October/ November 1998
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It's the offseason, so as you can imagine, the big news involves transactions. Even more than most teams, the Orioles have to make major roster changes, with so many free agents and so many holes on the roster.
The changes started in the bullpen, as the Orioles signed 33- year old right hander Mike Timlin to a four year, $16 million contract. Timlin, who came from Seattle after spending most of his career in Toronto, will almost certainly be handed the closer's job; Armando Benitez's replacement was a given the moment he hit Tino Martinez with that pitch. The only question at this point is whether Benitez will be traded or simply "demoted" to setup man. (Actually, we at DUOP don't look at setup man as a "demotion." It's just as important a job.) That's why another transaction is a mixed blessing: Alan Mills, who the Orioles had expected to retain, was signed by Kevin Malone, Davey Johnson, and the Dodgers. That might mean that Benitez won't be traded after all; the bullpen can't really afford two losses. But it also means that the Orioles spent $16 million and have the same number of holes as they had before.
That is, until they lost free agent outfielder Eric Davis, who signed a two year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. That leaves the Orioles with only Brady Anderson as a starting outfielder, and a crying need to sign Bernie Williams. Fortunately, Juan Guzman, who had the right to demand a trade, decided to stay with the Os, or things would look really bleak. There have also been some changes off the field; pitching coach Mike Flanagan returned to the broadcasting booth, and was replaced with Bruce Kison, who had been pitching coach of the Royals the past five years. And the Orioles replaced first base coach Carlos Bernhardt with Rochester manager Marv Foley.
So what are the Orioles planning on doing the rest of the offseason? Well, they lost out on Jose Offerman, who was signed by the Red Sox. But they're reportedly interested in some big ticket acqusitions like Brian Jordan, Todd Stottlemyre, and Randy Johnson. And the Orioles, apparently realizing they may not obtain any of their free agents, have rekindled their interest in Rafael Palmeiro.
The postseason awards have all been released, and as expected, the Orioles haven't exactly done well. Rafael Palmeiro and Eric Davis finished 18th in the AL MVP voting. Each received just one vote. Ex-Oriole David Wells did significantly better, finishing a distant third in the Cy Young voting and 16th in the MVP voting. As you could guess, Ray Miller did not duplicate Davey Johnson's feat of winning Manager of the Year.
Finally, as is DUOP's wont, we present ex-O news: in addition to Mills' signing with the Dodgers, 3B/OF Bobby Bonilla was traded from the Dodgers to the Mets. LHP Rick Krivda and OF Tony Tarasco were released by the Reds. RHP Garrett Stephenson was traded from the Phillies to the Cardinals in the Ron Gant/Ricky Bottalico deal. Ancient RHP Dennis Martinez, and IF We'd Like To Forget Ozzie Guillen filed for free agency. On the minor league front, IF Jeff Huson was signed by Anaheim, and RHP Archie Corbin was signed by Florida. And in the front office world, John Shelby, who played OF in the 1980s for the Os, was named first base coach of the Dodgers, while 70s OF/DH Don Baylor was named hitting coach in Atlanta.
The big news since our last update is that the GM search has been finished. The Orioles have hired Marlins' Assistant GM Frank Wren to be their ninth general manager. Wren had been a finalist for the San Diego Padres' GM job in 1995. Like most assistant GMs, Wren did not get much publicity, but he did make the news when it was reported that Jim Leyland used a computer program to help him pick the All-Star team this year. Frank Wren was reportedly the man responsible for developing that program. Given DUOP's bias towards statistical analysis, you can probably imagine that it made us happy to learn this fact.
