Hairston still answer, not DeShields

July 23, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

The demotion of Jerry Hairston changes nothing.

The Orioles believe that Hairston is better at second base than shortstop. They plan to keep him at second even if they trade Mike Bordick. And they all but concede that Delino DeShields is not in their future plans, even as he's returning from the disabled list.

"We're not going to play with Hairston," general manager Frank Wren said when asked if the 22-year-old rookie would return to short if Bordick were traded. "I haven't heard anyone tell me that would be the right move."

No, the right move is to find a taker for DeShields, but his three-year, $12.5 million contract is a significant obstacle in trade talks, and his string of injuries have made it impossible for clubs to assess his current value.

DeShields, 30, appears destined to remain with the Orioles through the end of the season. Bordick, 34, probably will stay in Baltimore through next season, especially now that the Orioles appear to lack an internal successor.

The Orioles probably would trade Bordick only if they received a substantial offer. They then would acquire a one- or two-year stopgap at short, and perhaps bid for Alex Rodriguez if he became a free agent after next season.

As for DeShields, there appears zero chance of the Orioles moving him to right and making Albert Belle the designated hitter. True, the St. Louis Cardinals considered switching DeShields to the outfield last winter. But Belle probably would hate the DH role as much as the club would hate paying him $13 million a year for such limited duty.

Thus, trading DeShields appears to be the only viable solution, even if the Orioles have to wait until this winter, when he presumably will be healthy, with two years and $8.32 million left on his contract.

Hairston converted to second base only last season. He supposedly needed at least one more year of minor-league seasoning. But he has progressed so rapidly, the Orioles now view him as a potential fixture.

Wren: "He has adapted well at second base. It looks like a more natural position for him than shortstop was. His future at the big-league level is on the right side."

Farm director Tom Trebelhorn: "I thought originally that shortstop would be his position until I saw him play second base better than he played shortstop. He's more consistent at second."

Hairston: "I'm really getting acclimated at second base. I really feel comfortable there. I like playing it. I feel I can be a really, really good second baseman."

So, who would play short if the Orioles were overwhelmed with an offer for Bordick before next Saturday's deadline for completing trades without waivers?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Wren apparently has told other GMs than he is not inclined to trade Bordick, but would listen to offers. That makes sense, considering that Bordick's $3.2 million option for next season kicks in at 500 plate appearances. He is 123 short.

The added year should only enhance Bordick's appeal -- he would be more than a two-month rental to a contender. But Arizona, perhaps the team most in need of a shortstop, apparently isn't interested, fearing that Bordick is more likely to decline rather than continue his ascent.

Bordick said that he is aware of the possibility of a trade, and reminded his wife, "Keep an open mind. Nothing is really stable in this game. You kind of have to accept what happens." Still, it seems unlikely that any suitor will turn desperate enough to force Wren's hand.

The Orioles could always finish the season with Jeff Reboulet at shortstop, or recall Jesse Garcia now that he has recovered from his hand injury at Triple-A Rochester. Garcia is a major-league defender. But questions persist about his offensive potential, and he isn't necessarily viewed as a long-term solution.

So, barring a knockout offer, the Orioles' best option is to keep Bordick, a model player in the middle of a stellar season. Indeed, their up-the-middle defense could be outstanding next season with Bordick, Hairston, catcher Charles Johnson and a new center fielder.

The question now is what will become of DeShields.

Consider the Orioles' major free-agent additions last off-season -- DeShields, Albert Belle, Mike Timlin, Will Clark. The best of those probably has been Clark, and he has appeared in only 58 of the team's 95 games.

It isn't DeShields' fault that he suffered a freak broken hand in spring training that hindered him the first month of the season. It isn't his fault that he missed more than a month with an injured hamstring. And it isn't his fault that the Orioles underestimated Hairston so dramatically.

DeShields seemed to hit the jackpot last winter, scoring a lucrative deal with only the Orioles and Cardinals bidding for him. He can demand another trade if he is dealt in the middle of a multi-year contract, and become a free agent if his request isn't honored. He's not exactly in a weak position.

Still, this can't be the way DeShields imagined his career would evolve when he decided to play close to his home in Seaford, Del. When teams like the 1999 Orioles crash, innocent people get hurt. Through little fault of his own, Delino DeShields must go.

Pub Date: 7/23/99

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