Gillick's trade magic alone won't make O's woes vanish

July 13, 1996|By John Eisenberg

There are 18 shopping days left before baseball's trading deadline.

That means it's Gillick Time.

Time for the Orioles general manager to perform the magic that made him famous.

But if you're expecting a miracle, a masterstroke that converts the Orioles from pretenders back into contenders, you're expecting too much.

True, Pat Gillick did make a string of daring trades at this point in the season when he was running the Blue Jays, acquiring such players as David Cone and Rickey Henderson to help the Jays win two World Series.

Considering that the Orioles were the primary victims in those deals, their lesser deals rendered irrelevant by Gillick's -- we hardly knew ye, Craig Lefferts -- it is only natural that the Orioles' players and fans are eager to see Gillick perform his magic here.

He probably will.

As long as the Orioles don't fall apart in the next week, they'll make a deal or two before the deadline in an attempt to re-energize themselves.

Peter Angelos might just spontaneously combust if they don't.

But it is lunacy to expect Gillick alone to provide the impetus for turning the team around.

The Orioles have too many holes for one general manager, even a shrewd one, to plug at this point in the season.

They could use a catcher, a right-handed-hitting outfielder, a pitcher and a new attitude.

That's all.

If Gillick can take care of that tab in the next 18 days, he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

It's asking too much to expect it.

He might be able to land a catcher who can play every day, an outfielder who can hit or a starting pitcher to add stability to the rotation. But not all of the above.

Not when the Orioles' minor-league system is so bereft of talent that Gillick has little to offer in return for impact players.

All of which means the Orioles will need to do most of their improving from within if they're going to compete with the Yankees in the AL East and the White Sox in the wild-card race.

They'll need more consistent pitching, more production from the bottom of the lineup and a generally sharper approach. They're pretty lifeless.

A trade could still make a big difference, of course.

The club needs a catcher most of all.

Chris Hoiles is a gamer who plays hard, but he is hitting .224 at the tail end of a terrific lineup, and his defense is problematic.

His big contract renders him unmovable, so Gillick needs to find a catcher to provide better defense and more consistent hitting -- easier said than done with so many other teams also looking for catching help.

The Orioles also could use a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Brady Anderson is having a brilliant year and Bobby Bonilla is coming back nicely after a slow, tumultuous start, but left field is a big problem.

The job belonged to Jeffrey Hammonds, but now he is at !B Rochester, Mike Devereaux is hitting .247, Luis Polonia is hitting .233 and Mark Smith is hitting .194.

Who can Gillick trade to facilitate a deal for help at these positions?

The most obvious answer is Bonilla, who hasn't endeared himself to the club this year and probably won't be back next season.

The problem, of course, is that trading Bonilla wouldn't help the club this year; the subtraction of his productive bat would offset the addition of any other.

A Bonilla trade would amount to a building block more than immediate help, which is probably why Angelos is opposed to the idea. You would be, too, if you had spent $48 million to win now.

But it makes sense for the Orioles to deal Bonilla now for real talent instead of just the draft pick they would get when he signs with another team next year.

Another player with trade value is Hammonds, who still has obvious potential even though he has struggled in the big leagues. He would draw real talent in return, and the Orioles are getting frustrated with him.

But they shouldn't trade him.

It is far too soon to give up on a player who had only 533 major-league at-bats, or about one full season's worth, coming into this season. He needs more time to develop.

There are prospects at the lower levels of the organization that the Orioles could deal, and that would be fine.

Unlike last year, when they gave away their best prospect, Alex Ochoa, in a year in which they were going nowhere, the Orioles have the potential to go far this season if they ever get it together.

If they fall apart in the next few weeks, they might start dumping players to other contenders instead of trading for help. Keep it in mind.

But if they keep winning often enough to stay in contention, making a bold trade in an attempt to win now wouldn't be ridiculous.

Gillick is the man to make it.

But don't expect him just to snap his fingers and turn the Orioles into contenders.

It is a club with a lot of needs and not much to give away, daunting circumstances.

And Gillick is just a general manager, for crying out loud, not a faith healer.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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