The Orioles want to re-sign third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, and they've got a chance to do it quickly. The minute Peter Angelos recovers from laryngitis, he should call general manager Roland Hemond and scream, "Bring back Pags!"
The status of a 33-year-old third baseman might not seem like a pressing concern in mid-October, but it's first on the Orioles' off-season checklist, and represents a window of opportunity for the new regime.
Pagliarulo can become a free agent if the Orioles decline to offer him salary arbitration in the five days after the World Series. That's what would happen if Eli Jacobs were still owner, but this need not require procrastination.
The Orioles want to avoid offering Pagliarulo arbitration, continuing a trend they established last winter. But they also want to avoid exposing him to free agency, fearing he might sign with another team.
Hence, the incentive to strike a deal.
Pagliarulo wants to return, but his agent, Alan Nero, said last week that he's considering a two-year offer from a Japanese club. The Orioles believe that Pagliarulo also might command a two-year major-league offer. They're probably willing to offer one year and an option right now.
That doesn't mean Pagliarulo would sign immediately -- he batted .303 last season and regained his power after joining the Orioles, so it might be in his best interests to test the free-agent market. Still, the team would be foolish to waste this chance.
"We've just got to sit back and wait," Nero said. "The organization has told us of their intention to keep him. My guess is they won't offer him arbitration. They'll try to offer him a deal to avoid free agency and get it done soon."
Indeed, the process already is in motion, even though Hemond has yet to speak with Angelos. Besides Nero, Hemond also is talking with representatives for the Orioles' seven other potential free agents. "It's business as usual, completely," he said.
The early phone call to Nero indicates that a Pagliarulo-Tim Hulett platoon is the Orioles' preference at third base for 1994. Leo Gomez is going, going, almost gone -- unless Angelos, for some inexplicable reason, decrees otherwise.
Under different circumstances, the Orioles might try to sign free agent Chris Sabo, an everyday player who last season batted .259 with 21 homers and 82 RBI for Cincinnati. But they'd rather spend money on a starting pitcher, a power-hitting first baseman and possibly a closer.
Right now, it appears the only way Gomez will return is if Hulett departs as a free agent. Hulett has the same leverage as Pagliarulo -- the Orioles will risk losing him if they don't offer him salary arbitration in the five days after the World Series.
Utility infielders are never in great demand, so the club is almost certain to take that chance. The likely outcome is that Hulett would re-sign for a modest raise over his $400,000 salary. Then again, it's possible he'd get a better offer somewhere else.
Gomez had better hope so. Never mind that he led the Orioles with nine homers on June 19. Never mind that he underwent wrist surgery on July 22. Club sources say manager Johnny Oates is disenchanted with Gomez -- his lateral movement, his work habits, the whole bit.
Maybe Gomez can revive himself in his native Puerto Rico, where he plans to play the entire winter season. Even then, he'd probably be traded -- the same fate that befell his predecessor, Craig Worthington, at the age of 26.
Gomez's career highs are 17 homers and 64 RBI. Pagliarulo might equal those numbers facing only right-handers. He hit six homers in 117 at-bats after joining the Orioles. He would expect to hit 20 homers in a full season at Camden Yards.
"Absolutely," said Pagliarulo, who hasn't hit more than 15 homers in a season since 1987, when he hit 32 for the New York Yankees. "There's no doubt in my mind I could do that."
Orioles third-base coach Mike Ferraro agrees -- "Oh, yeah," he said. "In that ballpark, yeah." Ferraro should know -- he was a coach with the Yankees during Pagliarulo's final three seasons in New York, '87 to '89.
"People in New York used to say he worked too hard, did too much," Ferraro said. "But he drains every bit of ability out of himself. If he just came to the ballpark, took batting practice, took his ground balls, he wouldn't be as successful."
In other words, he's a typical Oriole.
At least, he should be.
"Within the next two weeks, he'll either be a Baltimore Oriole or he won't," Nero said. "I think they're going to try and get it done."