When the Baltimore Orioles' brain trust--John and Louis Angelos, and Syd Thrift--attended the World Series in New York last month, the intention was to work in some power-schmoozing between games at Yankee Stadium. Instead, the three found themselves immersed in conversation with agents, scouts and other teams' executives.
"We had appointments from 10 a.m., literally until 2:30 in the morning," said Thrift, who has emerged as the head of the Orioles' baseball operations, their point person on personnel matters. "I never even went to Yankee Stadium."
This weekend, baseball's general managers' meetings get underway in Laguna Niguel, Calif. And whereas Frank Wren, who was fired as general manager on Oct. 7, intended the Orioles to be only minor players this winter, the reorganized Orioles are expected to be active participants in the trade and free agent markets--with Thrift, who was general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1985 to '88, taking the lead.
"Syd is going to want to make a big splash," predicted one rival executive.
Thrift, 70, would say only that the Orioles will "listen to anything" in an effort to improve. "I'm always excited about having the opportunity to be involved in player acquisitions, player trades, free agent signings," he said. "I enjoy that. I enjoy talking to our people and seeing players at every level."
The Orioles intend to operate indefinitely under their current management structure, with a committee of department heads, led by Thrift, doing the job of general manager.
At Wednesday's news conference to announce the hiring of Mike Hargrove as the Orioles' new manager, Thrift and John Angelos said the Orioles' focus would be on pitching this winter, particularly in the bullpen--which took the bulk of the blame for the team's disappointing finish last year.
Hargrove on Wednesday expressed a fondness for Orioles free agent pitcher Arthur Rhodes, the fragile left-hander who clashed with former manager Ray Miller over his usage last season and who was presumed to be headed elsewhere.
"Used in the right situation," Hargrove said, "Arthur is a very productive major league pitcher."
However, Rhodes's agent, Dan Horwits, has made it clear that Rhodes will be looking for a contract similar to the four-year, $16 million deal the Orioles gave closer Mike Timlin last winter.
Hargrove also said the Orioles' bullpen needs to be "retooled," particularly the "back end," which presumably means that Timlin might find himself in another, less visible, role.
Interestingly, Mike Jackson, Hargrove's closer in Cleveland the last three seasons, is a free agent this winter. Jackson's price tag also may have dropped after his ERA ballooned from 1.55 in 1998 to 4.06 last season.
Other relievers on the free agent market include lefties Graeme Lloyd, Mike Stanton, Allen Watson and Buddy Groom; and right-handers Greg McMichael, Mike Trombley, Gregg Olson and Doug Henry.
As for the Orioles' other needs, Thrift mentioned a desire for versatile position players.
Thrift already has expressed an interest in re-signing free agent Jeff Conine, who played extensively at first base as well as some left field, right field and third base for the Orioles in 1999. Thrift has scheduled an appointment with Conine's agent, Michael Watkins, for next week in California.
Conine, like Rhodes, is expected to file for free agency before the deadline of Nov. 11, but could still re-sign with the Orioles.