New Orioles general manager Pat Gillick sees no rush. No hurry to find a third baseman. No urgency even to sign Roberto Alomar or Craig Biggio, either of whom would dramatically improve his team.
More players will become available in coming weeks, hundreds of players. If the Orioles don't get Alomar or Biggio, they'll just find another second baseman, someone of reasonable quality at a reasonable price.
Gillick is showing considerable interest in three free agents -- designated hitter Paul Molitor (five contacts with the Orioles in five days), pitcher Al Leiter and third baseman B. J. Surhoff. But he seems content to wait on other fronts, until he can determine who exactly is available.
In this environment, it's the right thing to do. The Orioles made an ill-conceived trade last year at this time, sending minor-league pitcher Jay Powell to Florida for second baseman Bret Barberie. Powell is now the Marlins' closer-in-waiting. And Barberie is about to be let go.
The Orioles feared they'd be unable to replace Mark McLemore, and panicked. It turned out the market was so flooded, they could have waited until March to sign a second baseman. Instead, they lost a pitcher they could now use.
Gillick will wait until after Dec. 7, the date clubs must offer their free agents salary arbitration, or forfeit their right to draft-pick compensation. And until after Dec. 20, the date clubs must offer contracts to players, and pricey arbitration-eligible players are set free.
Alomar? Gillick has done little to acquire him, other than to call a three-year, $23 million proposal from his agent "irresponsible and ridiculous." Biggio? Gillick spoke for the first time yesterday with his agent, Barry Axelrod.
"My understanding is that Biggio would prefer to play in the National League, though I'm not going to take that as gospel," Gillick said. "I'm going to talk to Barry. It just depends where we're going to spend our money. It depends on what we do in other areas."
Gillick repeated yesterday that his initial focus will be on pitching, and phoned the agent for David Cone. New manager Davey Johnson has called Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald to say he wants them back. If the Orioles sign one of those three, add a pitcher the caliber of Leiter, then find a quality closer, they would be in good shape.
Mike Mussina would be the No. 1 starter, Cone, Brown or McDonald the No. 2, Erickson the No. 3, Leiter the No. 4 and Jimmy Haynes or Rick Krivda the No. 5. Gillick still would need to rebuild virtually the entire bullpen, and sign a closer.
Brown is a free agent, but he liked playing in Baltimore, and his agent, Scott Boras, called it "a good potential fit." McDonald? Boras is also his agent, and he said yesterday that McDonald would be willing to take a "modest, but not dramatic" pay cut from his $4.5 million salary.
McDonald? Boras is also his agent, and he said yesterday that McDonald would be willing to take a "modest, but not dramatic" pay cut from his $4.5 million salary.
The Orioles control the fate of McDonald -- they can offer him salary arbitration at the maximum 20 percent pay cut ($3.6 million), or they can make him a free agent and try to re-sign him for less. Boras said he would love that to happen, that 15 teams have called him, asking "What if?"
"I think the Orioles understand the market value of Ben McDonald," Boras said. "Unfortunately, he had tendinitis last year. Unfortunately, he shouldn't have come back and pitched as early as he did. But other than last year, he's been their most durable pitcher. He's just starting to crest, just starting to put up big numbers."
But $3.6 million for a pitcher who finished last season with three wins, a pitcher who is 58-53 lifetime? It doesn't seem likely in this market, but if Gillick can get Molitor, Leiter and Surhoff reasonably, then perhaps he could go to $3 million or slightly higher with McDonald -- or get Cone.
Surhoff, a left-handed hitter, also catches and plays the outfield and first base. Third base is open now that Johnson has said his preference is to use Bobby Bonilla in right. Gillick isn't particularly interested in the free-agent options, which include Gary Gaetti and Wade Boggs.
"There aren't any name free agents out there," Gillick said. "Gaetti is basically a guy who should be a DH or play first base. He's not a real good third baseman. But in our ballpark, he'd certainly hit a lot of home runs.
"Boggs, the last couple of years, he still can hit, but he doesn't score from second base anymore, etc. I would think right now we'll wait and see what happens. Even though third is a position of power, I think we may be able to score enough runs other places."
In this environment, the key is to remain flexible, and develop a plan. Gillick has been on the job less than a week, and already the direction of the 1996 Orioles is clear. It will be pitching, pitching and more pitching. Everything else will follow.