Shuffle likely for O's '99 deck Only Bordick, Ripken may stay put in Wren's realigned blueprint

October 29, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Frank Wren returned to his South Florida home last evening after three days of exhaustive interviews with manager Ray Miller, chief scouts and fellow front office members.

Though Wren has yet to disclose his organizational blueprint for public consumption, the Orioles appear headed for significant changes intended to provide greater offensive balance, a healthier, deeper pitching staff and perhaps a realigned outfield.

The extreme but not inconceivable fallout could leave only two position players, third baseman Cal Ripken and shortstop Mike Bordick, in the spots they occupied last season, according to club sources.

The Orioles' eight eligible free agents, including four of last season's starting position players -- had each filed by Tuesday afternoon. The Orioles will retain exclusive negotiating rights through Nov. 5, but do not appear ready to re-sign.

The same deadline exists for pitcher Juan Guzman to notify the club whether he will demand a trade by March 15 if he has not signed a contract extension. (Guzman may renounce the demand any time before March 15.)

Majority owner Peter Angelos has made contact with Jim Bronner, the agent for first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Representatives for outfielders B. J. Surhoff and Eric Davis are still waiting.

Palmeiro says he will wait until after next week to sign. Given that his destination may be determined by what happens with Boston free agent Mo Vaughn, the stance is hardly surprising. The Orioles are among the teams that will make at least an inquiry into Vaughn's asking price. For Palmeiro, his market could be set by the Texas Rangers, the Red Sox, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

If neither Palmeiro nor Vaughn lands here, the Orioles could improvise by bumping Chris Hoiles to the position and seeking a catcher such as the New York Mets' Todd Hundley, expendable given the Mets' signing of Mike Piazza to a $91 million deal.

Intrigue thrives in the outfield as substantial sentiment exists internally for moving Brady Anderson from center to left field. If re-signed, Surhoff, a solid defensive player, could shift from left to right. Many in the industry do not believe Bernie Williams will return to the New York Yankees.

Coming off a .339 average that led the American League, the switch-hitter and elegant fielder will likely demand a deal averaging $11 million a year. Greg Vaughn and Brian Jordan also have been discussed; however Vaughn is a left fielder and many scouts do not project Jordan in center.

Davis, meanwhile, is seeking two guaranteed seasons at $4 million apiece from the Orioles. Surhoff seeks a three-year, $13.5 million package.

However, at Miller's urging the centerpiece of this off-season will be renovating a pitching staff that never came together after crumbling in May.

After beginning last season within the starting rotation, Jimmy Key and Doug Drabek will not be invited back.

Key, 37, continues to rehab his left rotator cuff while Drabek, 36, is coming off a second consecutive disastrous season. Both are contemplating retirement.

The uncertainty within the rotation has made acquiring at least one marquee starting pitcher this winter's priority. Ex-Oriole Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Todd Stottlemyre are the most attractive free agents, but the Orioles also could attempt to revive trade discussions with the Atlanta Braves regarding Denny Neagle, who ended the season trailed by whispers of a shoulder problem.

The Orioles also will seek a closer to replace Armando Benitez, who never gained the confidence of his manager or teammates during a turbulent season that included an infamous brawl in New York and highly visible late-season collapses in Seattle and Cleveland. The larger decision facing the club is whether to return Benitez to the setup role that fit him well in 1997 or to trade him. Wrangling with their own bullpen problems, the Braves have long coveted the Dominican strongman.

PTC Benitez, who blossomed under Miller as pitching coach in '97, did not feel comfortable under him as manager.

Whereas his predecessor as closer, Randy Myers, was routinely given the ninth inning, Benitez chafed at never receiving unchallenged status.

The Orioles can ill afford to deal Benitez until they know if they can re-sign right-hander Alan Mills. They would consider Dodgers reliever Jeff Shaw or potential free agent Rod Beck as their new closer. There is less enthusiasm for re-acquiring Myers, who bolted as a free agent last November to sign a three-year, $18 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He finished the season with the San Diego Padres following an August waiver deal.

Little hope exists for retaining free-agent second baseman Roberto Alomar, who will be targeted by the Braves and Indians among others after enduring a fractious season that brought him into open conflict with Miller.

Free agency offers an alternative as Wren could pursue Jose Offerman, who constructed a solid offensive season (.315, 66 RBIs, 45 steals) for the Kansas City Royals.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.