Long before the calendar turns to 1994, Orioles watchers in and out of the organization are starting to ponder the big questions for next season.
Many of those questions center around the abilities of key players such as Mike Mussina, Gregg Olson and Jeffrey Hammonds to bounce back from injuries.
Certainly, who will play third base is not high on the list, but it is intriguing to ponder.
The current third basemen, Tim Hulett and Mike Pagliarulo, say they're not thinking of next season, not when there's a chance to make money this year for finishing second or third in the American League East.
"There's no need to look at what Toronto does, but you want to keep that intensity going," said Pagliarulo.
That attitude and professional approach are part of the package that come with both Pagliarulo and Hulett, both low-key, 33-year-old veterans with lockers next to each other in the Orioles' clubhouse.
Both are free agents after the season, and their solid play down the stretch and relative cost-effectiveness certainly add to their attractiveness to the Orioles.
Each made $400,000 this year and could be re-signed for a modest increase next year, should the Orioles decide to bring them back in place of Leo Gomez, who, even before injuring his wrist in July, had been slumping badly.
"They played good defense and they both swung the bat well," said manager Johnny Oates. "Those two guys stepped into what turned into a platoon situation and played well."
Pagliarulo, who came to the Orioles in a trade Aug. 15 from the Minnesota Twins, might be slightly more valuable to the Orioles because he bats left-handed.
Pagliarulo has contributed fine defense and a good power stroke, hitting six home runs in 103 at-bats and averaging an RBI for every 5.4 at-bats as an Oriole.
"I always thought this was a nice place to play, even before I came here, but coming here has been even better," said Pagliarulo, who had a career-high 32 homers in 1987 with the New York Yankees. "They give you the chance to be the player you can be. In Minnesota, they told me to hit to all fields, but here, they've said, 'Do what you can do and drive the ball.' "
Hulett's abilities and contributions are a bit more familiar, as he completes his fourth season here.
Hulett, who bats right-handed, has been a utility player with the Orioles, getting occasional starts at second and third and spelling Cal Ripken at short in blowouts.
But Hulett, who is hitting .303, was pressed into full-time service at third for a month when Gomez went on the disabled list. He has responded well, batting .305 in 42 starts since the All-Star break.
"I've been here for a while and have usually been in a lesser role," said Hulett. "With Leo going down, I got to play more of a role. Everybody wants to play. I want to play, but things have worked out."
Though Pagliarulo's arrival has cut his playing time, Hulett's 251 at-bats are the most he has had in a season since he was the everyday third baseman for the Chicago White Sox in 1986, when he hit .231 in 520 at-bats.
Hulett understands that he will not command a great deal of money on the open market, but that fact may make him attractive to a club looking for a proven veteran who can play three infield positions.
The rub is that a club with an everyday position to offer Hulett might not be in pennant contention, a factor that is not insignificant to a player of Hulett's age.
"I wouldn't just go to any team or to any situation," said Hulett. "At this stage of my career, the chance to win a division and play for a World Series is important. We're only going to get better here the next couple of years, so that [staying] is appealing to me."