Ten weeks ago, Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie were handed their assignment: Take this struggling team from this proud baseball city, build it and shape it properly, and get it back into contention for the American League pennant.
Flanagan and Beattie a left-hander and a right-hander, a long-time Baltimore Oriole and a new one, a man with little executive experience and one with a dozen years’ time in baseball front offices are supposed to lift a consistent recent loser from its current mediocrity. The job starts in earnest today when the Orioles’ pitchers and catchers report to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., six days ahead of position players.
At this point, the club looks largely like it did in 2002, with a few changes: Omar Daal has a spot in the rotation, Kerry Ligtenberg in the bullpen and Deivi Cruz at shortstop.
Beattie and Flanagan have made several unsuccessful attempts at landing a run-producing bat but have resisted making a rash signing or overpaying for a free-agent power hitter to bolster the middle of the lineup. They did made contract pitches to several big-name players Cliff Floyd, Ivan Rodriguez, Jose Cruz Jr. and watched as the players took more money elsewhere.
Despite these early failures, if that’s what they are, executive vice president of baseball operations Beattie and vice president Flanagan have remained calm, dedicated to getting the right player at the right price and not compromising on either count. It is a philosophy that they say makes sense for the organization, if not to its victory-starved fans.
“In the end, the patience will pay off for us,” Beattie said. “Mike and I felt we could have made a bigger [signing] splash in January, but we felt it wasn’t the right time or situation. I know fans want us to respond quickly, but there is a time to be patient and a time to be aggressive. At the right moment, we will [be aggressive].”
That flexibility in thinking is based on a desire to have flexibility with payroll and personnel. One of the main reasons why the club did not overextend itself to offer Rodriguez a deal for $10million in guaranteed money was because Beattie didn’t want to take on a contract that he couldn’t move at a later time.
In an unusual situation, it was the club, not the player, that wanted a multi-year commitment. However, the Orioles’ proposal was believed to have included $8million per season guaranteed with about $2million in incentives, and Rodriguez took $10million guaranteed though all but $3million is deferred from the Florida Marlins.
The club found itself in a similar situation with Jose Cruz Jr., who signed with San Francisco. Baltimore had him pegged for a one-year contract worth about $2million, and didn’t budge much from its offer. Cruz signed a one-year, $2.8million contract with the Giants.
Instead, Beattie and Flanagan made smaller additions with the signings of Daal, Ligtenberg and Deivi Cruz, along with minor league deals for outfielder B.J. Surhoff, pitcher Rick Helling and infielders John Valentin and Jeff Reboulet. Those signings won’t immediately transform the club into a winner but do add depth.
Beattie and Flanagan continue to try to land a big bat in a trade. However, Beattie remains convinced that with a number of teams wanting to dump high-salaried players, the Orioles will be able to take advantage.
“Wherever we can, we want to improve the club for this year,” Beattie said. “We have been ready to commit for more than this year in terms of free agents.”
As for whether the club is building more for the present or the future, Beattie said, “It’s not an either/or thing. We want to do as much as we can on both sides.”
Beattie and Flanagan have shaped the organization in other ways, hiring Darrell “Doc” Rodgers from Cincinnati as director of minor league operations and shuffling personnel in the minors. They have not yet renewed the contract of manager Mike Hargrove, who is entering the final season of a four-year deal.
When it was announced, the Beattie-Flanagan tandem essentially a two-headed general manager was considered an unconventional move by owner Peter Angelos. There were questions about the feasibility of two people collaborating on personnel decisions and about who would have the final say on matters.
So far, the two have worked as if they had been together for 15 or 20 years, Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss said. Beattie has leaned on Flanagan who pitched in Baltimore for 14 seasons and has been the team’s pitching coach, broadcaster and adviser to Angelos for the last eight years because of Flanagan’s familiarity with the club and minor league system. Beattie has taken the lead with the particulars of some administrative matters because of his 13 years in the Montreal and Seattle front offices.
Beattie is only now getting familiar with the minor league personnel and other intricacies of the club. The pair was hired to replace Syd Thrift on Dec.4, only eight days before the start of the winter meetings, traditionally a nucleus for offseason deals.
“We were less than well-prepared [early on],” Beattie said, “but we hit the ground running as soon as possible. We made some progress on some things even though they didn’t happen. We feel much better about many of the things we did, and we’ll continue to improve the team until Opening Day.”
Foss and Hargrove say Beattie and Flanagan have done well to open lines of communication in the baseball operations department and improve the analysis and evaluation of players in the system.
“I know there is a long-term plan to build this into a winning baseball club,” Foss said. “There’s no doubt whatsoever that they are the right people for this job.”