O's GM search focuses on Wren Marlins assistant gains support

O'Dowd out of running

3 in hunt

Decision may take longer

October 15, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Momentum appears to be building for Florida Marlins assistant general manager Frank Wren to succeed Pat Gillick as Orioles general manager, according to sources familiar with the process.

The shift occurs at the same time that the club eliminated Cleveland Indians assistant general manager Dan O'Dowd from consideration because of an uncomfortable interview Sunday with majority owner Peter Angelos. The absence of O'Dowd, once considered the front-runner for the position, leaves Wren, Chicago White Sox assistant general manager Dan Evans and Atlanta Braves assistant general manager Dean Taylor as the remaining candidates.

Angelos and chief operating officer Joe Foss did not return phone calls yesterday.

Once confident of making a decision by tomorrow -- candidates initially were led to believe a final decision could be reached early this week -- the Orioles may now contemplate the move through the World Series, a source said. Traditionally, clubs do not announce significant hirings during the World Series, meaning that a delay could push the move beyond Oct. 25. Eligible players are able to file for free agency the day after the World Series ends.

Angelos is not given to hair-trigger decisions. If taken, additional time could be devoted to further investigation and perhaps even a third round of interviews among two finalists.

Wren, who was once a finalist for similar positions with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and San Diego Padres, entered last weekend's round of interviews with Angelos considered a second choice to O'Dowd, though club officials have pointedly denied such a characterization. Evans, according to one source, particularly impressed Angelos during Saturday's three-hour interview as O'Dowd's chances dimmed.

Considered the favorite to succeed Gillick once Indians owner Richard Jacobs granted the Orioles permission for an interview, O'Dowd apparently asked far more pointed questions of Angelos than any other candidate.

O'Dowd's concerns revolved around control and flexibility, issues that eventually caused disagreements between ownership and the front-office team of Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone.

Gillick endorsed O'Dowd's candidacy and, along with Indians general manager John Hart, had prepped the Indians assistant GM before his initial interview with Foss, Orioles legal counsel Russell Smouse and the owner's son, John. Foss gave Angelos an overwhelmingly positive report on O'Dowd afterward, but ownership's views shifted after last weekend's testy one-on-one.

Given to bluntness, O'Dowd questioned the role of director of player development Syd Thrift and voiced misgivings about manager Ray Miller, sources said.

"Dan's a straight-ahead guy. I can see where that would hurt him," said an industry figure familiar with all the candidates.

Angelos has said Miller will return as manager next season and denied reports that the club approached Jim Leyland about replacing Miller. Leyland accepted an offer to manage the Colorado Rockies.

Foss has repeatedly maintained that the next general manager will have the freedom to appoint his own scouting director and director of player development. However, such latitude apparently has its limits. A number of upper-level scouts were contacted by Foss yesterday and assured their positions were secure. The move may help stem what had been an expected mass exodus.

O'Dowd especially questioned how personnel decisions are reached, said one source familiar with the process. Upper management has emphasized a "team approach" to decision-making in which Foss and Angelos have input in both financial and talent evaluation.

That tendency frustrated both Gillick and Malone; Gillick's resignation becomes official after the World Series, and Malone jumped at the opportunity last month to become the Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager.

None of the remaining candidates has GM experience. Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden withdrew from consideration last week after signing a four-year contract extension.

O'Dowd's candidacy was never smooth. The Orioles wrangled for almost two weeks before getting Jacobs' consent for an interview.

Jacobs also penalized O'Dowd for seeking the Orioles vacancy. O'Dowd had to renounce the most lucrative deal of any assistant general manager -- a five-year contract with a series of four club options that extended through 2006. O'Dowd was paid $300,000 this season, about the same as some small-market general managers.

Wren, 39, joined the formative Marlins as assistant general manager in September 1991 after 15 years with the Montreal Expos, where he was a contemporary of Malone's. Wren handled contract negotiations and possesses a strong scouting background. He narrowly missed gaining a general manager position with the Devil Rays last year and the Padres in 1995. Miller advanced Wren's name to Angelos at Leyland's suggestion.

Angelos continues to consider Evans and Taylor, as well; hence, the possible postponement of a decision. Evans, considered a dark-horse candidate when first interviewed, established a rapport with Angelos that proved elusive with O'Dowd, a club source said.

Taylor's connection to an organization that has won seven consecutive division titles, four league championships and a World Series since 1991 helps his candidacy. Taylor, considered a strong possibility in Kansas City should the Royals oust general manager Herk Robinson, is also the only candidate to have worked in baseball's central office.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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