Shortly after the season ended, general manager Pat Gillick wouldn't commit to Cal Ripken as the Orioles' everyday shortstop for 1997.
Yesterday, Gillick said it's possible Ripken could remain at short in '97 and '98.
"He played well last year," Gillick said. "He might be able to play another year at shortstop after '97, I don't know. It depends how his skills are."
Gillick seemed to know in October.
He said the season "took a toll on both [Ripken's] range and his throwing." He said, "the number of games wore him down."
Well, which is it?
Are the Orioles satisfied with Ripken at short?
Or do they want to move him to third base?
The answer apparently hinges on whether they sign free-agent shortstop Mike Bordick, but club officials continue to send mixed signals to their resident legend and future Hall of Famer.
They spent two to three hours meeting with Ripken in late November to explain their search for a new shortstop but now seem willing to maintain the status quo.
They've opened negotiations for a contract extension with Brady Anderson, but Gillick said they've yet to approach Ripken, whose contract also expires after next season.
"I think probably at some point," Gillick said.
Whenever you're ready, Pat.
Ripken's agent, Ron Shapiro, shares with the Orioles a policy of not negotiating during the season. If a deal is not completed this off-season, Ripken could become a free agent next October.
Is this what the Orioles want?
The answer should be no, but owner Peter Angelos might still be steamed at Shapiro over the failed Jon Miller negotiations and resulting outcry.
Shapiro represents both Miller and Ripken. For all anyone knows, the Orioles now view him as an East Coast version of Scott Boras, an agent that club officials can't stand.
Angelos could not be reached for comment.
Eddie Murray and Bill Ripken also are Shapiro clients. The Orioles haven't signed Murray. And Gillick said Bill Ripken probably would not return if the club signed free-agent infielder Tony Fernandez, to whom they've made an offer.
The Orioles can justify each of those moves for baseball reasons, just as they can justify moving Cal to third. But they can't justify their constant waffling on Ripken when he has meant so much to the organization.
It started last summer, with the proposed move to third, the decision to back off, the actual move to third, the return to short.
When will it end?
Plan A apparently is to sign Bordick and move Ripken to third. Plan B apparently is to sign free-agent third baseman Tim Naehring and keep Ripken at short, although no one can be sure.
Assistant GM Kevin Malone said Monday that the Orioles would have interest in Naehring if Ripken stays at short.
But asked about Naehring yesterday, Gillick said, "I don't even know that we're interested in him."
Only this much is clear: If the Orioles don't get Bordick, they probably would try to acquire a third baseman rather than a lesser shortstop like Kevin Elster.
And if they signed a third baseman, it probably would be to a multi-year contract.
"It probably would take more than one year," Gillick said.
Which is why he is backtracking on Ripken, even though former Orioles pitching coach Pat Dobson said the 13-time All-Star can no longer play shortstop every day.
A multi-year contract for a third baseman probably would lock the Orioles into Ripken at short, unless the Orioles planned to make him a DH at some point -- or lose him to free agency.
The answer, clearly, is to sign Bordick.
The Orioles have no excuse.
San Diego is the only other club trying to add a regular shortstop, and it's difficult to imagine Angelos getting outbid by former club president Larry Lucchino.
Still, Bordick repeated yesterday that he wants to speak with Ripken.
"I don't know if talking to him will aid in my decision-making, but it's something I have to try," Bordick said. "I'd hate to have him not wanting me there, looming over me."
Ripken is adamant in his belief that he can still play shortstop, but what's he going to do, tell Bordick to keep his distance?
Nah, he'd tell him to come, and it would be best for everyone.
The uncertainty is unsettling.
Pub Date: 12/06/96