The Orioles will further their three-month organizational makeover today by announcing the promotion of longtime outfielder, coach and front office executive Don Buford as director of minor-league operations and the corresponding shift of his predecessor, Tom Trebelhorn, to the newly created position of director of organizational instruction.
The front office shuffle also includes the promotion of Tripp Norton from administrator for player development to assistant director of minor-league operations; a change in title, but not responsibilities, for former assistant general manager Bruce Manno; and the hiring of Danny Garcia and Tim Thompson as major-league scouts.
Buford, 62, ascends as a department head after spending much of the past 22 years with the organization in various roles, including two stints on the major-league coaching staff and a four-year term as assistant director of player development under Syd Thrift, now vice president of baseball operations, and Trebelhorn.
Buford's 10-year major-league playing career was highlighted by his contributions to the 1969-71 Orioles, who swept to three consecutive American League titles and the 1970 World Series championship.
His finest year came in 1971, when he led the league in runs scored (99), hit 19 home runs and enjoyed a .415 on-base percentage as the team's leadoff hitter. He becomes the third person to hold the office in the past three years.
Thrift explained the change in the office's title as reflecting more "expansive" responsibilities. Buford and Trebelhorn will continue to work as closely as in the past four years.
Trebelhorn, recognized throughout the industry as a strong teacher, will enter his fifth season with the Orioles, the first three spent as coordinator of minor-league instruction and last year as Thrift's successor as director of player development.
The former Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs manager was recommended as the interim replacement for former manager Ray Miller last May, but majority owner Peter Angelos vetoed the idea. Miller and general manager Frank Wren were both fired after the season.
"We're trying to maximize the experience of everyone here," said Thrift, who continues to interview other scouting candidates.
"Don has spent a lot of time on the field and all of us have worked together for five years. I think everyone agrees that continuity is very important and we've maintained that here."
Trebelhorn's new responsibilities will keep him in the field about 90 percent of the time, Thrift estimates. Among Trebelhorn's tasks will be to codify minor-league instruction at each level of the farm system, something Miller advocated during his two-year term and once carried out by Paul Richards, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. as "the Oriole way."
Formerly assistant general manager to Wren, Manno's title change to special assistant to vice president for baseball operations is in keeping with the elimination of the office of general manager.
Not all the changes are internal. In addition to Garcia and Thompson, Thrift says he hopes to hire a sixth professional scout by spring training, increasing the number from last season's four.
Well-respected Don Welke left the club during last month's winter meetings to accept a similar position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Major-league advance scout Deacon Jones, Curt Motton and Bob Schaeffer remain.
"We haven't finished," said Thrift, promoted last month from director of player personnel to his current position. "With the way baseball is structured, it's even more vital to have an increased professional scouting staff.
"In the past, we'd do our scouting in spring training, then have a missing link from April 1 through the [first-year player] draft. By adding more staff, we're better able to cover the minor and major leagues from spring training on."
Garcia was hired last month after serving as a regional scout with the Brewers. Thompson arrives from the Dodgers.
With their fifth starter for next season still a mystery, the Orioles have signed right-hander Jose Mercedes to a minor-league contract.
Mercedes, 29, who originally signed with the Orioles in 1989 before being lost to the Brewers in the 1993 Rule 5 draft, was recommended by Orioles director of Latin American scouting Carlos Bernhardt after compiling a 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA in 10 starts for Estrellas of the Dominican Winter League.
The Orioles also announced yesterday that pitchers and catchers will report to spring training Feb. 17, with all players to report Feb. 22.
The final installment of the exhibition schedule fell into place with confirmation of a March 28 game against a Minnesota Twins split squad. Tickets for all home exhibition games will go on sale Jan. 15.