It would be unfair to say Pat Gillick is buying a pennant, that he is putting together a championship team by throwing around the millions of dollars generated by the millions who frequent Camden Yards. His approach has been much more skillful than that.
Gillick's aim was twofold when he assumed control of the Orioles last month. He wanted to piece together a contender, but he had to try to do that without compromising the primary goal of building the farm system back to respectability.
He had to fill in the many holes in the major-league team -- a couple of spots in the rotation, a second baseman, a third baseman, a leadoff hitter and several arms in the bullpen, including a closer. In doing so, Gillick didn't want to trade the few prospects the Orioles have, and he didn't want to build a monstrous payroll for '96 and beyond that potentially could drain money from player development.
No one will know until May or June whether the Orioles will be a contender in '96, and no one will know for another year or two if the farm system will improve. But each of his major moves went far toward serving both of his goals.
* The signing of Roberto Alomar. Acquiring the best position player available on the free-agent market was a coup in itself, but what has been lost in the anticipation of a Cal Ripken-Alomar double-play combination is that the Orioles got him at a relatively cheap rate.
He signed a three-year, $18 million deal. However, $5 million of that is deferred, with no interest; the Orioles' accountants figured that, in the end, factoring taxes and interest, this deal ultimately will be worth about $15.75 million to Alomar, or about $5.25 million per year.
Think about that. The Florida Marlins signed Kevin Brown to a three-year deal worth $4.3 million per, and the Yankees signed Tino Martinez to a five-year contract for a little more than $4 million a year. David Cone's three-year contract from the New York Yankees is worth $4 million more than Alomar's over the duration of the deal. A great player, at a bargain rate.
* The trade for David Wells. Once Gillick lost out on the bidding for Cone, his three most attractive options were signing Kenny Rogers, a 31-year-old pitcher seeking a three-year deal for about $15 million; signing Chuck Finley, seeking a three-year deal for $12 million; or dealing for Wells, who has one year remaining on a multi-year contract for $3 million.
Rogers, the best of the three, went 17-7 for Texas in 1995, and Wells went 16-6 for Detroit and Cincinnati.
Rather than make a long-term investment on an aging pitcher, Gillick traded for a 33-year-old lefty with a one-year contract. Gillick faced some resistance in the organization on this trade from others attracted by the possibility of adding Rogers. But again, he made the prudent financial decision, and nonetheless acquired a strong performer. Gillick had to part with Curtis Goodwin, but after watching Goodwin flounder and resist instruction the last two months of the '95 season, many in the Orioles' organization became convinced the young outfielder never will improve his pitch selection and defense enough to succeed. "Pat didn't give up anything," said one Orioles staff member.
* The trade for Kent Mercker. He's healthy and he has good stuff, but the Braves had to dump the arbitration-eligible pitcher, not wanting to pay about $3 million to their No. 5 starter. To get this talented left-hander, Gillick did not surrender Jimmy Haynes or Rocky Coppinger, one of his top prospects. No, he swapped Joe Borowski -- projected by most in the organization as a solid middle reliever in the future -- and Rachaad Stewart, a young, left-handed project.
Said one NL GM: "I'm a little surprised that one of the other [AL East] teams didn't jump in and make a deal, because [Gillick] really made a pretty good deal."
* The signing of B. J. Surhoff. The former No. 1 pick finally seemed to come into his own last season at age 31, hitting .320. He's a good athlete who can play all three outfield spots, third base, first, catcher and even shortstop in a pinch. He's a left-handed hitter who pounds lefties, a real commodity.
Gillick locked him up for three years and $3.7 million -- or about $600,000 less than Brown will make in 1996, about $300,000 less than Sid Fernandez was paid in the first year of his three-year deal with the Orioles. Again, Gillick got a good player at a good rate.
* The signing of Randy Myers. This appears to be the only financially precarious deal made by Gillick. Myers saved 38 games for the Cubs in 1995 and was great in the clubhouse, yet Chicago GM Ed Lynch wouldn't make him a legitimate offer (one year, with a pay cut). It makes one wonder what the Cubs saw in Myers, if his troubles in close games perhaps scared them away. Myers was 7-for-12 converting save opportunities when the lead was one run. The Orioles will pay $6.3 million over two years for Myers.