Syd Thrift said there is a plan. Two plans, actually. One if the Orioles stay in contention. And one if they fall out.
Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, said he began strategizing on Jan.1. His immediate goal is to stick with Plan A and salvage the season. But if Plan A fails, he sounds willing, even eager, to try Plan B.
Subject to approval, of course.
Plan B is the one many fans want, but owner Peter Angelos has resisted in recent seasons.
Plan B is a turnover that would commence with trading veterans for prospects, and transform the Orioles from an aging, high-priced team into a more youthful, balanced mix."We must get back to that," Thrift said Monday. "We have no alternative, do we?"
No, they don't. And frankly, a sudden revival by the Dinosaurioles would only complicate a picture that is rather complicated already.
At this early stage, the Orioles can still argue that things will get better, seeing as how Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson have combined for only one victory and the bullpen can't get any worse (haven't we heard that one before?).
But the reality is that Thrift can't trade his way out of this, and that injuries (Will Clark, Cal Ripken, even Delino DeShields) probably will prevent the Orioles from making a serious run at the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
The best guess is that the Orioles will be forced into Plan B.
And Thrift seems to understand that it would be embraced by fans in a town where the 1989 "Why Not?" Orioles are still revered."I walk the streets. I hear it all the time. We saw it with [David] Dellucci, for heaven's sake. Remember when he was here (for 17 games in 1997)? Nobody cared that he hit only .222. They saw him running and diving, all that energy. It made me sick we lost him in the expansion draft."
That last sentence, for those unable to read between the warehouse lines, is a shot at former general manager Pat Gillick. The expansion draft wasn't Gillick's finest hour - he also lost Aaron Ledesma and, with a push from Angelos, Esteban Yan. But to this point, Thrift's brief tenure is nothing to brag about, either.
The bullpen is his creation. He can't be blamed for the Aaron Sele deal collapsing - that was Angelos' doing - but he signed Pat Rapp (3-2, 5.45) rather than Hideo Nomo (1-2, 4.24) or Steve Trachsel (3-2, 4.17), and showed no interest in left-hander Pete Schourek (2-3, 2.78) after Erickson went down.
Would Thrift even be capable of identifying the right players to trade, then acquiring the right players for them? For better or worse, the Orioles' future depends on it now that Gillick, Kevin Malone and Frank Wren are gone.
Thrift said he would have all the information he needs - the Orioles increased their major-league scouting staff from two to seven this season. And he pointed to his record as Pittsburgh Pirates' GM from 1985 to '88 as proof of his rebuilding prowess.
Within a span of nine months, Thrift made three deals in which he traded veterans for future All-Stars. First, he sent Rick Rhoden to the Yankees in a six-player trade for Doug Drabek. Next, he sent Jose DeLeon to the White Sox for Bobby Bonilla. And finally, he sent Tony Pena to the Cardinals for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliereand Mike Dunne.
Those players helped form the foundation of the Pittsburgh teams that won three straight NL East titles from 1990 to '92. Thrift also promoted Barry Bonds, John Smiley and Jose Lind from Triple-A and gave manager Jim Leyland his start. Of course, that happened more than a decade ago.
The difference with the Orioles is that Thrift would lack a safety net like Bonds at Triple-A, and operate with far less room for error. His three most marketable players are probably Mussina, B.J. Surhoff and Mike Bordick. But those are three players he probably would want to build around.
No-trade clauses also would work against any rebuilding effort. Mussina has said he won't waive his no-trade right. Surhoff can only be dealt to eight teams. Albert Belle and Brady Anderson have complete no-trade clauses, and Erickson will gain the right to block any deal once he becomes a 10-year veteran with five years of service to the same club on July 7.
"I didn't trade him in the winter. I don't think I'm going to trade him now," Thrift said of Erickson. "He's been a very dependable pitcher for a long time. Why go looking for pitchers if you have dependable pitchers? You're going to get someone else like him? Where?"
Nowhere, and if the Orioles lost Mussina, they would be really stuck. The same might be said of the team without Bordick at shortstop, even though he turns 35 in July. Asked if the Orioles want to re-sign Bordick, Thrift replied, "I would say yes."
Who, then, would they trade?
Clark, Harold Baines and Charles Johnson would be possibilities. Another idea would be to persuade an outfielder to waive his no-trade clause, enabling the Orioles to move Anderson out of center, one way or another.