TORONTO, SEPT. 16 -- 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 employes know this and, at Memorial Stadium, the wagons have been circled.
Farm director Tom Giordano appears certain to be fired, and a handful of his closest 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 offseason 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 to the 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 bringing 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, the 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.
But if the contracts are a burden, the Orioles are also hoping for a little luck. They believe they could be decent in 1988 if this year's rookies, Bill Ripken, Pete Stanicek, Gerhart, Eric Bell, John Habyan and Jeff Ballard, all perform well in 1988.
They believe that, if relievers Don Aase and Dave Schmidt stay healthy, they could join Tom Niedenfuer in what should be a solid bullpen.
Finally, the Orioles may finally be ready to tell their fans that rebuilding the franchise won't happen overnight. For four years, they've promised quick fixes, and now they appear finally to have convinced themselves that the fix won't be quick.
Their best young pitchers probably won't be ready until mid-1989 at the earliest, and they're not certain that youngsters such as Habyan and Ballard are going to be as good as once projected. They also know that trading for a No. 1 starting pitcher, even using Murray as bait, won't be easy.
For a franchise that has always prided itself on stability, these are unusual times. The Orioles are working with members of the Maryland Stadium Authority to tell them exactly what they'd like in a stadium, one they hope will be ready by late 1990 or early 1991. (The construction of the stadium is contingent on Williams' agreeing to a long-term lease, but both sides believe it'll eventually get settled.)
Much depends on how many changes Williams makes, specifically if he fires Peters. Williams and Peters have clashed many times, but Williams has told friends he still regards Peters highly. At the same time, the two approach the game with fundamentally different attitudes, and after back-to-back losing seasons Williams' friends say they wouldn't be surprised if he hired someone with a temperament more similar to his.
Peters said he won't resign but, if he doesn't, it appears he's going to be forced to work with a new staff.
Giordano is one of his oldest and closest friends. Doug Melvin, who was hired from the New York Yankees two winters ago, is expected to replace Giordano and is not particularly close to Peters, friends say.
No matter who gets the job, it won't be a simple one. Recently, baseball's 26 general managers were asked to rank teams on various aspects of play, and the Orioles didn't rate in any category -- not in pitching, hitting, infield defense, etc.
"It's been a bleak season; no question about that," Peters said. "Certainly, we're not going to bring back the same deck of cards.
"We do feel we've had some bad luck, and getting Aase back is going to help. But it's going to take a little more than that. We're going to make an effort to do some things, but will we be successful? Who the hell knows?"