Gillick says O's need 5-year plan Departing GM urges more self-sufficiency, use of farm system

'Add one [rookie] a year'

He blames injuries, not turmoil, for slide

September 30, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick says he hopes his pending departure from the organization won't jeopardize a gradual transition from free agency toward player development as the primary means of stocking a perennial contender.

Gillick advocates that the Orioles adhere to "a five-year plan" for making themselves more self-sufficient. "That allows proper development," he says. "It's very difficult to put a lot of young people together on a club at one time. The ideal way is to try to add one [rookie] a year."

Gillick's three-year term in Baltimore included consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series following the franchise's 13-year absence from the postseason. Gillick's legacy, according to chief operating officer Joe Foss, will be the revitalization of a demoralized player development system as well as changing the emphasis of scouting from signability to talent.

Consecutive solid drafts represent the dividend. The 1997 signing of Colorado outfielder Darnell McDonald away from a football scholarship at the University of Texas and this spring's draft-and-follow acquisition of left-handed pitcher Matt Riley have restored greater credibility to the farm system.

Lampooned last year by Baseball America as having the least productive farm system in the game, the Orioles now stand "middle of the pack or maybe a little more toward the top than the bottom," Gillick said.

Gillick concedes its revival could not support an abrupt change in philosophy toward in-house talent only. But given the Orioles' revenue stream -- second-largest in the industry -- such considerations are irrelevant.

"If you want [to maintain] a competitive team on the field you're probably looking at a five-year project," said Gillick. "If you want to go down to scratch and come back, you're probably looking at three or four years. But if you want to do it over five years, you can expose people more slowly.

"I'd say that's probably the way this place would go."

The Orioles haven't developed an everyday position player for their lineup since Cal Ripken in 1981, but are impressed by the progress of second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., third baseman Ryan Minor, first baseman Calvin Pickering and catcher Jayson Werth.

Pitching continues to lag despite Sidney Ponson's jump to Baltimore after only one Triple-A start. Gillick urged the Orioles to bolster the rotation via free agency this off-season, a suggestion the club apparently will pursue.

"At least if you have a strong rotation, you're always in games and have a chance to win. If you don't have good pitching, you're out of the game and can't catch up. If you have pitching, at least you win the games you're supposed to win," Gillick said.

Majority owner Peter Angelos and Foss remain four-square behind maintaining a high payroll if necessary to remain competitive. Foss said last weekend that while the Orioles do not intend to hike a payroll that began the season at $69.7 million, no consideration has been given to a salary purge.

Gillick blamed this season's 79-83 fourth-place finish on a crush of injuries, especially among the starting rotation, combined with the uncertainty created by a large number of pending free agents.

Asked about organizational intrigue, Gillick disputed a theory that his and assistant general manager Kevin Malone's uncertain status created an unproductive climate.

"Without beating a dead horse, you just can't lose 60 percent of your starting rotation at the same time," insisted Gillick, whose departure coincides with the end of the World Series. "Normally you're going to get a certain amount of injuries, but this year maybe there was some overkill. I think that really hurt us.

"You don't know what happens with people who are heading toward free agency. You can't put a number on it. I know it's a percentage, but I don't think it's huge."

Manager Ray Miller said Saturday that he felt frustrated by the inability to obtain pitching help following the loss of Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki to injuries and cited differing "agendas" as factoring in a first-half collapse.

Gillick maintains even without injuries, "I don't think we could have done what we did last year, but I think we would have challenged for a wild card."

"If you had one year left on a contract, you wouldn't be coasting but instead putting forward maximum effort," Foss said. "I think that applies to uniform personnel and the front office."

Citing contractual obligations, Gillick remains coy about his future while speculation mounts that he will join Malone, the Los Angeles Dodgers' new general manager, as an East Coast consultant.

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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