Complicated and far-reaching questions confront the Orioles at every turn from now through December.
What to do about Rafael Palmeiro? About Roberto Alomar?
About acquiring another class starting pitcher?
About a roster that may potentially remain as gray (and as expensive) as the Jurassic Park exhibit that opened this season?
About The Streak?
Even for an organization with the resources to reinvent itself annually, these are substantive issues not only affecting the franchise's competitiveness on the field but its perception within a fan base subjected to regular ticket price hikes and an October probably absent baseball for the first time since 1995. Who the Orioles are and where they are going remain uncertain.
The worst-kept secret in Baltimore is that general manager Pat Gillick is going elsewhere the moment his three-year, $2.4 million contract expires. The better-kept secret within the B&O warehouse and the law offices of owner Peter Angelos is who will become Gillick's successor.
Fred Claire is available. Bob Gebhardt will be. Jim Bowden is rumored to be leaning toward fleeing Cincinnati for Camden Yards.
"I think continuity is a key item. But above and beyond that, who is the best man for the position?" Angelos says. "In light of the goals for the organization and the strong desire we have to make this a winning team, it isn't just continuity."
Angelos said Friday that a description of assistant general manager Kevin Malone as "front-runner is an apt characterization." However, the Orioles have yet to initiate a search for Gillick's successor. Neither Malone nor anyone else has undergone an official interview. Club sources indicate that as a courtesy to Gillick, the process will not formally begin until he issues a official announcement, likely within the next several weeks.
Gillick and manager Ray Miller have been less politic. Both have strongly endorsed Malone as the rightful heir. Meanwhile, Malone continues to work without a contract.
"I think Pat's opinion and Ray's opinion carry a great deal of weight. That's probably why Kevin is deemed to be the front-runner. These are two highly seasoned baseball pros," Angelos said. "But I'm not bound by it. I would have to be convinced it's the right thing to do. I make up my own mind. Maybe that's not consistent with the prevailing wisdom."
Malone's positives: youth (41); a solid background in scouting and player development; and previous experience in the position. He was the Montreal Expos' general manager in the lost 1994 season. The Expos held baseball's best record and easily led the NL East over the Atlanta Braves before the players' strike shut down the season.
Malone's negatives: his outspoken personality, which some construe as self-promotion; bluntness; and a desire shared by many on the baseball side that operations be made more vertical than horizontal. Malone has consistently said he is not interested in the position if not granted the leeway to make personnel decisions, a missing element that drove Gillick to his decision to leave.
Therein may lie the rub.
"This notion that GMs run clubs as if they own them is misinformation," Angelos said. "That doesn't happen in any business. He's subject to authority above him."
For the past several months Gillick has ceded many of his responsibilities to Malone. In turn, Malone has helped create a base for the future, dumping Joe Carter for Triple-A pitcher Darin Blood, ridding Angelos of Jeffrey Hammonds' $7.1 million contract and handling the delicate work of acting as liaison between Angelos and often frustrated player agents.
With negotiations ongoing with most of the Orioles' eight pending free agents, uncertainty is a dangerous commodity. Continuity is an asset.
Gillick has adhered to a policy of not negotiating during a season. Malone, however, has served as an intermediary between Angelos and agents. It is a job he has handled well as he is among the handful of front-office executives -- Gillick is another -- able to work a clubhouse, deal amiably with agents and handle the media demands of a fanatical baseball market. Indeed, Malone's biggest negative to some within the organization is his easy relationship with media types.
Malone is rumored to be on the Los Angeles Dodgers' short list to replace "interim" general manager Tom Lasorda. The Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins and Chicago White Sox may also be looking for GMs. Gillick may fill one of the vacancies. Malone is virtually certain to receive an invitation to interview for others.
If Malone has not reinforced his credentials with Angelos, he has done so elsewhere within the industry. He orchestrated last month's trade of Nerio Rodriguez and outfield prospect Shannon Carter for Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Juan Guzman. Guzman is projected as a No. 3 starter next season. Rodriguez, 26, crested as a prospect in 1997. Carter is an unknown. Many saw the trade as larceny by the Orioles.
Malone often has described his working relationship with Gillick as "of one mind." They share a scouting background and an uncompromising work ethic. Angelos is aware of the strong work both have done in revitalizing the club's drafts and player development. Many within the organization believe they deserve to share the same title.
Just because it's an important decision doesn't mean it must be a complicated one.
Pub Date: 8/23/98