Orioles need Port as GM to calm storm

ON BASEBALL

October 27, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have moved decisively to change their outlook for the future. So have the New York Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers and even the Detroit Tigers.

Now, it's time for the Orioles to step up.

There has been speculation for the past couple of months that owner Peter Angelos will reassign vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and pump new blood into the front office. Angelos has shown the proper deference to baseball commissioner Bud Selig's World Series news embargo, but there is no more time to waste.

The Orioles need new front office leadership, and there are plenty of options that would represent progress for an organization that just completed an unprecedented fifth straight losing season.

Mike Flanagan is champing at the bit to jump in and get his hands dirty, but Angelos is understandably reluctant to hand the club over to someone without experience as a general manager. The easy answer is a team-oriented approach that allows Flanagan to grow into the job with the help of a mentor.

The perfect fit for that role is Boston Red Sox general manager Mike Port, whose long experience in minor-league operations and player development would be the perfect complement to Flanagan's fresh ideas and deep Orioles roots.

Port, of course, is currently employed, but the Red Sox almost certainly would give the Orioles permission to court him. That club is grooming front office prodigy Theo Epstein to take over in the next few years, and he apparently wants to work with someone else.

The Orioles could help the Red Sox ease an uncomfortable situation, and Port could help the Orioles begin the process of restoring the franchise to some semblance of its previous glory.

Angelos might be interested in a bigger name, but Port is just right for this challenge. He is an organizational guy who has always gotten along well with his owners and the front office employees under him. He would build a bridge between the baseball operations department and the business side, where a chasm has existed since Thrift replaced Frank Wren.

Mets move

The Mets hadn't even officially announced the hiring of new manager Art Howe and the local papers were all over them.

"What a bunch of Lou-sers," said one of the tabloids, referring to earlier speculation that the Mets would pull out all the stops to sign Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella.

Howe has done a good job in Oakland, but it had become clear that he and general manager Billy Beane were not a perfect fit. He likely will do the same competent job in New York, but he isn't the exciting personality that the fans and media in New York were expecting.

Time for a flashback: When Joe Torre was hired to manage the Yankees before the 1996 season, the tabloids ripped into Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for bringing a retread manager of only modest achievement. Torre's teams won the World Series four of the next five years and the Yankees have been in the postseason in every season he has managed the club.

Now, it is generally accepted that Torre's reserved, unflappable managerial style was perfect for the Yankees. Howe just might turn out to be the same kind of success story across town.

Expos sojourn

The latest rumor about the immediate future of the Montreal Expos has them settling in Boston for a year and playing at Fenway Park. The New York Daily News reported in Thursday's editions that the temporary move would get the Expos out of Montreal and benefit the Red Sox because the new ownership could collect rent for the National League games there.

Don't hold your breath.

Such a move would create as many problems as it would solve. The new Red Sox ownership paid about $700 million to acquire one of baseball's great franchises. It seems unlikely that the new owners would consider the short-term revenue boost created by a second team in the stadium worth the risk of damaging their baseball monopoly in the area.

And Major League Baseball, though very capable of being shortsighted, has to realize that uprooting the Expos without a permanent destination only restricts its future options and its ability to get the highest possible price when it eventually sells the team.

It seems more likely that the Expos will stay in Montreal for one more year and play some series at alternate sites, perhaps including a novelty "homestand" at Fenway Park.

Tampa Bay folly

The Devil Rays are determined to sign Piniella to a long-term contract and give their fans an opportunity to dream of better days, but the high price of wresting him away from the Mariners might leave Tampa Bay no better off for the effort.

Piniella is going to command a four-year contract worth $13 million to $16 million. The Devil Rays also will have to compensate the Mariners, probably by giving up 2002 team Most Valuable Player Randy Winn and one more player.

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