O's prospects better if they deal for a few

May 27, 1998|By John Eisenberg

The Orioles' decision-makers are contemplating a series of changes, some for this season and some for next season. Apparently, they also have seen enough of the self-satisfied, underachieving team they put together.

What the decision-makers should do in the coming months is clear.

What they will do isn't.

What they should do is stop playing solely for the present. Start looking to the future, too.

No trade should be made unless it makes the club younger, faster and hungrier.

If Roberto Alomar and/or Rafael Palmeiro and/or anyone else is traded, at least one top prospect should be included in the return package. Two top prospects, preferably.

And under no circumstances should any of the Orioles' few top prospects be dealt.

Years of mortgaging the future with a "win now at any cost" mentality has left the club in a precarious position, lacking the new, young blood all top teams invariably need.

The Orioles' new, young blood is wearing other uniforms these days, courtesy of the club's many attempts to "save" various seasons.

Some of those deals made sense at the time, but the sum of their parts is a dangerously limited feeder system.

Enough already.

You can't fault owner Peter Angelos for constantly trying to win and give his customers top-dollar entertainment for the top-dollar prices they're paying at Camden Yards, but, given the course of this season, it's time for a different approach.

Time to get younger, faster and hungrier.

Take a step back, take a few lumps and reload.

Start heeding the future as well as the present.

After the collapse of '98, who can disagree?

And yet, it's anything but certain that the Orioles will take such basic, fundamental advice. There are potential obstacles hindering the development of any clear, longsighted plan for the franchise.

For starters, it's not clear who would or should develop such a plan. General manager Pat Gillick is in the last year of his three-year contract. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone is working without a contract. Angelos has a heavy hand and veto power in all major personnel decisions. Who knows who will be calling the shots next year, or how they'll be called?

You need entrenched decision-makers with clear authority to forge and carry out long-range plans. The Orioles don't have that at this point.

An even larger potential obstacle, oddly enough, is Angelos' determination to try to win every year. It's a well-intentioned thought, but it gets in the way when a club has tried and failed for too long to buy a championship instead of grow one.

That idea didn't work. It seldom does. And the long-term effect is debilitating.

No matter. The guess here is it's going to be difficult to persuade Angelos to deal big-name stars for prospects, no matter how promising. He interceded two years ago when Gillick tried to trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for prospects, saying he was afraid to give up on any season because it amounted to false advertising. He said that again last week.

He might change his mind if he canvassed his customers. Many baseball fans don't mind taking one step back for the chance to take two steps forward later. Orioles fans certainly have never minded watching young players grow and develop.

In other words, Angelos should understand that he won't necessarily lose his fan base by giving it a dose of imperfect youth. That plays well here -- plays better, in fact, than trying to buy a pennant, an idea that local fans have always found vaguely reprehensible.

It doesn't mean giving up on this season. That would be foolish this early. But you can trade with now in mind as well as later, asking for a combination of prospects and immediate help, instead of just for immediate help.

At this point, with their hopes for '98 dimming and their hopes for beyond even dimmer, the Orioles certainly need to establish a new plan for the future. And stick to it.

Younger, faster, hungrier.

That's what this year's team needs, along with more dependable pitching and production and, oh, a million other things.

True, the Orioles are always going to have a large-market mentality and payroll, no matter how they dress it up. Camden Yards, their greatest asset, will always give them the ability to field a starry team.

But as they're demonstrating this year, they need more than just stars.

They need youth, hunger, speed and all the other elements that go into a complete, multi-dimensional, top-notch team.

They should keep that in the forefront of their minds as they contemplate changes in the coming months.

But will they?

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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