The hiring of Wren is important, because there are lots of decisions that need to be made. Since our last update, all eligible Orioles except Juan Guzman -- who is waiting to see whether the Orioles will exercise his option -- have filed for free agency. That includes BJ Surhoff, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Eric Davis, Jimmy Key, Pete Smith, Doug Drabek, and Alan Mills. Under the Elias ranking system agreed to by the players and owners, Palmeiro, Surhoff, Alomar, Davis, and Key are Type A free agents, meaning that the Orioles could get two draft picks if any of them signs elsewhere, Mills is a Type B free agent, (one draft pick), Smith is a Type C free agent (one lower draft pick), and Drabek merits no compensation at all if he signs elsewhere. Compensation is not automatic, however; the Orioles must offer free agents arbitration in order to get the extra draft picks. (Guzman, if he becomes a free agent, would be a Type B.)
It's not clear where Wren and the Orioles stand on all these players, but it's entirely possible that only Cal Ripken and Mike Bordick will be returning at the same positions in April as they were playing this past September. Two free agents, Mike Piazza and Al Leiter, have resigned with the Mets, both for large sums of money, and this has had the dual effect of taking players off the market that the Orioles would have been interested in and affecting the demands of Orioles' players like Rafael Palmeiro. The Orioles have still apparently not contacted any agent except Palmeiro's, and are concentrating more on signing some free agent pitchers. In addition to possibly resigning their own free agents, it's clear that the Os will be big players for many of the high-priced free agents on the market, including Kevin Brown, Bernie Williams, Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle, and may be interested in Todd Hundley and any closer other than Randy Myers. It does not look like Roberto Alomar will be back, however.
A front office shakeup has occured since Wren was hired; scouting director Gary Nickels has been let go by the Orioles. Nickels had been in his position for eight years, predating Peter Angelos, Pat Gillick, and other significant members of the organization. Nickels has apparently reached the stage where he's "well-respected" in baseball, but as far as DUOP can tell, his career in the scouting role has been nothing short of disastrous. It's hard to be sure precisely what his responsibilities were or what decisions he was allowed to make, but the farm system's performance during his tenure was nothing to write home about. The Orioles drafted or signed very few talented players in the entire time Nickels was in Baltimore. While there were some successes like Mike Mussina, there were some major flops like Alvie Shepherd, and overall, it's hard to find many organizations who have developed fewer players than the Orioles have this decade.
Nickels is getting a lot of mileague out of the 1997 trio of Matt Riley, Jayson Werth, and Darnell McDonald, but it's rather early to engrave HOF plaques for these guys. And other well-regarded prospects like Ryan Minor have done nothing to justify the hype they have received. Despite being anointed as Cal's heir apparent at third base, Minor hasn't hit much in the minors and hasn't been performing in the Arizona Fall League, either, hitting 176/234/314 (BA/OBP/SLG) in 55 plate appearances. (On the other hand, Jerry Hairston Jr. has been tearing up the league, hitting 383/463/553 in 54 PAs.)
In other farm system news, minor league free agents from the Orioles' organization include Terry Burrows, Rich Kelley, Richie Lewis, Jason McCommon, Steve Montgomery, Bobby Munoz, Gavin Osteen, Kasey Richardson, Earl Steinmetz, Everett Stull, Dave Turgeon, Greg Twiggs, Ray Young, Ryan Luzinski, Mel Rosario, Bo Dodson, Decomba Conner, Tim Garland, Derek Lee, Ricky Otero, and Roberto Ramirez.
In Ex-Os front office news, Davey Johnson was named manager of the Dodgers, joining former Os assistant general manager Kevin Malone in Los Angeles. (Bobby Bonilla, the Dodger third baseman acquired in the Mike Piazza trade, is now rumored to be on the trading block because of his differences with Davey when both were in Baltimore.) Longtime Os catcher Rick Dempsey and recently fired hitting coach Rick Down were named as coaches for the Dodgers. Meanwhile, former Oriole manager Phil Regan, Ray Miller's clone, has been hired as pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians also announced that assistant GM Dan O'Dowd, who interviewed for the Orioles' GM position but reportedly angered Peter Angelos by bluntly criticizing Ray Miller, was fired. And Ex-Oriole Roy Smith, who pitched for the team in 1991, is now the Pirates' assistant general manager for player personnel.
