Pat Gillick arrived in town less than a month ago with a major-league reputation and -- by most accounts -- a magic touch. He was the architect of the Toronto Blue Jays dynasty and had come to Baltimore to build the Orioles back into the franchise that once dominated the American League.
He may already have succeeded.
The Orioles signed Gold Glove second baseman Roberto Alomar to a three-year, $18 million contract yesterday, adding a six-time All-Star to a team that has become the American League East favorite almost overnight.
Alomar, 27, is considered one of the best all-around players in baseball. He was the fifth player signed or acquired by the Orioles in the past two weeks, joining starting pitcher Kent Mercker, relievers Randy Myers and Roger McDowell and third baseman B. J. Surhoff.
Two months into the off-season, the Orioles clearly are the most improved team in baseball.
"If we make another move or not, I'm happy," said manager Davey Johnson. "To me, we can compete with anybody in our division right now. Gillick just made me a lot smarter. I am a lot smarter than I was yesterday."
The lightning-fast Orioles overhaul wouldn't have been possible without the blessing and the financial commitment of owner Peter Angelos, but it is Gillick who has pushed the organization to a new competitive level with an aggressive -- and very expensive -- rebuilding program. The Orioles have had the money to spend since Angelos acquired the team two years ago, but moved so cautiously under former GM Roland Hemond that the owner finally ran out of patience.
"Pat makes his analysis, then when he decides what he wants to do, nothing will deter him," Angelos said. "He has the obvious confidence in what he's doing. He's deliberate, thoughtful and he generates confidence in others.
"Roland is a fine guy, he's just different. He comes from a different school. He was always very concerned that a serious mistake might be made. If there was a 50-50 chance that something good or something bad would happen, Roland would assume that something bad would happen."
Gillick leaves the worrying to the competition, and the results of his shopping spree are cause for concern among the other division contenders. The Orioles finished third in the AL East last year, but they underachieved. Now, thanks to Gillick, they are much improved.
"He's a solid architect," said Mike Port, assistant general manager of the defending division champion Boston Red Sox. "If he has the resources, he's going to put a solid club together. We felt the Orioles were a pretty good team last year, and when you add the things that Pat has done, they are a very worthy opponent."
Gillick built his reputation in Toronto, where he was very conservative while the expansion Blue Jays were developing into a contender, then became very aggressive when they got into a position to win. The result was four division titles in a five-year stretch (1989-93) and back-to-back world championships in 1992 and '93.
Money was no object then and it apparently isn't now. Gillick is expected to push the payroll close to $50 million with the signing of one more front-line starting pitcher. The Orioles came up short yesterday on 1994 Cy Young Award winner David Cone -- who re-signed with the New York Yankees -- but still are negotiating with free agent Kenny Rogers. Gillick doesn't always get his man, but he always has a fallback position.
The Orioles made an early play for Al Leiter, a free-agent pitcher, but lost him to the Florida Marlins. No problem. Gillick quickly pulled off a surprising deal to acquire left-hander Kent Mercker -- from the Atlanta Braves for two minor-league prospects. It was another example of his peripheral vision. He never focuses on just one option.
"The Leiter situation is a great example," Angelos said. "He wants Leiter, but he recognizes that he might not get Leiter. So he has a backup -- Mercker. And, I bet he had a second backup if he hadn't gotten Mercker. Everything is very carefully laid out."
Gillick did the same thing in the pursuit of a new designated hitter. He went hard after veteran Paul Molitor, then regrouped and signed Surhoff to anchor a possible four-man platoon in that role.
"I'm kind of a grinder," Gillick said. "When Molitor and Leiter didn't come with us, I was a bit disappointed. I'm a little bit of a sore loser. I don't like to come in second. But we just kept grinding ahead."
The Orioles came even closer to convincing Cone, but his decision to stay in New York only sent Gillick back to the switchboard. If he wants Rogers, he'll have to convince him to pass up a lucrative four-year deal with Texas.
"He's been very aggressive," said Rangers general manager Doug Melvin, a former Orioles assistant GM. "I guess payroll is not as much a factor as it is with some other teams. That makes it nice. Peter Angelos gave him the chance to go out and do some things, and he's off to a pretty good start."
Maybe it's too early to tell, but Angelos seems content to leave the entire baseball operation to Gillick. The Alomar decision was made in consultation with Angelos, but only because Gillick requested that he be involved.
"When the owner gives the reins to someone he respects and entrusts him with the purse strings, it would be foolish to do anything other than stand aside and let that person operate," said Braves general manager John Schuerholz. "With Pat on board, it's fairly comfortable for an owner to do that."
It would be hard enough just keeping up with him. Gillick has worked furiously since he arrived in Baltimore, resulting in a major trade and the signing of four free agents.
"I'm not sure I'm surprised," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "He's in here very early and he leaves very late at night. I've never seen a person work the phones better and faster."
He makes it all look so easy, but in today's complex baseball market, it is very difficult to complete one deal, much less five in the space of a couple weeks.
"I think what you have to do is look at the track record of the person you're talking about," Schuerholz said. "That tells the tale. Have they made deals that have worked? Have they won championships? Pat has done all of that. You don't do that with luck. You don't fall into that. You do it with work . . . hard work."