Baseball is a tight-knit fraternity and Orioles general manager Pat Gillick is a popular member of that fraternity, having come up through the ranks, starting as a player before eventually becoming an architect of a world championship franchise in Toronto.
What his peers across the country are wondering now is how long Gillick will co-exist with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, after Angelos vetoed some trades Gillick wanted to make over the past six weeks.
In late June, the Indians and Orioles discussed a five-player deal that included Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla. Gillick, according to league sources, was ready to make the deal. Angelos said no, feeling the team could not win without Bonilla and the Indians were ready to dump Murray for almost nothing.
In the week leading up to the trade deadline, league sources say Gillick was prepared to deal pitcher David Wells to Seattle for three minor-league prospects, a deal that would've effectively ended the Orioles' slim chances of contending for the wild card. Angelos said no, noting the Orioles' obligation to fans who bought tickets expecting to see a contender.
In the final two days before the deadline, sources say Gillick arranged a four-player trade with Cleveland: Wells and Jeffrey Hammonds to the Indians for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and young left-hander Alan Embree (who is on the disabled list). Angelos said no; again, trading Wells would've ended any hope of the Orioles contending.
The Orioles talked at length about swapping Bonilla to the Reds for a group of youngsters, the most prominent of whom was Triple-A outfielder Steve Gibralter. Like the other deals pursued by Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone, this trade would've given the Orioles at least one Triple-A prospect, the type of prospects the Orioles are lacking. Angelos didn't want to shop Bonilla for a player who couldn't help them immediately.
Last October and November, Gillick resisted repeated overtures from the Orioles because, some friends say, he was leery of Angelos. But Randy Smith interviewed with Angelos before becoming general manager of Detroit, and he told Gillick he was surprised by Angelos' congeniality. Gillick ran into a former minor-league teammate, Davey Johnson, at the winter meetings, and the new manager of the Orioles told him how great it was to work with Angelos. Finally, Gillick and Angelos met and worked out a three-year deal worth $2.4 million. Presumably, they reached some sort of understanding on how they would function together, as employer and employee.
Whether Angelos' decision to override the trades violates Gillick's sense of that agreement remains to be seen. Gillick hasn't commented. Usually accessible, he did not return phone calls over the past six days. The Sun's Jason LaCanfora approached Gillick at a Hall of Fame gathering for Earl Weaver yesterday evening and told Gillick he wanted to ask questions relating to the trades, and Gillick said, "I'd rather not talk about that."
Malone declined to comment when asked about the relationship between Gillick and Angelos, and rightly so -- Gillick must speak for himself on this issue.
A member of the baseball fraternity who knows Gillick well said last week that scouts are guessing among themselves: How much of the three years in his contract will he serve? An executive who dealt with Gillick before the trade deadline said when speaking of most proposals, Gillick's refrain was: "I don't think he'll approve that."
He, as in Angelos.
Gillick was coaxed out of retirement to take the Orioles' job, and if he wanted to work someplace else, he'd have plenty of offers. Time will tell whether he's ready to move on, or if he's willing to adjust to Angelos and the unique challenge that running the Orioles presents.
Pluses and minuses
A flurry of trades just before the midnight deadline on July 31 created a whole lot of winners -- and losers.
1. The Yankees, who picked up slugger Cecil Fielder from the Tigers. Fielder will benefit tremendously from batting in between two good hitters, Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez, and he should provide New York with the right-handed presence it desperately needed in the middle of its order. The Yankees gave up pitching prospect Matt Drews to get Fielder, along with Ruben Sierra (who was included to offset Fielder's $7.1 million salary for next year) and $1 million, but New York has been close to being a championship-caliber team and Fielder brings them even closer.
2. The Padres. Like the Yankees, they needed a big right-handed bat in the middle of their predominantly left-handed hitting lineup, and to get it, San Diego traded pitchers Bryce Florie and Ron Villone and outfielder Marc Newfield to Milwaukee for Greg Vaughn, who hit 31 homers in the first four months of this season. The Padres paid a heavy price, but the stakes are high for San Diego, which is trying to build support for a new park. A postseason appearance would go a long way in that direction.