FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A Friday meeting that lasted almost six hours and included Ray Miller, his coaching staff and general manager Frank Wren reinforced the manager's opinion that all the differences with the Orioles this season have put everybody on the same page.
"I thought Frank did a real good job of getting what we've been needing here," Miller said. "I think we all know where everybody stands -- in the minor leagues, the big leagues, scouting, everything. There's a definite chain of command."
There were plenty of kinks in the chain last season, with then-general manager Pat Gillick set to leave and his assistant, Kevin Malone, working without a contract or any assurances that he would be promoted. Now, Wren and Frank Manno are in place, along with a new farm director (Tom Trebelhorn) and scouting director (Tony DeMacio).
"There's more communication," Miller said.
And, thankfully, fewer potential free agents than at this time last year.
"What happened last season should never happen to a baseball organization," Miller said. "You should never have 14 free agents in the same year. That's the majority of your players wondering if they'll be back. That's a very tough situation. It affects how you handle people."
Miller has refrained from taking any shots at players no longer with the club, including second baseman Roberto Alomar, who engaged in a heated exchange with the manager during an August clubhouse meeting in Chicago. But Miller left room for reading between the lines when he said, "I don't think there's as many sensitive people as there were last year."
Miller couldn't afford to be overly sensitive last year with the criticism he took for an injury-filled fourth-place finish that interrupted two consecutive appearances in the American League Championship Series under former manager Davey Johnson.
"I took a lot of heat," he said, "but I'm proud that I didn't bail out on any players and tried to keep everything in order. I felt extremely handicapped.
"Pat wasn't going to be back, Kevin might be but might not, 14 players were free agents. But I have to be better than I was last year and the club has to play better than last year."
Clark embraces 'mentor' role
When the first players began filtering into the clubhouse Friday, the locker for minor-league third baseman/outfielder Willis Otanez was located between Albert Belle and Will Clark. The arrangement spawned a few jokes among visitors about Otanez being in the unenviable position of standing between two of baseball's most intense competitors and perhaps serving as peacemaker.
Otanez won't have to worry about that when he arrives with the other position players. Yesterday, his nameplate had been moved farther down the line and replaced by the one belonging to hulking first baseman Calvin Pickering.
Miller said the switch wasn't his idea. The request came from Clark, who told clubhouse manager Jimmy Tyler shortly after signing with the Orioles that he wanted to dress next to Pickering this spring.
Clark became aware of Pickering's standing as one of the organization's top prospects after speaking to Miller in Baltimore, and apparently intends to take on the role of mentor.
Pickering, the Eastern League's Player of the Year, was viewed within the organization as a candidate to replace Rafael Palmeiro before Clark agreed to terms.
"I think it's pretty classy myself," Miller said. "We had talked about how talented [Pickering] is, that he's a real good hitter, and we talked about how he needs to work on his defense. And [Clark] said, 'Put him next to me.' "
Pub Date: 2/21/99