In other Ex-O news, free agent filers include, among others, Geronimo Berroa,
Mark Parent, Jose Mesa, Kevin Brown, Steve Finley, Doug Jones, Mike Morgan, and
Jim Poole. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks exercized their option on Gregg Olson's
contract. Notable minor league free agents include Shawn Boskie, Jose Bautista,
BJ Waszgis, Sherman Obando, Juan Bautista, Terry Mathews, Joel Bennett, Scott
Klingenbeck, Mark Eichhorn, Cesar Devarez, Terry Clark, Jimmy Myers, Francisco
Saneaux, Bret Barberie, Rene Gonzalez, and Brent Bowers.
Last update, we reported on the Orioles' GM search. At the time, candidates included Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden, and assistant GMs Frank Wren of the Florida Marlins, Dean Taylor of the Atlanta Braves, Dan O'Dowd of the Cleveland Indians, and Dan Evans of the Chicago White Sox. Since then, Jim Bowden decided to remain with the Reds and Dan O'Dowd eliminated himself from the running with his blunt questioning of Peter Angelos's management style. Interestingly enough, Bowden was the recommended choice of Davey Johnson and Syd Thrift, while O'Dowd was departing GM Pat Gillick's preference. In any case, it appears that Dan Evans and Frank Wren are now the frontrunners.
In other front office news, after being passed over for the Tigers' managerial job, Davey Johnson is a finalist for the same job in Los Angeles, and recently fired Colorado manager (and ex-Oriole) Don Baylor, named as a likely successor to Ray Miller, has reportedly turned down a coaching job with the Mariners.
And the Orioles have made their second coaching change this month, reassigning 1998 first base coach Carlos Bernhardt a week after replacing hitting coach Rick Down with Terry Crowley. Bernhardt has been named Director of Scouting in the Dominican Republic. Although this is not being portrayed as a negative, and although Bernhardt does not seem angry about the decision, it seems clear to DUOP that Bernhardt is another casualty of front office confusion. Bernhardt was brought in to keep Armando Benitez in line, on the absurd theory that Benitez would listen to Bernhardt just because they're both Dominican (What was even more absurd was the idea that Benitez needed to be kept in line.) It has been suggested that Eddie Murray will take over as first base coach.
Congrats are due for Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, and Mike Mussina, all of whom won gold gloves this year. The award is Alomar's seventh (and second as an Oriole), Mussina's third, and Palmeiro's second, and adds to the Orioles' already impressive list of Gold Glove winners. Palmeiro was also named the American League's Silver Slugger first baseman in a poll of league managers and coaches.
And in a couple of brief ex-O notes, Jeff Manto and Doug Jones were released
by the Indians, while first base coach Al Bumbry was "reassigned."
While 1998 wasn't a successful year for the Orioles, "David's Unofficial Orioles Page" would like to thank you for sticking with us this season. Over the offseason, we won't be updating the site everday, but we will do our best to cover the latest happenings with the Orioles. We'll also be updating our historical archives, adding more rosters and statistics and other features in our efforts to improve DUOP and continue to make it your internet site for the Orioles.
That having been said, there are a few stories which we wanted to bring to your attention.
As for those veterans, the Orioles also have to figure out what to do with all their potential free agents. The Orioles have nine: BJ Surhoff, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Eric Davis, Pete Smith, Doug Drabek, Alan Mills, Jimmy Key, and Juan Guzman. The Orioles are likely to retain Surhoff and Davis. They don't seem to want to bring back Alomar, blaming him for clubhouse problems, and don't seem to want to meet Palmeiro's price. They (curiously) have made no effort to resign Mills, and Guzman doesn't seem to want to stay. Drabek, Key, and Smith are washed up, due to age, injury, and lack of talent, respectively. We don't know what will happen, but one thing is certain: Peter Angelos will spend money, rather than letting 1999 be a building year.