Being front-runner starts with front office, Mr. Angelos

March 27, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Pat Gillick as a well-paid consultant and Kevin Malone as the next Orioles general manager? It sounds like that's what Gillick might want. And it would be the next best thing to him remaining GM.

"I probably wouldn't retire," Gillick said this week. "I don't want to say I'd retire. I might change my job description. I don't think I'd retire. I'm probably going to do something."

But that doesn't mean Gillick, 60, will choose to stay in such a demanding role after his three-year contract expires at the end of this season.

Malone, his 40-year-old assistant, would be his choice as GM.

"I think Kevin's qualified. Kevin can do the job," Gillick said of the former Montreal GM. "He's here. He knows the organization. He knows the owner. For the long-term viability of this franchise, it's better to have somebody in that position before someone picks the guy off, and he goes someplace else."

Does Gillick think that will happen?

"I think there's a possibility. You look objectively at the baseball people around. I think he's a very qualified individual. Someone is going to be in need of someone with those qualifications. He's very attractive."

And he's working without a contract.

Owner Peter Angelos needs to listen to Gillick. He needs to ensure that Malone remains in the front office. He needs to take every necessary measure to preserve one of baseball's top management teams.

The Orioles survived without Jon Miller. They'll survive without Davey Johnson. But Angelos is wrong if he thinks they could survive the losses of Gillick and Malone.

If one leaves, they both might. Angelos could attempt to lure a John Hart, but the franchise slowly would crumble under a lesser GM, no matter how much money the owner is willing to spend, no matter how rosy things appear.

"If it was my decision, I would re-sign Pat to a three-year contract as GM and do the same with me," Malone said.

"This organization is moving in the right direction -- scouting, farm system, personnel, we've come a long way in two years. We've got some further ground to cover, but we've made a lot of progress.

"Rome wasn't built in a day. I would like to see both of us stay together with the same responsibilities."

Angelos is on record as saying he wants Gillick back, and has met with Malone regarding his future. Obviously, he can't act until Gillick makes a decision. But while he waits, there's nothing to stop him from re-signing Malone.

The question is whether Angelos fully grasps the importance of keeping his top baseball people. By now, with the Orioles contending every season and fans jamming Camden Yards, the owner probably is feeling invincible.

He frequently overrules Gillick, running off managers, vetoing trades, negotiating major contracts. Yet, the franchise has never been healthier.

Still, Angelos surely must recognize the value of retaining Gillick and Malone, especially at a time when the Orioles' payroll is so stretched, the farm system is assuming greater importance.

The prospects are starting to come -- Nerio Rodriguez, Sidney Ponson, Ryan Minor. Give Gillick and Malone three more years, and they'll build the system to the point where the Orioles don't need to continually sign free agents.

Minor was a classic Gillick draft gamble, and now he might be only a year away from the majors. Darnell McDonald was another such gamble, and Baseball America rates him the No. 2 prospect in the organization, behind Minor.

Malone shares Gillick's aggressive philosophy toward player development. During spring training, the two often take turns scouting high school players in Florida.

There's no rivalry between them, just a mutual respect that would transcend any change in job titles. Gillick could serve Malone the same way former Detroit GM Bill Lajoie serves Atlanta's John Schuerholz -- if that's what he desires.

His wife, Doris, owns an art gallery in Toronto. He's frustrated with some of the changes in baseball. And he said his decision whether to remain GM wouldn't change even if Angelos offered him a major raise from his current salary of $800,000.

"Nah," Gillick said. "I'm not interested by that."

He's interested in competing, in winning. He said his health is good. And he seems to be at peace working for Angelos, difficult as it sometimes might be.

"Let me put it this way -- I have respect for the guy because I think he's intelligent, a hard worker," Gillick said. "He is demanding, but not overly demanding. If you have an issue to discuss with him, for the most part, he's pretty reasonable."

Even when he vetoes trades?

"Well, there's different views on things. You can't have everything you'd like. If from time to time, we butt heads, you've got to just go forward and say, 'OK, that didn't make it. We'll put that behind us and do something else.' "

Gillick even said he is comfortable with Angelos assuming control of contract negotiations -- "It makes him feel part of the process. Then, some of the problems we have, he's sympathetic to the problems."

It wouldn't be easy for Angelos to find a GM as tolerant, a GM as respected, a GM as savvy. But Malone would offer the smoothest possible transition.

Gillick as GM, Malone as assistant. Or Gillick as consultant, Malone as GM. Whichever way Gillick wants to go, Angelos needs to make it work.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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