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Orioles Are Ready to Return to Days of Pitching, Defense

September 13, 1986|RICHARD JUSTICE | Washington Post

BALTIMORE — Even before Manager Earl Weaver's resignation, the Baltimore Orioles were set on a course for a drastic overhaul of their roster and a redesign of their team this winter.

Although they certainly won't be able to accomplish everything being considered, the first draft of their blueprint will steer them back toward pitching and defense--a staple for two decades, but something Weaver abandoned in his search for offense this season.

"Getting one big defensive play per game can win you a game," pitcher Mike Flanagan said. "Outside of (shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.), I don't think we've had particularly good defensive years from anyone in the infield."

A search for defense will begin with a search for a new third baseman. Last winter, the Orioles attempted to deal for at least two prominent ones--Jim Presley of Seattle and Gary Gaetti of Minnesota--and will try to negotiate for one again.

Presley and Gaetti are finishing big years and may be close to untouchable, but the Orioles have lots to offer (in quantity, at least).

Pitchers Storm Davis and Scott McGregor will be on the trading block, although McGregor has the right to veto any deal because he has 10 years service in the major leagues, five with one team.

Any of Baltimore's outfielders are available except for Fred Lynn, who has a no-trade clause.

When the Orioles are finished, next season's roster may include left-hander Eric Bell, 22 (7-3 at Class AAA Rochester), who will be given a chance to earn a spot in the starting rotation, and right-hander John Habyan.

Outfielder Ken Gerhart, who hit 30 homers at Rochester, also has a spot on the roster if he has a second straight big spring.

Repairing the defense is more difficult, although General Manager Hank Peters believes a lineup with Jackie Gutierrez at second base all season and with one third baseman (instead of nine) would improve the defense immeasurably.

"We worked like hell to make a trade last winter," Peters said, "and we're going to be even more aggressive this year. We're also going to start sooner."

Such a rebuilding may be impossible in this era of complex contracts and no-trade clauses, but the Orioles have to start somewhere. They feel they might as well start with what they believe in most, with what they've gotten away from.

"The thing we have to do is keep a certain amount of perspective," Peters said. "We were 2 1/2 games out of first place Aug. 5, and Orioles fans were talking about the playoffs. Were we as good as we looked then or are we as bad as we look now? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

"We don't want to panic, but we don't want to be fooled into thinking certain problems are going to go away, either."

Peters said he plans some changes based on performances and others based on trying to repair a clubhouse chemistry gone bad.

"Chemistry is important," Peters said. "It's important to know your teammates are pulling in the same direction."

The club's annual organizational meetings won't begin for another two weeks, but already the emphasis on making changes is strong.

"Maybe we need to see some new faces," one Orioles figure said recently. "I think our fans are tired of seeing the same faces, and the organization might be tired, too."

The problem is that the team has gone bad so rapidly that finding quick fixes may be next to impossible.

"Roger Angell wrote an article in the New Yorker recently where he talked about factors in a game that you have no control over," Peters said. "He's talking about weather, injuries, an umpire's call, a ball caroming off the wall a certain way. No matter what you do, these things are out of your control.

"We've had a lot of those things go against us. No Orioles team ever had this many injuries, and I'm not saying this is the only reason we had a bad year. We've haven't played very well. The point is that this is Boston's year, and they're making all the plays, big and small. Some incredible things have happened to help them win games.

"An infielder dropped a pop. A pitcher balked in the winning run all night. You say those things even out, but in a year when you win, they don't even out. They got 85% in your favor. The point is that, while we've played badly, we're not as bad as we've looked."

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