Remade O's: be patient, be glad

The slew of prospects raises O's outlook, but not this year or next

Johnson was lone loss

Farm system loaded

Timlin, Baines gone

July 30, 2000|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN COLUMNIST

There are piles of debris amid the brick and wrought iron at Camden Yards today.

The Orioles blew up their disappointing team with a pair of trades last night, dealing three veterans for six young players, including four pitchers.

In all, they have traded four veterans for 10 younger players since Friday afternoon, sending a signal as obvious as it is stunning: Not only have they given up on this season, but they're not planning on winning next season, either.

They're counting on a farm system suddenly overflowing with young pitchers to put them back on the map in several years - but not any time before that.

Hope you were sitting down when you read that.

It's a signal owner Peter G. Angelos has dreaded sending to the fans and, in fact, has refused to send since he bought the club in 1993. Teams of recognizable veterans have sold a lot of tickets at Camden Yards, even if they haven't won much.

But the team was awful, the fans were disgusted and Angelos picked the right time to let his baseball operatives blow up the team in return for an entire generation of new blood.

It's about time.

Mike Timlin, Harold Baines and Charles Johnson hopped a car on Mike Bordick's out-of-town express last night, and if not for Johnson's departure, which is problematic to say the least, the purge would deserve a standing ovation.

Just getting rid of Timlin, period, is a victory, given how he has performed as the closer since signing a four-year, $16 million contract before last season. He was a stand-up guy and all, but he couldn't handle the role and his blown saves have devastated the team for two seasons. He has major-league stuff and might be able to thrive as a setup man in St. Louis, but frankly, it's amazing the Orioles got anyone to take him off their hands.

Unloading Baines also was a victory, even though he is an immensely popular player who lives on the Eastern Shore. The club never should have re-signed him after dealing him late last season; a team as lacking in versatility as the Orioles didn't need a 41-year-old, one-dimensional designated hitter. And let's face it, his bat has slowed considerably this year.

That brings us to Johnson, whose departure is anything but a victory. Johnson, 29, was baseball gold - a catcher who was superb on defense and could hit. The Orioles aren't going to be able to fill the void he leaves, not with new starter Brook Fordyce - acquired from the White Sox - or Double-A prospect Jayson Werth or whoever they have in mind.

They dealt Johnson because they couldn't get along with his agent, Scott Boras, and it's a joke that such personal squabbles have gotten in the way of what's best for the club. Instead of playing hardball with Johnson and forcing him to go to arbitration last spring, they should have been striving to lock him up to a long-term deal.

Angelos let his personal feelings get in the way of a club matter once before, and the result was the resignation of manager Davey Johnson - a clear setback for the club. Charles Johnson's departure is a similar setback.

Having said that, at least the front office didn't make matters worse and sit on Johnson as he played out his option, obviously disenchanted. If the club wasn't going to sign him, it made sense to get something for him. And three young pitchers certainly qualifies as "something."

In the short term, the Orioles are going to be a lot less recognizable with Fordyce at catcher, Melvin Mora at shortstop and young players such as Luis Matos and Ivanon Coffie in the lineup. Who are these guys?

But it's the long term that counts, and the long term was going to be more of the same until the purge of the past two days. Who knows if it will succeed in re-stocking the Orioles with the talent they need to reinvent themselves as a hustling, energetic, competitive club? There's no way of knowing now, or for several years.

But here's the deal: It was time to try. There was nothing to lose. The Orioles were going nowhere for the third straight season, stuck in a losing, expensive cycle. Now they have more money to spend on Mike Mussina and other free-agent pitchers over the winter, and they have so many new, young pitchers that's it's hard to keep track.

It's about time.

O's trade recap

Over the past two days, the Orioles remade their roster by making three trades, giving up four veteran players. A recap: Deal No. 1: SS Mike Bordick to the New York Mets for OF-IF Melvin Mora and three minor-leaguers: C-1B Mike Kinkade, RHP Lesli Brea and RHP Pat Gorman.

Deal No. 2: RHP Mike Timlin to the St. Louis Cardinals for 1B Chris Richard and minor-league RHP Mark Nussbeck.

Deal No. 3: C Charles Johnson and DH Harold Baines to the Chicago White Sox for C Brook Fordyce and three minor-leaguers: RHP Miguel Felix, RHP Juan Figueroa and RHP Jason Lakman.

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