Peter Schmuck: Flanagan's reign as O's leader takes root amid palm trees

Mike Flanagan is attending his first major league general managers meeting as the unquestioned leader of the newly restructured Orioles front office, so inquiring minds are probably wondering the same thing that crossed my mind when I ran into him yesterday under a palm tree at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort:

Is it good to be the king?Well, I didn't exactly ask the question that way, but I did ask him if it felt different to be at the GM meetings as the executive VP of baseball operations instead of just the VP of baseball operations.


"I guess the short answer is, yes," he said. "It has been good."

I can't stress enough that we were standing under swaying palms in the crisp air of this tony desert spa south of Palm Springs, which adds absolutely nothing of importance to this column except to leave you with the impression I have a really great job.

Flanagan is here with his new management team, which also includes vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette and vice-vice president of baseball operations Scott Proefrock, laying the groundwork for what we all hope will be a productive offseason.

(Editor's note: By productive offseason, I mean an offseason that includes the signing of big-money, free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko, but it is possible that the actual people who will be doing the actual free-agent bidding will focus their attention and resources elsewhere.)

There probably won't be a blockbuster trade consummated here, but Flanagan and his staff already have had casual discussions with several clubs and are scheduling more meetings over the next couple of days. They also are using the time to reach a consensus on which free agents will be at the top of their priority list when open bidding begins on Friday.

"It's a good spot for having some great dialogue," Flanagan said. "We're having conversations about a lot of things."

Retaining B.J. Ryan remains a top offseason priority for the club, even if it does not appear that he will give the Orioles any special consideration during the free-agent process.

"They want to go through the process and we understand that," Flanagan said, "but we fully expect to be in it."

Flanagan said he had a conversation with Ryan's agent (John Courtright) a couple of days ago.

The chances of the Orioles keeping their closer may depend on current negotiations between the Yankees and setup man Tom Gordon.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman would not rule out acquiring a front-line closer to get in line behind Mariano Rivera, but he's in no hurry to pay premier closer money for someone who may not be needed in the closer role for a couple more years.

"We'd prefer not to," he said, "but we'll wait and see how the winter unfolds."

Rivera may be in the twilight of his great career, but how pressing of a need can it be when he just finished second in the American League Cy Young Award balloting?

One of the names you'll be hearing in the free-agent market this winter is Kenji Jojima, a power-hitting catcher who is expected to be this year's hot Japanese import, but you probably won't be hearing the Orioles talking seriously about signing him.


The Orioles are likely to pursue free-agent catchers Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina. Jojima is expected to travel to San Diego next week to meet with the Padres, who are anticipating that they will need help at the position soon.

Too bad. The prospect of new pitching coach Leo Mazzone going to the mound for a meeting with Spanish-speaking Daniel Cabrera and a catcher who speaks only Japanese is almost too delicious to contemplate.

The subject du jour yesterday was the coming baseball World Cup, which will go forward (March 3-20) despite some behind-the-scenes grumbling from teams that don't relish the possibility of putting star players at risk of injury in the middle of spring training.

Cashman, who was believed to be one of the more vocal skeptics, declined to comment yesterday and said that the GMs had agreed to let MLB vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon make all public statements about the event.

If that sounds like a gag order to you, well, you're probably just paranoid like me.