MINNEAPOLIS, JULY 5 -- Having finally convinced themselves that 1987 is a lost season, the Baltimore Orioles have directed their attention toward shaping a roster for 1988 and beyond.
That means there'll be even more of an emphasis on youth, on closely watching the development of young players at Baltimore and at Rochester and of using the second half of the season as on-the-job training in the big leagues.
That apparently is the conclusion of General Manager Hank Peters after watching the Orioles play so poorly for six weeks, and after watching a weekend series in the Metrodome.
"We're not going to tear the club apart and start over," Peters said, "but we are thinking of some internal changes. When guys aren't doing the job, you naturally look at finding someone who can. Your thinking on these matters does change from day to day."
If Peters seems ready to concede 1987, Manager Cal Ripken Sr. does not. He repeated again today that changes will be discussed, but added, "No, I'm not throwing in the towel on this year. If we make changes, it'll be because we think the guys we put in will do a better job. We're never going to get to the point where we're not trying to win every game. But the reason you make changes is to get someone better in the games."
But barring a change of heart, Peters' plans for immediate changes include these: Outfielders Ken Gerhart, 26, and Larry Sheets, 27, likely will play almost every day the remainder of the season. Rookie pitchers John Habyan, Eric Bell and Mark Williamson will get a lot of innings, Bell and Habyan as starters and Williamson as a reliever. Likewise, Ken Dixon and Jeff Ballard will work regularly at Class AAA Rochester as the Orioles look toward having them in their rotation in 1988. There'll be less and less playing time for veterans Lee Lacy, Alan Wiggins and Rick Burleson. There will be no more chances for veteran Scott McGregor (2-7, 6.69 ERA). All that's keeping him on the roster now is the $2.5 million remaining on his contract. One possibility is a demotion to Rochester, but, if he won't accept it, he'll probably be released. To step up the process of settling on a 1988 second baseman. Peters seems furious at Burleson for public statements critical of his lack of playing time and of Wiggins. Likewise, he's not happy with Wiggins' continued mental lapses in the field.
At the same time, he's eager to see both Rochester's Bill Ripken and AA Charlotte's Pete Stanicek against higher competition. One possibility is to bring Ripken to the major leagues and promote Stanicek to Rochester. Scouts say Ripken is a superior defensive player, but that he might not hit in the big leagues.
There are almost no questions about Stanicek. The Orioles project him as an outstanding leadoff hitter, one who'll be on base a lot and could steal more than 50 bases. "He's also got something upstairs, and he's a tough guy," Peters said. "He's everything you look for in a player. He makes things happen."
Peters said there may not be any roster moves until the middle of the week. One reason for that is that so much money is involved. If he cuts Wiggins, he must pay off the rest of this year's $700,000 salary and next year's $800,000. Lacy has about $450,000 left on his contract after this season.
If McGregor's $2.5 million is figured in, the Orioles are looking at almost $4 million in what owner Edward Bennett Williams calls "alimony."
But Peters reemphasized that the club must look to the future and said that whatever changes are made will be "internal changes." He says most trade talks have gone nowhere, and, although he won't say it, long-term contracts keep him from trading most older veterans.
One exception to that might be first baseman Eddie Murray, who asked the club to trade him last year and has not publicly rescinded that.
It was learned this week that, contrary to Williams' statements, Murray did give the Orioles a list of five teams he'd play for. They include the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
It also was learned that the Orioles, contrary to public statements, did offer Murray to a couple of teams, specifically to the Braves for center fielder Dale Murphy (a swap that Braves owner Ted Turner rejected), and to the Rangers (the asking price was four everyday players and another player on the 40-man winter roster).
Peters said that, this season, he hadn't offered Murray around and doesn't intend to. Murray, healthy again, is on pace for another 30-homer, 100-RBI season, and Peters said trading one of his best, most consistent players would not improve the Orioles.
"We're looking at several things, but that's not one of them," Peters said.