Restraint is Orioles' best pitch

July 27, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Orioles have shown surprising and commendable restraint in not giving up Alex Ochoa, Jeffrey Hammonds or Armando Benitez in exchange for Bobby Bonilla, Sammy Sosa or another big bat to plant in the middle of their lineup.

As much as Bonilla in particular would give them the cleanup hitter they lack and put them in better shape to chase Boston down the stretch, this isn't the year to give up a potentially significant piece of the future in exchange for a dose of instant gratification. Chances are slim that the club would get the kind of success it wants in return.

Let's be honest here. The Orioles are a .500 team. They cost a lot of money to build, which implies that they should be good, but they haven't played up to the level their price tag suggests. Today is the first time since the season began that they have woken up in the morning with a winning record.

It would be fine for them to give up a prized young player or even TC two if they were already in the league's upper echelon and in need of that last piece of the puzzle to put them in position to make a long postseason run. That's the time to go nuts and forget the future: When the World Series is in view, a serious possibility.

But it's not this year. A possibility, yes. A serious possibility, no.

The Orioles are 16 games behind Cleveland. Eight games behind California. Only the surprising weakness of the AL East and the birth of the ridiculous wild-card race are keeping the Orioles in playoff contention. They'd be at least eight games back in four of baseball's other five divisions.

As much as they're playing better lately, with the second-best record in the American League since June 26, they haven't shown that they're capable of sustaining any measure of long-haul consistency.

Giving up a top prospect or two in such a season amounts to a prayer, wishful thinking, the definition of wasteful management.

Sure, the club is understandably desperate to qualify for the playoffs, having watched them every year since 1983. The windfall of revenue would come in handy in the year after (and before?) a strike. And the front office certainly owes it to the stadium-filling fans, whom former owner Eli Jacobs cynically took for granted, to do everything it can to win.

In that regard, it's good to see the club even considering trading for an impact player such as Bonilla. Keith Moreland, he isn't.

But the only reason to give up Ochoa and maybe more for Bonilla would be if Bonilla would have a strong chance of providing the difference between missing the playoffs again and maybe making it to the World Series.

You can't say that. Especially not with the Indians looking so tough this year.

No matter who the Orioles or any other team adds, they'll be big underdogs to the Indians come October. That doesn't mean the Indians are a lock and an upset isn't possible; the Indians could crater, as have numerous other monster teams under postseason pressure. But does it make sense to give up a major prospect -- one of the few you have -- when it's probably another team's year? No, it doesn't make sense.

At the racetrack they'd label it this as a gambling proposition: a bad value. And a gambling proposition is what all trades are, anyway.

Hey, if Bonilla could turn a .500 team into a World Series winner, he'd be the next DiMaggio. And he isn't.

And anyway, it's entirely possible that the Orioles can catch the Red Sox, hold off the Yankees and win the AL East without adding Bonilla. Maybe you think that is wishful thinking. It isn't. The Orioles have a better rotation than the other two. Their lack of offense hasn't kept them from gaining 4 1/2 games on the Sox in the last month. The Sox are very, very catchable as things stand right now.

Considering that and the Indians' overwhelming strength, it is wise for the Orioles to go with what they have and not sell off their future.

Ochoa? You never know whether hot prospects will develop, but he's plenty good.

Hammonds? You can't trade him less than a year after serious knee surgery. Give him time.

Benitez? His value is down because he got hit hard this year. But he's too young to give up on.

OK, OK, I'd listen if the Mets were willing to take Benitez as their major player in a deal. But absent that, and given the Orioles' continued refusal to deal Ochoa, their choices are to add a lesser player such as a Kirk Gibson -- don't laugh, he'd help -- or do nothing. No complaints here. If you find yourself taking big risks when you're at .500, you're going to find yourself taking big risks every year. And when you do that, pretty soon you're left with nothing.

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