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Orioles Are Bracing for Winter of Discontent

September 20, 1987|RICHARD JUSTICE | The Washington Post

TORONTO — About the only remaining drama for the Baltimore Orioles this disastrous season concerns how deep team owner Edward Bennett Williams& sword will slash and who his victims will be. His employees know this an, at Memorial Stadium, the wagons have been circled.

Farm director Tom Giordano appears certain to be fired, and a handful of his closet associates have already started to put out job feelers to other organizations, according to sources.

General Manager Hank Peters has two years left on his contract, but his job security appears to grow shakier as the losses mount.

That also holds true for Manager Cal Ripken Sr., his coaching staff and various scouts and minor league instructors, the architects responsible for the two most embarrassing seasons in club history.

Meanwhile, regardless of who's running the club, a trade for pitching is the top off season priority, and no one around the Orioles denies that unhappy first baseman Eddie Murray will be offered around, as he has been for the last 10 months.

Williams says he won't make any public statements for a couple of weeks, but several people who know him say he's angry and now believes he should have overhauled his staff three years ago when he first began to suspect the Orioles were doing a bad job in the lifeblood areas of drafting and development.

It appears the man most likely to hold onto his job is Ripken, whose dream of managing the Orioles has been tempered by a lack of talent and by the fact that several young players, especially pitchers, have come tot he majors devoid of many basic skills. Those skills were once the thing the Orioles prided themselves on, so it must have been an embarrassing day when Ripken had to take his young pitchers to the bullpen for a crash course on the mechanics of pitching.

So Williams has had many things to consider: a history of poor drafting (no Oriole No. 1 pick has made an impact since 1974); a history of poor player development; a failure to be aggressive in signing available veterans (They refused to give Oakland 19-game winner Dave Stewart a tryout after he'd been released by the Philadelphia Phillies.); and a major league team that is ranked near the bottom in most offensive and pitching categories.

The changes may be made gradually this winter, but by next spring, the Orioles are expected to be racing off on a new era, one that will have several new faces, both on the field and off.

Sources say they're interested in ringing former outfielder Al Bumbry back, possibly as a hitting coach and-or hitting instructor There's also sentiment within the organization to promote Elrod Hendricks from bullpen coach to pitching coach, replacing Mark Wiley.

On the field, thee Orioles promise to be different, too. The club's only hope for much improvement in 1988 is to trade for pitching, and although Peters said no player is untouchable, sources say several are. It would take an extraordinary offer to get either Cal Ripken Jr. or Larry Sheets from the Orioles.

Further, several of the young players don't yet have enough trade value to bring a proven pitcher.

Meanwhile, Murray has never rescinded his trade request and, in private conversations, appears as determined as ever to leave the Orioles. The problem with dealing him is that the $10 million remaining on his contract apparently scares off a lot of teams.

One that appears ready to take it is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who've also had back-to-back disappointing seasons and need to make a dramatic move.

The only remaining question--and it's no small one--is whether the two sides can agree on a trade. The Orioles have entered the negotiations wanting pitcher Orel Hershiser and another player. The Dodgers may be willing to part with pitcher Bob Welch, but say Hershiser isn't available. For now, the two sides apparently have agreed to disagree.

If Murray is traded, that would be the first step in a major overhaul. Although the club's organizational meetings over the next few days will outline a specific winter blueprint, conversations with several team officials point toward several other major changes:

--Injury-prone Fred Lynn, the starting center fielder for the last three years, will be moved to right field or designated hitter.

--Ken Gerhart, whose rookie season was cut short by a broken hand, will take over in center.

--If Murray is traded, Ray Knight likely would be moved to first base if the club believes young Craig Worthington can take over at third. Otherwise, Jim Traber or Larry Sheets will play first, and Knight will remain at third until Worthington is ready.

Still, many problems remain. For instance, whatever housecleaning attempts will be slowed by several long-term contracts.

Besides Murray's huge contract, pitcher Scott McGregor and outfielder Lee Lacy have $2.6 million in guaranteed money coming over the next two seasons.

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