NEW YORK -- While his record $69 million payroll struggles to escape the American League East cellar, Orioles owner Peter Angelos says he isn't prepared to break up his veteran team but concedes its offensive malaise is "an ongoing situation that's expanding."
The situation is serious enough for general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone to look over both leagues for offensive assistance -- preferably a left-handed hitter with speed. One of the options, according to club sources, is to dangle the Orioles' most potent left-handed bat, first baseman and pending free agent Rafael Palmeiro, as part of a multi-player deal.
"Right now we don't think the answer is within the organization," Gillick said before last night's game against the New York Yankees. "We're looking at some different things."
The Orioles fell to last place with last night's 9-5 loss to the Yankees and stand only 73-69 since beginning last season with a 45-19 rush. Injuries to starting pitchers Mike Mussina and Scott Kamieniecki have helped expose an unreliable bullpen that has blown seven save chances, but the addition of two expansion teams has frustrated Gillick's attempt to add depth. Improving an offense remains the most viable option.
The Orioles are 2-22 when allowing more than three runs and entered their eight-game road trip hitting .260, the league's fourth-worst average.
"This has been going on for some time. This is a slump they've been in since last year when they were a .500 club over the last 50 games," Angelos said. "You look at the last two weeks of spring training -- no offense. Even the 10 games we won at the beginning of the year, the hitting was very light. With the pitching breakdown, all of a sudden the bottom fell out."
Manager Ray Miller repeatedly cites the team's lack of speed as an impediment to a consistent offense. "If we get three singles, we score a run. For the most part, we can't get our leadoff guy on, have him steal second, move to third and score on a fly ball. We don't have that. We have to have two and three hits all the time," he said Saturday night.
The Orioles rank next to last in the majors with 22 stolen bases and last with two triples.
"Naturally, you have to try everything -- acquiring pitching or assistance in hitting. When you can trace it back this far, that is really disturbing," Angelos said.
Opposed to disarming, Angelos is not against change.
"This is not 1996. We can't say we're five games out and we've got a shot. Right now it doesn't make any difference what the other teams are doing," he said.
Held to six hits in each game, the Orioles suffered history's second four-game sweep from an expansion team this past weekend at the hands of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Their resulting five-game losing streak was the club's longest since July 7-14, 1996, and dropped them to 10-21 since a 10-2 start. Last night's loss made it six straight.
"What looks worse is worse. It just doesn't look that way," Angelos said.
Conceding that a second straight division title looks like fool's gold at this juncture, Angelos says he has not given up on the season or this team. Any temptation to radically alter a clubhouse with 12 pending free agents will wait.
"If we sink deeper into the morass, then obviously you would consider [a purge]. But it's too early to make drastic moves," Angelos said.
"I'm not going to give these fans a Triple-A team when I'm charging major-league prices. I'm not going to strip the team for the sake of saving $1 million or $2 million. It's nice to try to save. But if you save money in the process of creating a different team than you promised at the beginning of spring training, that's not doing the right thing."
Angelos also said he remains four-square behind Miller, who recently has become a favorite target for talk-show venting. The two have spoken about the team's misadventures, and Angelos has been satisfied by what he's heard.
"My feeling is that none of the negatives can be attributed to Ray Miller's managerial abilities or alleged lack of them. He's doing a good job under terrible circumstances," Angelos said.
"He's not perfect any more than anyone else is, but he's doing the best he can. He's a first-rate baseball guy."
Miller repeatedly has said he will take the heat for whatever happens. If so, Angelos will not be the one turning up the fire. In contrast to his running personality clash with Miller's predecessor, Davey Johnson, the owner and manager have established an easy rapport.
"I feel badly for him," Angelos said.
"He's had a lot of things happen. He succeeded a manager who superficially was responsible for a team going to the playoffs. Now he looks like he can't function. He's the victim of all these problems."
Pub Date: 5/20/98