," he said.

Gillick said he intends to talk to Scott Boras, the agent for pitchers Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown. But unless either or both would take major pay reductions, it seems unlikely they'll be back. If the Orioles don't offer arbitration to Brown by Dec. 7, they cannot re-sign him until next May 1.

* Gillick showed little interest in free-agent slugger Ron Gant. As Gillick explained, the Orioles have greater needs in other places, such as pitching and second base. Gant, Gillick said, "would not be a guy on our priority list."

* The new GM wants to improve the club defensively at second and third base, and the Orioles will continue discussions with the agent for All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar. Gillick wants Alomar "if we can fit him in with our payroll. We're going to have to take a look to fit him in."

Alomar, perhaps the most coveted member of this year's free-agent class, is expected to receive a multi-year contract for at least $5 million per year.

"Two or three years ago, it was different," Gillick said. "I don't think you can tie up your payroll with one player. I don't think it's good business."

Jaime Torres, agent for Alomar, said he doesn't think the hiring of Gillick -- who once traded for Alomar -- improves the Orioles' chances of signing the All-Star. "The interest in signing Roberto Alomar came from Mr. Angelos [Orioles owner Peter Angelos] himself, and that's who counts."

Alomar said: "I'm not going to say I'll sign with Baltimore just because Pat Gillick is there, or not. The way I look at it, he has a job, and I have a job. I know they'll have a competitive team. It will be interesting."

Alomar said he is close to signing, with the Orioles, Blue Jays and New York Yankees among a group of three or four teams in the running.

Johnson is considering playing Bobby Bonilla at third base. Gillick said yesterday that Bonilla probably is better suited for the outfield, but he added that there aren't really any other third basemen who strongly interest him.

However, the Orioles have been in recent contact with the agent for free agent B. J. Surhoff.

* Eddie Murray is a free agent and has told friends that returning to the Orioles interests him. Gillick was noncommittal when asked about the future Hall of Famer, saying he has had great accomplishments during his career.

But Gillick immediately pursued another designated hitter candidate in a much more tangible way. Paul Molitor, a free agent, told a Toronto reporter at the Raptors' NBA game last night that Gillick already has contacted his agent and indicated an interest in signing him for the Orioles.

* Gillick, like Johnson, seems to prefer that Brady Anderson bat somewhere besides leadoff.

"I think he's better suited for batting second," Gillick said.

Johnson has said Anderson's on-base percentage isn't high enough for a leadoff hitter.

Looking ahead

New Orioles GM Pat Gillick already is formulating the makeup of the 1996 Orioles:

Pitching: Gillick intends to sign at least one free-agent starter and a closer.

Improvements at 2nd and 3rd base: The Orioles are in the running for free-agent second baseman Roberto Alomar.

Designated hitter: Gillick has contacted the agent for free agent Paul Molitor.

Outfield power: Gillick wants to improve power among the outfielders but says he doesn't see a way to fit free agent Ron Gant into the already sizable payroll.

Leadoff hitter: Brady Anderson, Gillick said, is better suited to hitting second.

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