Wren's O's makeover may leave Davis out New GM eyes pitching, 'more athletic' players

November 05, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Outwardly allergic to specifics, Orioles general manager Frank Wren said yesterday that he plans to use the approaching free-agent market to make last season's graying clubhouse "more athletic" but conceded his formula may complicate the club's decision to re-sign right fielder Eric Davis.

Wren is still less than two weeks into his new position and plans to leave tomorrow for a meeting of general managers in Naples, Fla. Besides plotting a blueprint for free agency, he has yet to flesh out a front office awaiting a new assistant general manager, a new scouting director and a new director of player development. Wren also has contacted agents for many of the Orioles' eight free agents and those of many other available players.

Indicating his priority is securing pitching help -- the Orioles have expressed interest in Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Todd Stottlemyre, among others -- Wren added that he hopes to satisfy manager Ray Miller's desire for a more aggressive offensive team with fresher legs.

"We need to have guys who can answer the bell day in and day out from a health standpoint," Wren said. "Sure, you're going to have traumas that knock guys out of the lineup, but not chronic stuff that's tied to age, injuries and things they're predisposed to. It's also real important to give the manager a different dimension: speed. If we can add that, we can do so many more things."

Wren's definition appears to put Davis at risk. Though able to enjoy an inspirational and productive season a year after undergoing surgery for colon cancer, Davis was repeatedly limited by injuries, a label that followed him to Baltimore in 1997.

Davis led the club with a .327 average and contributed 28 home runs and 89 RBIs. His .404 on-base percentage also led the club. However, citing Davis' residual fatigue from chemotherapy treatments and his taught hamstrings, Miller repeatedly expressed reluctance to use Davis for more than two consecutive days in the outfield.

Wren said the organization faces a "tough call" regarding Davis, who is seeking a guaranteed two-year deal worth at least $8 million after earning $2.5 million last season.

The two sides appeared close to an agreement last summer, but momentum then slowed. Davis bumped his asking price by about $1 million per season, and the club has refused to follow.

The Orioles possess a number of alternatives in the outfield if they re-sign B. J. Surhoff as expected. Surhoff is seeking a three-year, $13.5 million package; the Orioles last offered a three-year, $12 million deal. Surhoff, who appeared in every game last season, and reliever Alan Mills are believed to represent the club's best chances for a quick signing.

Teams may bid on any free agent beginning tomorrow. The Orioles have made few inroads with their free agents during the 15-day window in which free agents may deal solely with their previous club.

"I don't see anything happening real quickly," Wren said. "There are going to be some guys who wait to see what happens with the Randy Johnsons and Kevin Browns. Mo Vaughn is another one. I don't see any of those being real, real quick unless someone gives them exactly what they're looking for."

Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos has authorized a bid for switch-hitter Bernie Williams, club sources say, as part of a desire to acquire a new center fielder.

Acquiring Williams, ex-Oriole Steve Finley or Brian Jordan would allow a shift of Brady Anderson to left field and a transfer of Surhoff from left to right. Surhoff also could play first base if attempts to land Vaughn or to re-sign Rafael Palmeiro are unsuccessful.

Chris Hoiles, who has publicly asked to move from behind the plate, also represents an alternative at first base or as a platoon designated hitter.

Wren said the possible combinations make it unwise to discuss specifics. Of his blueprint, he said, "I can't say it's going to be a one-page plan."

Rookies Calvin Pickering and Ryan Minor are also possibilities at first base. Wren classified Pickering as "definitely an option" to make next year's roster.

However, the organization's top offensive prospect continues to struggle with throwing, a condition that may leave him better suited as a rare rookie designated hitter.

Said Wren: "We want to get better in the starting rotation and the bullpen. I've got holes to fill pertaining to which free agents come back. We're going to need to add power and speed in the outfield."

Wren said the Orioles may pursue several free agents seeking more than $10 million per season -- Williams, Brown and Vaughn fit the description -- but cannot sign more than one.

"I don't know if you're assured of getting either one," Wren said of a $10 million pitcher or position player. "If both want to come, then you're faced with that choice. However, from our standpoint I don't think you can turn your back on pitching.

"I don't think it's the end-all. But I'd say it's pretty close."

Another option is to acquire several less-expensive players such as Finley, Stottlemyre and second baseman Jose Offerman. Even with the Atlanta Braves apparently dangling left-hander Denny Neagle for trade, Wren downplayed the chances of acquiring a pitcher through trade.

O's free agents

Eight Orioles have filed for free agency:

Player, position .. .. .. ..1998, key, stats

Doug Drabek, P . .. .. .. .6-11, 7.29, ERA

Jimmy Key, P .. .. .. .. .. 6-3, 4.20, ERA

Alan Mills, P .. .. .. .. . 3-4, 3.74, ERA

Pete Smith, P .. .. .. .. . 2-3, 6.20, ERA

R. Palmeiro, 1B .. .. .. ..43 HR, 121, RBI

Roberto Alomar, 2B.. .. .. .282, . 14, HR

E. Davis, OF.. .. .. .. 327,....28. HR, 89 RBI

B. J. Surhoff, OF .. ... 22 HR, 92 .. .RBI

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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