Gillick's team concept adds up to more than sum of parts

December 18, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

That's twice Pat Gillick has goaded the Yankees into awarding stupid contracts to undeserving pitchers. A year ago, the Yankees countered the David Wells trade by signing Kenny Rogers. Yesterday, they countered the Jimmy Key signing by overpaying Wells.

The defending world champions are now locked into the two veteran left-handers for more than $28 million over the next three years -- more than $28 million for a dynamic duo that was a combined 23-22 with a 4.93 ERA last season.

Indeed, the perception that the two AL East powers are engaging in a year-round bidding war is a myth. The Yankees also are committed to David Cone through 1999, but Key is the only Orioles pitcher signed beyond this season -- and only for one more year.

Such things matter now that a luxury tax is in effect. And the Orioles will be in even better position if they ever start developing players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and stop relying so heavily on free agents.

For now, they have no choice, but by signing Key, Mike Bordick and even Shawn Boskie, Gillick is trying to create a winning chemistry, something that was missing last season even as the Orioles reached the postseason for the first time since 1983.

Sound fiscal management is one way to narrow the gap to the Yankees, but it won't help the Orioles win games. For that, Gillick wants more players willing to submerge their egos for the good of the club. Players like Bordick, and maybe even Eric Davis.

"If you're going to be a winning team, your concerns should be about wins and losses, not about what your personal statistics are," Gillick said. "Nobody gave the Yankees a chance when they got in with Atlanta. But they played a lot of good team baseball.

"We've got a number of people on the club who aren't particularly worried about their own stats. [But] I felt at times people would get concerned with their own stats and forgot what the goals of the team were. They were worried about where they were going to play and all that.

"I didn't know in the contract it ever said you had to play a certain position. It says, 'Player so-so will be paid X amount of dollars.' I think we need more people who aren't concerned about where they're going to play, but making the team successful."

Gillick didn't identify specific players, but it's clear he was talking about Bobby Bonilla, and perhaps a few others. The trick now is finding players talented enough to improve the club, and team-oriented enough to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

It's not easy.

Bordick can't replace Bonilla offensively, and Key might prove only a slight upgrade over Wells. The Orioles still need another right-handed hitter, a catcher and more pitching. But one thing appears certain -- they're going to be more of a team.

"A large part of what we're trying to accomplish is chemistry," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "We're looking for players who have unquenched appetites for success, for championships. We're looking for consummate team players."

It started last winter when Gillick signed Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff. But the new GM could accomplish only so much. He probably never would have acquired a selfish player like Bonilla. And when he tried to trade him in July, owner Peter Angelos vetoed the deal.

Looking at it now, the Orioles would be better off if they had traded Bonilla and Wells for young players, rather than be left with only draft picks for the departed free agents. But then, they probably would have missed the playoffs, leaving Baltimore with another empty October.

Getting back to the postseason was worth the long-term sacrifice. But now, the Orioles need to take the next step. Gillick's Toronto Blue Jays were in a similar position after the 1990 season -- they had won 86 or more games eight straight years, yet failed to reach the World Series.

So, what did Gillick do?

He changed the mix dramatically, parting with George Bell, Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, acquiring Alomar, Joe Carter and Devon White, setting the stage for back-to-back world championships in '92 and '93.

"I think Gillick is an absolute expert in this area," agent Tony Attanasio said. "He's one of the few GMs to do exactly that -- build a championship club with chemistry. His experience in Toronto speaks for itself.

"When he first got the job up there, he ran the team in typical baseball fashion, getting phenomenal athletes, scouting-report types. He found they were great athletes. But they didn't play together and win."

Sound familiar? The Orioles fielded an outrageously talented lineup last season, set the major-league home run record. But they didn't win.

Enter Bordick, a .258 lifetime hitter with limited power. He won't join the 20-homer club. But, as Malone said, "There are times you do little things to win games that don't show up in stats. That's what this guy is all about."

Gillick agreed.

"I feel fairly comfortable that if we can get on with a double and Mike Bordick comes to the plate, he [the runner] is going to be on third base," Gillick said. "We didn't have that last year. That, to me, is team play."

And that's what Gillick is trying to achieve.

"I have no doubt in my mind that when he looks at the Orioles, he xTC sees a group of tremendous athletes, physical specimens," Attanasio said. "But baseball experts look at the Orioles and see what is referred to as a 'vanilla club.' Where's the fire?"

The Yankees had it.

The Orioles want it.

In the opinion of their GM, it's that important.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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