Facing strike three, should GM duo be out?

ON BASEBALL

August 09, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY

WITH Lee Mazzilli gone, there's another burning question lingering in the smoldering remnants of this once promising Orioles season.

Who's got next? In the unemployment line, that is.

Is it club executive vice president Jim Beattie? Is it vice president Mike Flanagan? How about both? And if they both are gone, then Sam Perlozzo is probably out the door, too.

You have to expect a new general manager to choose his own manager. If not, that would be like naming a manager and refusing to let him pick his own coaches, and how crazy would that be? The ugly truth is if the Orioles don't turn around their poor play, they'll have an eighth consecutive losing season, including a third straight in the Beattie-Flanagan regime.

In the past under owner Peter Angelos, that's been enough for a pink slip.

Although it seemed interminable, Syd Thrift's time as the primary front office decision-maker also lasted just three seasons. By December 2002, his time in Baltimore had come to a merciful end.

Three years later, the Orioles still aren't a playoff team. And Beattie and Flanagan really haven't distinguished themselves. Their trades have been pedestrian, their signings have been mixed and they've dumped their hand-picked manager and minor league director. Not an impressive record.

Then again, can this organization really afford to fire them and start from scratch? Can it deal with more instability? Angelos' choice isn't easy: Stick with continuity even if the performance has been mediocre or try someone else with a potentially better upside and risk another offseason when the Orioles are behind the curve at the winter meetings.

For those with short memories, here are some tragic words from the last time that happened: $7.5 million for Omar Daal.

Orioles insiders have two theories. One is that Flanagan will become the sole GM this offseason and Beattie will be ushered out of the organization or to a less hands-on position.

The other theory is that Angelos hasn't made up his mind. That with so much going on, the GM isn't an immediate priority.

Really, both schools of thought may be right on.

Because they have worked together so closely, it's hard to distinguish Beattie's role from Flanagan's. When hired, Flanagan was thought to be the organization's recognizable face while Beattie would be the behind-the-scenes industry expert. If anything, Beattie has emerged as the more accessible spokesman. For the most part, though, they've maintained the public perception of a partnership. So they should be held equally responsible for the club's moves the past three years. That includes perhaps the most important transaction in franchise history: signing Miguel Tejada to a six-year, $72 million contract, the richest ever by the Orioles.

Choosing a franchise player is risky, and they picked the perfect person in Tejada. The two-headed GM also signed solid offensive catcher Javy Lopez and grabbed starter Bruce Chen, reliever Todd Williams and utility man David Newhan from the scrapheap.

Those are the highlights. There are lowlights aplenty. The duo signed apparent free-agent busts Daal, Steve Reed, Steve Kline and Sidney Ponson. They came close but couldn't hook stars such as Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd. They've been accused of being too methodical in their trade talks and contract negotiations.

Dealing Ponson for three young pitchers seemed like a coup in July 2003, but none panned out - and neither has Ponson in his second tour here.

The Sammy Sosa deal was important only because it gave Brian Roberts a chance to play every day. Their other trades either have been forgettable (obtaining Jack Cust, Ramon Nivar, Eli Marrero) or are still under review (Jason Grimsley for Denny Bautista, Eric Byrnes for Larry Bigbie).

It can be argued, though, that Beattie and Flanagan have done what they could in an unenviable situation.

They work for an opinionated owner who has vetoed trades. Their checkbook was squeezed when the Nationals moved to Washington. They are competing in a town with a long history and an understandably dissatisfied fan base. They are in a division with baseball's two biggest money teams. And what the club needs most, starting pitching, is the most difficult thing to buy or trade for.

Maybe, just maybe, the duo is better than the results. Maybe Flanagan and/or Beattie will be more creative in the future and will find key players for a postseason run.

Sadly, that might be the best Orioles fans can hope for.

The alternative is more firings, a new front office and another period of instability and adjustment.

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