Q&A with Dan Connolly



Sun reporter answers questions about the Orioles and baseball free agency

Percy, Easton: Everyone understands what the Orioles needs are, but realistically, what does your magic 8 ball say the most likely free agent additions the Orioles will be making this offseason?

Dan Connolly: I'm sure my Magic 8 Ball is a little less optimistic than the one held by Mike Flanagan and crew. I think the organization has put itself behind the proverbial 8 ball with 8 losing seasons and a disaster of a 2005 campaign. I think the club will have to grossly overpay to lure the top free agents here, and I don't think the Orioles are willing - or should be willing, honestly - to do that at this point. If this team inked Paul Konerko, Kevin Millwood, A.J. Burnett, Ramon Hernandez, Brian Giles and B.J. Ryan they'd fill all of their holes and be legitimate playoff contenders. But I don't see any of those six signing here, mainly because they are in high demand and likely will choose a more proven winner. Signing one would be a successful offseason.

Instead, Orioles fans might have to settle for L.A.'s Paul Byrd, a lower-tier closer such as Todd Jones or Ugueth Urbina (stop-gaps for Chris Ray) and maybe a catcher such as Brad Ausmus. But at least they are additions. And I do expect the Orioles to make a trade for a hitter (the free-agent class is rather weak) such as a Mike Cameron or a Juan Pierre. Again, my Magic 8 is a little more clouded than the ones used by the guys making the decisions.

Ray, Glen Allen, Va.: Dan, I think the acquisition of Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone could be one of the biggest moves the O's have ever made. What's your take on it?

Dan Connolly: If signing a pitching coach is one of the organization's best moves ever, that speaks volumes - and not necessarily about the pitching coach. I think it is a good, positive move, certainly an impressive one since the Yankees were sniffing around Rockin' Leo as well. But, in the past, this organization has made plenty of great moves, so I am not sure this is a Top Fiver; we just haven't seen many recently.

Mazzone's track record is unparalleled, but he won't have any success unless his pitchers are willing to buy into his program. And that's up to Bedard, Cabrera, etc. None of the current Orioles pitchers (with the exception of Bruce Chen) knows Mazzone, and he's going to have an uphill battle working with some of them. Remember, Ray Miller and Mark Wiley (no matter what some fans might think) are well-respected pitching coaches and their impact as a whole is arguable. I expect Mazzone to reach some of the young pitchers and help develop them, and that would be great. But let's not assume this team automatically leads the league in ERA just because Mazzone is here.

Tim, Suffolk, Va.: Knowing how likely it is that the Orioles are going to lose B.J. Ryan to free agency, why wasn't there a push to trade him last July?

Dan Connolly: Simply put, because during most of last July, the team was in the pennant race and didn't want to send a message to fans it was giving up. Most of that month was spent trying to improve the club, not selling off an all-star. And I think that was the right path. Once they couldn't get a deal done, and the Orioles fell into a terrible run, the organization began discussing Ryan with other clubs, but they didn't have much time left and didn't want to rush through such an important deal. I have little problem with that.

The real question is why didn't the Orioles sign him in March when they could have gotten him for nearly half of what he'll get now? The Orioles could have signed Ryan for three years/ $15 million. But he wasn't a closer yet. They offered three years and around $10 million. The gap was never closed and now B.J. could bring in four years, $28 million or more, depending on the bidding war.

Kevin, Seymour, Conn.: The free agent market looks very thin for pitching help. I would like to see the O's bring up some minor league prospects rather than make a move for the sake of making a move. Steve Reed and Steve Kline are proof of this. Who are the best bets for pitching help that can be promoted for 2006?

, Dan Connolly: We've seen some of them already, Kevin. Future closer Chris Ray looks like he is in the big leagues to stay. Hayden Penn, who just turned 21 in October, projects as a top of the rotation starter and I'd be surprised if he wasn't a mainstay of the rotation by the middle of next season. He was spotty in his big-league promotion in 2005, but he showed enough promise to excite the organization. John Maine could help at the back of the rotation and the organization's 2005 pitcher of the year, big right-hander James "J.J." Johnson, 22, likely will start at Double-A Bowie and could make his way to the Orioles with a strong performances.

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