O's can slip wild-card trap by unloading Wells, Bonilla

July 26, 1996|By John Eisenberg

What should the Orioles do with David Wells?

That's easy. Trade him.

Bobby Bonilla?

Same thing.

Trade both players before they sign with other clubs next year.

The Orioles' big four in the front office -- Peter Angelos, Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone and Davey Johnson -- met yesterday to discuss what to do. The trading deadline is Wednesday night.

They're waiting to see what happens against the Indians this weekend, but why? Just do it, boys. Pull the trigger on those trades.

No, the Orioles won't get blue-chip, can't-miss prospects in return; other teams won't give those up to improve their chances in the wild-card race.

No matter.

Teams will give up solid, young major-leaguers in the making, building blocks to flesh out a team and give it depth and dimension.

The Orioles obviously need more of those kinds of players.

No, it doesn't make sense to unload a No. 2 starter and a slugging outfielder when you're just four games behind the leader in the wild-card race, as the Orioles were before last night's game.

But since when did any part of this Orioles season make sense?

Sure, they could easily make up four games if they got hot

and, with their talent, go on to give someone trouble in the postseason.

But what are the chances of that happening?

About as good as the chances of the Ravens suddenly moving back to Cleveland.

Or maybe you missed what those feeble, small-market Twins did to the Orioles earlier this week.

The Orioles became the first American League team in three years to exclaim, "Gosh, we can't wait for the Twins to leave town!"

One hundred games is enough time to determine whether a club is a contender or a pretender.

If the Orioles' $48 million collection of stars hasn't jelled by now, it isn't going to jell.

For whatever reason, and there are many, the pieces don't fit.

Sure, the Orioles owe their fans their best possible shot after sitting out the playoffs since 1983, but it's a smarter, higher-percentage play for them to trade Wells and Bonilla and ++ fortify themselves for 1997.

That's the only way to get something useful out of 1996, a lost season if ever there was one.

Sure, the Orioles could hang onto the wild-card race as an excuse not to trade anyone and to continue angling for the playoffs.

That's just a trap for teams hovering around .500, a trap into which many teams will fall.

Angling for the wild card when you're one game over .500 is a sure way to get trapped in a cycle of mediocrity.

The Orioles found that out last year when they traded for Bonilla and gave up Alex Ochoa, a star in the making who would look pretty good in their outfield now.

Getting a couple of young players for Bonilla would be the only way to make that trade at all profitable.

Besides, it's not as if unloading Bonilla would snuff out all theoretical hope of the Orioles making the playoffs this season. Eddie Murray's addition gives them enough pop in the lineup to make a surge possible. Theoretically.

Unloading Wells would take a far bigger whack out of their postseason chances, for the simple reason that they don't have a Plan B.

A Wells-less rotation would have only three certainties: Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and rookie Rocky Coppinger, who has nine major-league starts. Jimmy Haynes, Rick Krivda and Garrett Stephenson, last night's call-up, would fill in the rest.

It's hard to envision that rotation carrying the Orioles to the playoffs.

But what do they have to lose?

The right way for the Orioles to approach the wild-card race is to pay no attention to it.

If it so happens that they wake up, get hot and get close, fine.

In the meantime, they should concentrate on doing all they can to start making '97 a better year.

They should start trying to fix some of their many problems.

Their depth, for instance.

Brother, do they ever need some.

Middle relief and the bottom of the batting order are two areas in which the club has consistently failed this season. That's the definition of depth.

Those are the kinds of holes that can be filled with players obtained for Wells and Bonilla.

Players who might take an extra base, move runners along and care a little more.

Teams composed of accomplished, well-paid stars hunger to win as badly as any, but the Orioles don't help themselves with their impassive approach.

They could use some young, hungry blood in their mix.

Their organization, currently so thin in talent, needs to stockpile some useful players.

The reasons for trading Wells and Bonilla far outnumber the reasons for hanging onto them.

The only reason to hang onto them is to better the club's chances of making the playoffs this year.

And what are those chances?

Did you see the Minnesota series?

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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