The ownership group led by Peter G. Angelos officially took control of the Orioles franchise yesterday, but it still is unclear whether that is good news or bad for the front-office hierarchy that has run the club for the past five years.
Angelos applauded the current leadership of the team, but he did nothing to dismiss the possibility that there could be major changes in the decision-making nucleus of the team.
"We will do everything possible to continue all the good work of Eli Jacobs, Larry Lucchino, Roland Hemond and Johnny Oates," Angelos said yesterday at an Oriole Park ceremony to announce the completion of the sale and its unanimous approval by Major League Baseball. "But to say that we will try to improve upon it is only the course of normal human events."
As the team's new managing general partner, Angelos has complete authority over all decisions relating to the operation of the club, so he is in a position to rehire or fire manager Johnny Oates and restructure the front office. He tried to be noncommittal about the likelihood of individual changes, but in a conversation last night, he made no secret of his intention to reorganize the front office.
"There definitely will be a reorganization," Angelos said. "There will be a distinct division between the business side of the team and the baseball side."
That could be good news for Orioles fans, because Angelos has indicated he is ready to spend substantially to improve the on-field talent, but it could turn out to be bad news for certain members of the current management.
The arrival of the Angelos group leaves the Orioles with five executives who have overlapping job descriptions. Lucchino has been acting as chief executive officer of the club since it was owned by Edward Bennett Williams, and has been working closely with general manager Roland Hemond and assistants Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson on the baseball side. Incoming vice chairman William O. DeWitt Jr. is expected to have tremendous influence over baseball-related decisions, which raises the possibility that the chain of command will be streamlined.
The evaluation process begins today, when Angelos moves into the Orioles offices. He said he does not want to get ahead of himself, and does not want to create a feeling of suspense within the organization.
"There has been much speculation in the media about changes that we might put into place," he said. "I think it would be presumptuous to say from the outside, to say that we intend to make changes. Obviously, we have not had the opportunity to make careful analysis of the operation of the club and its guiding group."
The one employee who has been under Angelos' scrutiny, however, is Oates, because he is the one front-office employee whose job performance can be evaluated from the perspective of a fan. He is the only one with a statistical record.
There have been indications that Angelos is considering a change, but his public posture has been very positive toward Oates and the other Orioles executives. Because he was not prepared to announce a decision on any of them, he had to walk a fine line between giving each a vote of confidence and leaving doubt about their futures.
"I don't look at Larry and Johnny Oates and Roland Hemond as candidates for change," Angelos said. "I look at them as individuals who have had a great deal of success and accomplishment. Whether there would be a change or not, there would a kind of careful review and analysis and consideration given to the people involved."
Oates' situation probably will be dealt with first, because the club is under an Oct. 31 deadline to exercise the 1994 option on his contract. One source in the ownership group indicated that Oates probably will be back, but the final decision will be made after Angelos meets with Oates to discuss the future of the team.
Angelos said yesterday that he will spend the next 10 days meeting with Orioles officials and working to familiarize himself with the operation. He indicated during yesterday's news conference that he might take up to 90 days to decide on the makeup of the front office, but said later that it would be in the best interests of the team to have that resolved as quickly as possible.
"It wouldn't be fair to have people in a state of uncertainty for 90 days," he said. "It behooves us to make the decisions we are going to make as quickly as possible for everybody's sake. We owe it to them to move rapidly."
No doubt, Orioles fans will be eager to see the front-office situation clarified so the club can move into the personnel acquisition stage of the off-season, since there is every reason to believe that Angelos will spend freely to improve the club. He reinforced that notion again yesterday when he spelled out his wish list for the winter.
"I'm looking from the outside like everybody else, but on the surface it seems that we need some pitching help and that
100-RBI guy that you guys always talk about," Angelos said. "I agree. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that which is the ideal."
That 100-RBI man could come in the form of a free-agent first baseman. Angelos mentioned potential free agents Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro as possibilities. He also said the club would have succeeded in acquiring Fred McGriff earlier this year if Angelos had been in control of the club.
Angelos said that he has been looking at the team from a fan's perspective. He was not given the opportunity to study the team from the inside during the two months that he waited for approval of his $173 million bid for the club. But he knows the uncertainty created by the injuries to reliever Gregg Olson and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds will make it more complicated to upgrade the roster.
Nevertheless, he said he will spend whatever is prudent to improve the team, perhaps signing as many as two or three top players in the free-agent market.
"I have an idea -- an approximation -- but I'm not in a position yet to say we can earmark X million dollars for player improvement," he said. "I can't say we know exactly, but we will certainly be in a position to sign that 100-RBI guy if it is a good and sensible move."
The Orioles payroll was more than $30 million this past season, but the departure of first baseman Glenn Davis will help absorb the inevitable increases that several players will receive when their contracts are rewritten this winter. If Angelos is serious about signing two top quality free agents, that could take the payroll close to $40 million.
"We will make all those expenditures necessary to make sure the ballclub is on top," he said, "but we will never endanger the financial stability of the Orioles."
ISSUES AND ANSWERS
Incoming Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos spent nearly an hour yesterday discussing the future of the Orioles franchise. Though he announced no personnel decisions, he did touch on several areas of interest to Orioles fans:
On local ownership
"I predict that this club will never leave Baltimore and I promise you that the club will never be controlled by outside interests."
On injured players Gregg Olson and Jeffrey Hammonds
"Obviously, that's a cause for concern, but you journalists worry about it so well, I don't have to. I know they are certainly being well-cared for. We'll take a good hard look and see how things work out. If it turns out they won't be [ready to play next year], then the group will have to consider ways to fill the empty spaces."
On free-agent spending
"I think everybody wants to win. That's because of the nature of the game. The fans want a winner. We all want a winner. I do believe that you've got to be careful that you don't do things with free agency that might jeopardize the financial stability of the club, but I do not preclude the expenditure of substantial sums in the free-agent arena."
On the pitching staff
"Before those three games in Detroit [when the Tigers scored 47 runs], we thought we were in pretty good shape. On the surface, it appears that we need pitching help, and with the problem with Olson, it appears we need help in the bullpen."
On whether the former ownership was not willing to spend on personnel
"I think that's true to an extent, but I also think that the prudent management of the financial resources of this organization is the hallmark of the Orioles organization under Eli Jacobs."
On the unsuccessful attempt to acquire Fred McGriff
"If I would have been around at the time Fred McGriff was going to be traded, I think Fred McGriff would be here today. Some of our key personnel say our offer for him was better than the one the Braves made. Maybe not enough energy was put behind the effort. I think there are many people in Baltimore that believe the Fred McGriff opportunity should have been taken."
On a spring training site
"That is a matter that has to be taken up. I've heard that there are [possibilities] in Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale. My personal choice would be the East Coast and Lauderdale if the Yankees are leaving there, but that's just a story I've heard. We've also heard from Homestead, and we may consider spending a year there because it might help out those people. They called and they were very nice. I told them I would come down there and take a look."