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Shortstop may be off-season pursuit O's front office begins to consider priorities, pursuits


BOSTON -- As the Orioles are finishing the regular season and fighting for a playoff spot, the front office is beginning to formulate cursory plans for next season, including these possibilities:

The permanent move of Cal Ripken to third base, and acquisition of a shortstop.

The re-signing of outfielder Bobby Bonilla.

The search for a left-handed pitcher, if David Wells leaves the Orioles via free agency.

"I'm sure we'll change some faces," general manager Pat Gillick said last night.

Ripken is having a good season offensively, with 25 homers and 99 RBIs. His defense, solid in midseason, has suffered in the last two months. He has 14 errors this year, twice as many as he hadlast year, including three in the five games before the Orioles played the Red Sox last night. The most noticeable decline has been in his ability to make throws from the shortstop hole.

The permanent move of Ripken from shortstop to third at the age of 36, said Gillick, "is a possibility, not a probability."

Depending on what?

"I have in my mind what the priorities are [for building the team for '97], and [moving Ripken] is not a priority," Gillick said, declining to elaborate on what his priorities may be.

If the Orioles decide to move Ripken, they likely would pursue another veteran shortstop, like Mike Bordick, a potential free agent, or Walt Weiss or Jay Bell, infielders who could be available in trades.

The Orioles have kept Manny Alexander around for years as the heir apparent to Ripken, but his brief, poor showing in July -- 10 strikeouts, two errors and one ball hit out of the infield in a week -- may prevent the team from going into the '97 season counting on him to be the everyday shortstop.

Bonilla and Todd Zeile, two important pieces in the Orioles' offense the last two months, are both free agents after this season. "I think Bonilla has had a really great second half," Gillick said, "and been one of our more important players. He's a guy we're going to have to look at."

Zeile? "We really haven't talked about Zeile," said Gillick. "We're looking at the situation."

The day before the Orioles traded for Zeile, club officials and Zeile's agent talked about how the infielder would like a multi-year deal after this season.

The decision whether to re-sign Zeile probably will be predicated on whether Ripken is moved to third base. Zeile could come back as a corner outfielder, or a designated hitter.

Wells is a free agent, and the Orioles probably will try to retain him, although he wants a multi-year deal. "We have to have left-handed pitching," said Gillick.

If not Wells, the Orioles could pursue Braves left-hander Steve Avery. There is strong sentiment in the organization to go after right-hander Alex Fernandez, who will be a free agent if players are given credit for service time lost during the strike.

"Mr. Angelos [owner Peter Angelos] is committed to putting a winning team on the field," said Gillick. "We'll have to wait and see."

Gillick said club officials will determine after the season if there will be any changes in the coaching staff.

At the beginning of August, after Gillick and Angelos disagreed at the trade deadline, Gillick said he intended to stay.

Does Gillick, nearing the end of the first year of a three-year contract, still intend to stay? "As far as I know, at this point," Gillick said, "I'll be here."

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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