In 2002, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos intended to give control of his team to Mike Flanagan. A longtime, popular Orioles pitcher, Flanagan also served as a coach, spring training instructor and broadcaster for the club. But he had never worked in the front office. Though Angelos held Flanagan in high regard and considered him a close friend, ultimately he decided to hire both Flanagan and Jim Beattie and let the two run the club in tandem.
This experiment -- unusual in baseball -- begins its third season today, when Orioles pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After an offseason in which the Orioles lagged behind other American League East teams in the free agent market -- pursuing but failing to sign Carl Pavano, Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson, then taking a risk in trading for Sammy Sosa -- and with the franchise facing a challenge to its fan base with the arrival of the Washington Nationals, both general managers are entering the final year of their contracts.
Jim Beattie, right, and Mike Flanagan, left, snagged Sammy Sosa in the offseason, but Carl Pavano and Carlos Delgado were among the players they failed to get.
(AP File Photo)
_____Orioles in the Offseason_____
The ones who got away:
1B Richie Sexson: Signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.
P A.J. Burnett: Tried to acquire him via trade with the Florida Marlins, who cooled on the deal when they failed to sign Tim Hudson -- whom the Orioles also unsuccessfully tried to sign.
P Carl Pavano, above right: Signed with the New York Yankees for four years, $39.95 million.
1B Carlos Delgado, center right: Signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Marlins. The Orioles were slow to increase their initial offer of three years, $25 million; their final offer was four years, $48 million, even though Delgado already had rejected an identical offer from the Texas Rangers days earlier.
The ones they got:
P Steve Reed: Signed the reliever for one year, $1.05 million.
P Steve Kline: Signed left-hander for two years, $5.5 million.
OF Sammy Sosa, bottom right: Traded Jerry Hairston and two minor leaguers to the Chicago Cubs, who paid more than $15 million to rid themselves of Sosa. The Orioles will pay him $8.85 million this season.
At the end of this season, Angelos will again have to decide whether Flanagan is ready to take control. Beattie is in a precarious position because of Flanagan's relationship with Angelos, and many observers assume the three years the two will have spent working together were always intended to be an apprenticeship for Flanagan.
"That has to be in the back of your mind," a source familiar with the Orioles' front office said. "You have to be realistic about things. Flanny is the Oriole and has a relationship with the owner. Clearly, Flanny has a close and long-term relationship with ownership. There's all kinds of things that could happen. They're not on equal footing when it comes to ownership."
Angelos's choice will have a profound effect on the future of the franchise and could even give a clue as to how much longer he intends to own the Orioles. It seems unlikely Angelos would make a drastic front-office overhaul if he intended to sell the team in the near future.
Angelos declined several requests to comment for this story.
In order to get the front-office job he wanted, Flanagan had to accept Beattie as a partner. By all accounts, the two have a strong working relationship that now extends outside the office. Beattie said he didn't know Flanagan very well prior to 2002, but that the former pitchers have become friends, even taking several fishing trips together.
Though Beattie's title is executive vice president of baseball operations, and Flanagan's is vice president of baseball operations, the two were supposed to have equal power and equal say in the decision-making. It has not worked out that way. Flanagan regularly defers to Beattie, according to several sources.
"Really, Jim is the general manager," the source familiar with the Orioles' front office said. "There was a clear separation."
Beattie is the main negotiator in dealings with free agents and he often is the lead voice with other organizations in trade talks.
"In this game, so many things are built on relationships," Beattie said. "I have developed these relationships in my 25 years in baseball. Mike has started to develop these relationships on his own. Now the phone calls go to Mike. It's gradually changing. Mike will tackle anything. We're both growing into the role."
"I've had a lot of input in what has gone on," Flanagan said.
Both general managers dismiss the idea that Flanagan's relationship with Angelos has caused problems or threatens to play a role in their futures.
"Not every phone call for Peter has been from me," Flanagan said. "I wouldn't agree with the perception that I'm the voice to Peter. That's not the case."
Baltimore this offseason failed to land a starting pitcher and first baseman even though Beattie had pledged early he would at least acquire both. Several sources say the Orioles are slow and methodical in trade talks and in free agency and that Flanagan has yet to distinguish himself as a capable team executive.
"Dealing with the Orioles is not like pulling teeth," an industry source said. "It's worse. Slower and more painful."
Some say Angelos is unhappy with the course his team has taken. Once considered a prime AL franchise, Baltimore has not had a winning season since 1997. Angelos may be inclined to make a drastic decision that some consider out of character. Though Angelos usually favors having experienced people in the front office, he may choose to hire a young talent. Josh Byrnes, the Boston Red Sox' assistant general manager considered by many in baseball as one of the brightest minds in the game, could be a possibility. One source close to the Red Sox said that Byrnes, a Washington native who grew up an ardent Orioles fan, would be thrilled at the opportunity to run his favorite childhood team. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, whose contract also expires after this season and who has local ties, could be considered.
The Orioles aren't close to making that type of move yet. Beattie said he's enjoying his time in Baltimore but declined to comment on his future and on his conversations with ownership. Flanagan said he has not discussed his status with Angelos.
"I don't think past the point [that] we're signed up through the year," Flanagan said. "We'll see what the summer holds."