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No answer for Yanks, lots of questions for '97 Gillick, Ripken top issues Orioles need to resolve

THE BALTIMORE SUN

And so the Orioles plunge into an off-season that could generate even more changes than last year, and affect everyone from Cal Ripken to Eddie Murray to the coaching staff.

The many pressing issues the Orioles must address this winter: Will general manager Pat Gillick stay? He says he will every time he's asked, but always with qualifiers -- "as my mind is right now," for example. Sources in the organization say he'll stay, but have their own doubts, wondering if Gillick will be happy working with owner Peter Angelos wielding veto power.

And if Gillick should leave, will Davey Johnson -- who spent many hours luring Gillick to the Orioles -- want to stay as manager?

Where will Cal Ripken play next year? The Orioles were prepared to move him to third base in July and switch Manny Alexander to shortstop. Alexander, who hadn't played regularly in four months, failed miserably in a six-day trial, and it seems unlikely the Orioles view him as the heir apparent to Ripken.

The Orioles will revisit the idea of moving Ripken to third in the off-season. Gillick has called it "a possibility, not a probability." But Ripken struggled defensively the last six weeks of the year, particularly on plays in the shortstop hole. His throwing ability diminished this season, whether because of injury or age; throws from the hole looped short of first base.

Ripken showed, in the brief time he played third, that he can be a Gold Glove player at that position. But to move him, the Orioles must find a shortstop successor. They could trade for Colorado's Walt Weiss (the Rockies want pitching or catching) or the Pirates' Carlos Garcia (Pittsburgh would want pitching). They could attempt to sign the Oakland Athletics' Mike Bordick, if Bordick is awarded lost service time in the next labor agreement and becomes a free agent.

The Orioles also will begin to negotiate another contract for Ripken, who is eligible for free agency after the 1997 season.

Within a week after the World Series, the Orioles must decide whether to pick up the $4 million option for 1997 on center fielder Brady Anderson. A no-brainer.

The Orioles must determine whether to bring back Murray, who will be 41 next season. Murray joined the Orioles on July 21, and, a week later, they began the drive that pushed them into the playoffs. Johnson, several coaches and many players will testify as to how Murray unified the clubhouse.

Last off-season, the Orioles turned down the opportunity to sign Murray, because they wanted more speed and more diversity. They will want more power production from the right side of the lineup; Murray occasionally sat against left-handers in the final two months.

The Orioles probably will want him back in some capacity, perhaps as the left-handed designated hitter, a platoon role. Whether Murray would want to do that or would accept less than the $2 million he's making now remains to be seen.

They must decide the makeup of next year's coaching staff. The fact that the Orioles have waited this long to announce the rehiring of the coaches is a strong indication that changes are imminent. They considered hiring a consultant to help pitching coach Pat Dobson in August, and there are two candidates with strong ties to Baltimore available -- former Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller and former California Angels manager Marcel Lachemann, a close friend of Gillick's.

Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes have credited Dobson with helping their development. On the other hand, when Scott Erickson was recently asked in a news conference about Dobson's influence, Erickson responded by passing on the question.

Hitting coach Rick Down will interview for the managerial job in California, and could be a candidate in Philadelphia and Boston.

The Orioles will have to decide whether to offer the multiyear contract needed to keep left-hander David Wells, 33. Wells went 11-14 this season, but often pitched big in big games. The Orioles' other potential free agents: Mike Devereaux, Pete Incaviglia, Roger McDowell, Bill Ripken and Todd Zeile.

Will the Orioles keep Bobby Bonilla by offering him arbitration within a week after the World Series? They could do this and play him in right field, or they could do this and trade him to the Florida Marlins or another interested team.

Other players the Orioles could retain by offering arbitration (but almost certainly won't): Murray, Jesse Orosco and Mark Parent. If the Orioles don't offer arbitration to those players, they can still re-sign them as free agents, presumably at a lower price.

What will the Orioles do in negotiations with Mike Mussina, who will be eligible for free agency after next year? Will they merely offer him arbitration and risk his walking away, or will they try to give him a multiyear deal? He won 19 games and is a proven winner, but there are some questions about his long-term durability. A multiyear contract would cost the Orioles between $5 million and $6 million per year.

What will happen to Alexander, kept on the roster for the last two years to take over for Ripken? Johnson intends to go to the Dominican Republic this winter to do something he couldn't do in all of 1996: Watch Alexander play shortstop every day. But Alexander is going to go through some growing pains and will need time to hone his erratic play. It seems improbable the Orioles will want that to happen for a team that expects to contend for a title next year.

Will Chris Hoiles be the everyday catcher next year? The front office considered lots of other options this year, from Benito Santiago to Kirt Manwaring to Tom Pagnozzi, before settling for Hoiles, with Parent as the backup. The search for another catcher, with a stronger arm, may continue in the off-season. And if the Orioles do get another catcher, what role will Hoiles play?

Pub Date: 10/14/96

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