NEW YORK -- Marketing types hate describing any product, including an underachieving $69 million baseball payroll, as in transition. Conceding the point means the current product is lesser (hopefully) than the one that follows.
That said, the farther the Orioles wade into this season, the deeper they step into a transition. They must decide whether to sign or trade marquee free agents Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar. They must construct an off-season plan regarding free agency. Most importantly, they must determine who will be put in charge of revitalizing a graying, broken-down club.
As the Orioles enter the All-Star break, no one knows who that man will be. Safer to say, it won't be general manager Pat Gillick.
Indications are that Gillick will stick to the pledge he made in 1995 Gillick that he would walk away from the B&O warehouse after fulfilling his three-year contract. Though he does not concede his departure, Gillick did say last week that he will recommend the naming of assistant general manager Kevin Malone as his eventual successor.
"I believe continuity is pretty important," says Gillick, the only active general manager to have taken the same franchise to multiple world championships, the 1992-93 Toronto Blue Jays. "I think there are players in our system now who truly have a chance to develop. Kevin was a big part of that. He's a baseball man. He's got good judgment. He knows the game and he has a passion for the game. Plus he's a tireless worker. He deserves it."
Malone is not the only internal candidate. Minor-league director Syd Thrift, a former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager, is highly trusted by majority owner Peter Angelos. He has occasionally clashed with Gillick and Malone. Many believe his hiring would result in an organizational bloodbath that would include Malone, manager Ray Miller and many in the scouting department. If Malone is named, many suspect Thrift's ouster.
Malone is working without a contract. A former Montreal Expos general manager, Malone is considered a possible candidate in several places, including Philadelphia. While Angelos relies on Malone as his primary contact, the two have spoken only vaguely about his future.
Proud of advances made in scouting and player development, Gillick believes "going external" would further retard the grinding process of restoring credibility to the Orioles' minor-league system.
"If you stay internal, it lessens the transition," says Gillick. "If you're going to go external, then it would help to know by the end of the season. If I decided not to stay, you need that period during the World Series to get yourself in line. But the fact is, if you decide not to stay internal, there probably isn't going to be anyone available until after the season. There are very few people who'd let anybody go during the season."
Gillick remains reluctant to concede publicly what is now obvious to the organization's inner ring. Angelos long held out hope that more money without greater autonomy might persuade Gillick to stay.
Apparently, the feeling has passed.
Front-office sources say if Gillick hasn't directly told Angelos of his intent, he has told the owner's confidant, chief financial officer Joe Foss.
Gillick now wears a more subtle role while both he and the club arrive at a crossroads. He did not accompany the team on its disastrous New York-to-Montreal trip last week and does not plan to attend Tuesday's All-Star Game in Denver, where much of the next month's trade activity will begin to take shape.
Gillick also did not attend Tuesday's summit conference among Malone, Miller and several members of the player development staff, including pitching coordinator Moe Drabowsky.
The sometimes contentious meeting addressed a growing schism between major-league and minor-league factions that only widened when Nerio Rodriguez arrived in Seattle on May 25 complaining of shoulder stiffness. Fol- lowing a 1 1/3 -inning start, Rodriguez landed on the disabled list. Miller and Thrift traded accusations.
Thrift also is an advocate of Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who is likely to be fired shortly after this season.
Gillick does not criticize Angelos. Though he winced when the owner would not budge on Davey Johnson's ouster, Gillick gave his full support when Miller was named to succeed the AL Manager of the Year.
He thought he was close on a deal last June for Expos first baseman/outfielder David Segui but improvised with Geronimo Berroa when Angelos expressed reservations. Perhaps most painfully, Gillick bit his tongue last November when a trade for Florida Marlins left-hander Al Leiter was stopped following Angelos' order that pending free agent Rafael Palmeiro be listed on the Orioles' 15-man protected list instead of Esteban Yan, the central player to the deal.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays made a prophet of Gillick, who thought Yan would be chosen in the draft's first round. Leiter was later traded to the Mets and is the NL ERA leader at the break.
"There has been progress made here," says Gillick. "Obviously there's disappointment about what's happened this season. Nobody anticipated this, which makes it all the more difficult to take. But the cupboard isn't bare by any means. There are resources here to address deficiencies."
In Gillick's mind, Malone is among the most valuable.
Pub Date: 7/05/98