Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone will interview with the Orioles in the next couple of days, perhaps as early as today, and team officials are confident about the possibility of him joining manager Sam Perlozzo's staff.
"As far as our relationship is concerned, I think we have a real good shot," said Perlozzo, one of Mazzone's closest friends and the best man in his wedding. "But if we were able to get him, [executive vice president] Mike Flanagan and [owner] Peter Angelos are the ones that are going to do it. They are the ones that will seal the deal."
Like life on the field, the Orioles' stiffest competition for Mazzone, the Braves' 16-year pitching coach who is lauded as one of the best in the game, will seemingly come from the New York Yankees, who are trying to fill their pitching coach vacancy after Mel Stottlemyre quit.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Joe Torre reportedly discussed Mazzone as a possible replacement during a meeting Monday in Tampa, Fla.
Mazzone's agent, Jack Reale, did not return a call last night; however, one high-ranking Orioles official, who requested anonymity, said that if the finances are right - and he believes that the Orioles are prepared to offer the market price - Mazzone will become the team's next pitching coach.
And Mazzone might not be the only addition the Orioles will make in the coming days. According to one team source, New York Mets senior vice president for baseball operations Jim Duquette has emerged as the front-runner for a high-ranking position in the Orioles' front office. An offer to Duquette, according to the team source, could be made very soon.
Orioles current pitching coach Ray Miller, who had surgery last week to repair an aortic aneurysm, will almost certainly not return, according to a team source, even though the organization was pleased with the job he has done in the past two seasons. Miller talked to Perlozzo and Flanagan before his surgery, which came on the day Perlozzo had the interim tag removed, and gave them the go-ahead to talk to other pitching coaches.
"I talked to Sammy before the surgery and told him that if there's a coach out there you can get that you think you'll work well with, don't worry about our friendship. `Go ahead, go for it,' " said Miller, who is living in a hotel near Johns Hopkins Hospital while rehabilitating. "If Oct. 31 [the day his contract with the Orioles is up] rolls around and I don't have a job, I could end up a lot of different places."
Several major league executives confirmed that most of the league's top pitching coaches are paid anywhere from $350,000 to $450,000 annually. It is believed that Stottlemyre was making approximately $450,000, leading to speculation that the Yankees would nearly double Mazzone's salary.
Despite his sterling reputation and results of his staffs, Mazzone is in the middle of the salary structure for pitching coaches. It is believed that he earned $250,000 this season on his one- year contract, which expires next month. Several industry sources feel that Mazzone is ready for a change after being in the Braves' organization since 1979.
After being granted permission by the Braves to talk to Mazzone yesterday, Flanagan said last night that the Orioles are nearing the "end of the process" before being allowed to contact the 57-year-old. The conversation will likely be done over the phone.
"Obviously, we want to get into this and see what it's all about," said Flanagan.
Growing up in Western Maryland, Perlozzo and Mazzone were often competitors on the baseball diamond. But that started to change when Mazzone moved on the same block as Perlozzo in Cumberland after both became coaches. With no games to be at in the winter, the two frequently hung out and became best friends. Mazzone no longer lives in Cumberland, but when he returned to the area to visit his children in past years, he stayed at Perlozzo's house.
"We're best friends," said Perlozzo, who is planning on visiting Miller today. "This is not a casual relationship. I think anyone that knows me well enough, knows that if I ever had a chance to be with Leo, that's what we wanted to do."
Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.