Trade split decisions leave O's sprawled on canvas

May 28, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Jeromy Burnitz. David Segui. Bernie Williams. Chuck Knoblauch.

What do those players have in common?

They might have been Orioles if not for the intervention of Peter Angelos.

The owner's defense?

Steve Gibralter, Chris Widger, John Olerud and Carlos Baerga might have been Orioles, too.

With trades, you win some, you lose some.

The Orioles' problem is that they are a house divided.

Angelos makes some decisions. The front office makes others. The resulting $69 million bust will be back on display tonight at Camden Yards.

Without a clear vision, is it any wonder the Orioles lack a cohesive clubhouse, or a coherent plan for the future?

Only one thing is certain:

They'd be a much different team if general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone were given wider latitude on player moves. And now both might be gone next season.

Angelos' involvement no longer can be considered unusual, not in an age when owners negotiate trades for players as prominent as Mike Piazza without even consulting their GMs.

But the Orioles' record doesn't lie.

Angelos' latest veto was to a trade that would have sent Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets for a three-player package.

The deal was a long shot from the start, with Palmeiro possessing a no-trade clause to the Mets and the front office trying to solicit better offers.

But it still could resurface in a different form.

"I'm not saying the thing is alive or the thing is dead," Gillick said yesterday. "We're still talking to them."

Alomar almost certainly is the subject. But if Angelos wouldn't allow Gillick to swap him for Williams in the off-season, why would he agree to a lesser return now?

The proposed trade with the Yankees wasn't as simple as it seemed. The Orioles were trying to re-sign Brady Anderson. Williams stood to make $9 million in arbitration, and then was eligible for free agency.

Still, imagine if the Orioles had completed the deal, then replaced Alomar by acquiring Knoblauch for Jeffrey Hammonds and several other young players.

According to the New York Times, that was the second part of the plan.

"We wouldn't be able to sign Bernie, anyway, so why make the switch?" Angelos told the Times in February.

"My position is that we're not going to pay $9 million or $10 million to any player; we'd rather pay good money to more players than a big salary to one player. And besides, I figured we'd sign Brady, and personally, I'm very happy with him.

"If we traded for Bernie, we would've been confronted with those high demands."

True enough -- Williams' agent is the notorious Scott Boras. But the way the season has evolved, with ESPN showing Alomar and Anderson failing to run out balls in New York, it's tempting to consider what might have been.

Of course, Orioles fans have been asking that question since the summer of '96, when Angelos blocked the proposed trades of Bobby Bonilla and David Wells.

The Orioles went on to win the wild card and upset Cleveland in the Division Series, seemingly justifying the owner's actions.

But what if Gillick had acquired Burnitz, a 29-year-old outfielder now batting .280 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs for Milwaukee?

And what if one or more of the other prospects he had been seeking for Bonilla and Wells also had developed into stars?

It might not have happened -- Gibralter, an outfielder in the Cincinnati organization, has been held back by injuries; Widger, a catcher later traded by Seattle to Montreal, is a work in progress.

Again, you win some, you lose some.

But no one can hold Gillick and Malone solely responsible for this mess, not when so much of their advice -- from Davey Johnson on down -- has been ignored.

Their biggest mistake was their failure to react properly to the loss of Randy Myers. By signing free-agent closer Rod Beck, the Orioles could have kept the structure of their bullpen intact.

Then again, their plan was not without logic.

The Orioles so rarely give young players opportunities, they felt it important to try Armando Benitez in the late innings. And if the team's starters had stayed healthy, perhaps the bullpen wouldn't be in such disarray.

Norm Charlton, Doug Drabek, Ozzie Guillen -- none of those signings looks brilliant. But the Orioles might have kept Esteban Yan or traded for Al Leiter if Angelos hadn't ordered Gillick to protect Palmeiro in the expansion draft.

Joe Carter?

A classic Gillick-Angelos compromise.

With physical questions surrounding Eric Davis and, to a different extent, Hammonds, the Orioles felt they needed another right-handed bat.

Carter probably was no higher than fourth on Gillick's wish list, behind Paul Molitor, Geronimo Berroa and Segui. Angelos vetoed a trade for Segui last summer in favor of adding Berroa. By last winter, he was down on both players.

And Carter was headed to Baltimore.

Sometimes, Angelos will be right. Sometimes, Gillick will be wrong. That doesn't mean one is smarter than the other. That's just baseball.

Gillick won back-to-back World Series implementing his own vision in Toronto. He never has been given that same opportunity in Baltimore.

No one should be surprised by what is happening on the field.

A house divided cannot stand.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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