Angelos opts for hope over heartache

July 29, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

This is for the fans who endured one lame pennant-race trade after another, from Keith Moreland to Craig Lefferts to Mike Pagliarulo, from Lonnie Smith to Dwight Smith.

Last night, Peter Angelos said enough.

Shortly after learning that the New York Yankees had acquired David Cone and Ruben Sierra, the Orioles' owner grabbed the proverbial gun out of general manager Roland Hemond's quivering hands and fired.

He caved.

He blinked.

Who cares?

The move was totally impulsive, and totally glorious, and it will go down as one of the great moments in Orioles history, even if Alex Ochoa turns into the next Roberto Clemente.

Not because Angelos did a smart thing -- heck, he gave away the farm, seeing as how Ochoa was the last blue-chip prospect remaining at Triple-A Rochester.

No, this deal is a winner because of what it represents -- a break from the past, and a bold gamble with the future. No longer are the Orioles wallflowers at the prom. No longer are they incapable of making a big trade.

This is a big trade, all right, the biggest since -- ahem -- Glenn Davis. The Orioles gave up more than the Yankees did for Cone, and more than Cleveland did for Ken Hill, but for heaven's sake, they're getting Bobby Bonilla.

Not Keith "I Retire" Moreland.

Not Lonnie "I'm 90 Years Old" Smith.

Bobby Bo.

Bobby O.

Remember when Bonilla signed with the Mets, and told reporters they couldn't knock the smile off his face? The New York media answered the challenge, but now let's see Bonilla knock the smile off Baltimore's face.

Bet it doesn't happen.

The Orioles still might not overcome the Yankees in the AL East, but the wild-card should be a mortal lock. The idea is to make the playoffs, even in this ridiculous expanded format. Make the playoffs, then take your shot.

So, get ready for the Yankees and Orioles from the East, Cleveland from the Central, California from the West. Under that scenario, the AL East champion would draw Cleveland, and the wild-card team California.

In other words, if the Yankees want the division so badly, they can have it. Boston, you ask? Oh yes, Boston. Last won a World Series 77 years ago. Might not win another for another 77 years.

Boston is cooked.

Even without Ben McDonald, the Orioles have the starting pitching to dominate a short series. Bonilla gives them the cleanup hitter they've lacked since Eddie Murray and their first power-hitting outfielder since Ken Singleton.

Never mind that Ochoa and Damon Buford will be significant parts of the Mets' rebuilding program. Never mind that the Orioles' payroll for next season is rapidly approaching the size of the national deficit.

Win now.

That's Angelos' goal.

That, at last, is the plan.

It's a plan that could haunt the Orioles as soon as next season -- they already have committed a whopping $26.55 million to six players, including $4.5 million to Bonilla.

Thus, if they wanted to add Ron Gant or Roberto Alomar, they'd probably need to move Brady Anderson, who will earn $3.3 million in 1996 and has a limited no-trade clause in his contract.

They almost certainly won't re-sign McDonald and will need to make sound financial decisions in choosing their four starting pitchers after Mike Mussina.

So?

Worry about it later.

The Orioles haven't reached the postseason since 1983, and after one of their most tumultuous half-seasons in history, their chances are still excellent. Bonilla makes those chances even better. Ochoa could not.

Indeed, now is no time to quibble, to ask why the Orioles wouldn't trade Armando Benitez for John Wetteland in spring training, yet desperately tried to include Benitez in the Bonilla package three months later.

On the day he took over the club in October 1993, Angelos said he would have acquired Fred McGriff that summer if he -- and not Eli Jacobs -- had owned the club.

Obviously, it was no idle boast.

Who knows? Maybe Angelos' fighting spirit will rub off, and the Orioles will do something different, like show some spine in September.

Bonilla has been there. Bonilla will help. The guy was batting .325 for the Mets, with 18 homers, 25 doubles and 53 RBIs. He's a pure hitter. If he falters in the American League, everyone will be shocked.

One other thing about this deal: It makes Jeffrey Hammonds that much more pivotal to the Orioles' future. Angelos wanted to keep Ochoa so he could plug an inexpensive player into the lineup. Hammonds now becomes that player.

But forget the future -- the present is all that matters. For too long, the Orioles operated in their own little world, refusing to respond when the Blue Jays or Yankees made a move to shatter their postseason fantasies.

All that changed last night.

Instead of trading for Keith Moreland, Angelos traded for Bobby Bonilla. Instead of giving his fans heartache, he gave them hope.

PROJECTED PAYROLL

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