Todd Zeile said yesterday he was told by Orioles general manager Pat Gillick that the reason the club was leaning against bringing the third baseman back for the 1997 season was so it could move shortstop Cal Ripken to third.
Zeile's agent, Seth Levinson, spoke with Gillick on Monday and the general manager said afterward, "At this point, I don't think [Zeile] is coming back. We're leaning in another direction."
Gillick could not be reached for comment yesterday. On Monday, he said moving Ripken to third base was "possibly" the other direction he was referring to.
Zeile said yesterday from his California home that Gillick made it clear to his agent that the Orioles' decision not to bring him back was so Ripken could be moved from shortstop, where he has played almost entirely during his 15-year career and 2,316 consecutive games played.
"They gave us the reasoning that the team is getting a little bit older and, frankly, because Pat Gillick feels Cal is going to have to go to third base," Zeile said. "I don't understand the logic of moving Cal, who is arguably the best shortstop that's ever played.
"If you move him to third base to gain a step defensively, fine, but you still give up a lot of offense, knowledge and know-how in the middle of the field.
"Cal is probably the best field general there is. His lack of foot speed from age or whatever, he makes up for with his knowledge of the hitters, the pitching staff and with his anticipation. I don't personally understand the move, but it's obviously not my decision."
Zeile was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 29 and finished the season with a combined total of 25 homers and 99 RBIs between both teams. Zeile said he wanted badly to return to the Orioles, but holds no ill will toward the team.
Zeile filed for free agency Sunday and said if he can't play for the Orioles he'd like to play for a team near his home in California.
"I absolutely did enjoy my time [in Baltimore], and I'm definitely interested in a chance to get back there," Zeile said. "I put in seven-plus years before finally getting my chance to be a free agent, so I'm not going to just sit around and wait for the Orioles. At this point, Los Angeles seems to have a place I could fit in."
Starter David Wells filed for free agency yesterday, but the Orioles would like to re-sign Wells. Wells was 11-14 with a 5.14 ERA this season, but is a proven playoff and big-game performer and is likely to be one of the more sought-after free agents.
"We'd like to have David back," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "The ball's in their court right now. We hope they come back to our court, but I know [Wells] wants to see what's out there."
Malone said he has not had any new discussions with Alan Meersand, the agent for reliever Jesse Orosco, and has none scheduled. Meersand said he has heard from four clubs since filing for free agency Sunday, including some West Coast teams.
Orosco lives in San Diego and said he would like to play there to be near his wife and three children.
HTC "I would always, out of respect to the Orioles, give them a last chance to match any offer we may get, should we get to that stage," Meersand said.
Malone said he is talking with Dennis Gilbert, the agent for center fielder Brady Anderson. Gilbert called the Orioles Monday night from Japan, where Anderson and Ripken are playing on a major-league tour. The Orioles exercised Anderson's $4 million option for the 1997 season on Monday.
"We just said let's get together and talk, and continue to lay the groundwork and foundation for a longer-term contract -- longer than one year," Malone said.
The organization also is deciding on next year's coaching staff. The contract for every coach (other than recently signed pitching coach Ray Miller) is up Friday.
But Malone said, "We don't anticipate any more changes with the coaching staff at this point."
Pub Date: 10/30/96