Orioles can't afford to strand trade talk

March 19, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Your faithful spring training correspondent is here to summarize yesterday's interview with Jim Beattie. The topic? The Orioles' need to make a trade before the start of the season.

"No, we don't," said the Orioles vice president.

"I don't feel we have to. We feel we'd like to, but were we to break camp now, we could see what we have the first month, see how players respond and take it from there," he said.

Deep down, Beattie (the former pitcher) knows the Orioles should make a trade, especially for a starting pitcher. Otherwise, why would Beattie paint the pitching rotation like it was a paint-by-number picture only half finished because the paint is already dried up?

"Kurt Ainsworth has been solid. Sidney's Sidney, and Eric DuBose has looked good. Rodrigo Lopez has to find a way to be consistent. Matt Riley and Erik Bedard are young. Omar Daal isn't going to blow anyone away, but he needs to get guys out," Beattie said.

You could say throw them out there and see what they do, but this is the American League East. This is trying to improve by 10 to 15 games in a division that sports the mother lode of payrolls.

Look at this list: Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield for the Red Sox; Javier Vazquez, Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown for the Yankees; Roy Halladay, Miguel Batista for the Blue Jays.

Ponson, Ainsworth and DuBose? Oh, no. The Orioles' good young arms of tomorrow are just that. Tomorrow. Talk to Adam Loewen now about how he feels about demanding a major league contract. There's a reason they call this the big leagues. Time to find a No. 2 or 3 starter to bolster this rotation. Kris Benson, Odalis Perez, Danny Haren, Jarrod Washburn.

Why? Because the Orioles can't squander all the love equity they amassed by signing Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro and Ponson by not taking another big step this spring by doing everything they can to bring in another starter - and not Rick Helling or Daal, please?

The Orioles can only make a trade (or trades) depending on how the dominoes fall during the remainder of spring training.

"We don't have a lot of depth to trade from. We could if we found the right pieces, but we're balancing weaknesses," Beattie said.

In addition to the starting rotation, the Orioles don't have a bona fide designated hitter. This sounds like no big deal, but think about this. Does this create flexibility for manager Lee Mazzilli to keep guys fresh, or does it create uncertainty, since David Segui, Jack Cust and B.J. Surhoff present as many issues at this point in spring as they are supposed to resolve? As vice president Mike Flanagan said: Deadlines create urgency. The end of camp will create the next opportunity. The Orioles have been in a holding pattern anyway, thanks in part to Jerry Hairston's broken finger and Brian Roberts' back spasms.

Then there's the question: Is it imperative to trade one of these second basemen when neither has played a full season?

The Dodgers have called, saying they need bats. The Cardinals need a second baseman. The Orioles need pitching. Cat and mouse should evolve to sheep and wolves, soon.

Flanagan likened the Orioles to a pizza and said there are teams out there that might need some slices. Usually, the Orioles have been the ones trying to dial up an order. Now the Orioles are in a position to field inquiries.

"We're willing to take on a player for a year, but we're not going to give up players who could help us for a lot of years," Beattie said.

For a team that did as much as any other major league franchise to upgrade its lineup and roster this winter, the Orioles could surely coast into the regular season without having to apologize to anyone for all they did not do.

However, to substantiate why the Orioles should not coast into the regular season without making a serious attempt to upgrade their pitching and DH/outfield situation, let's go to the videotape.

Here is what the Orioles were not able to do: trade for Derrek Lee, who rejected a long-term deal with the Orioles and thus was traded by the Marlins to the Cubs, with whom the power-hitting first baseman has signed a three-year extension.

Lure Vladimir Guerrero to Baltimore, which would have more surely ensured the trade of Jay Gibbons (to the Dodgers?) since Palmeiro would have been signed by the Orioles anyway.

Snag Vazquez from the Expos, who smartly took Nick Johnson and Miguel Cairo from the Andy Pettitte-less, Roger Clemens-less and David Wells-less Yankees.

Sign Ivan Rodriguez, who would have made a powerful catcher/DH/first base rotation with Javy Lopez but who instead got four years from the desperate Tigers.

These are the front-line players we know the Orioles were attempting to get, let alone covert conversations for players like Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez or Alex Rodriguez.

Do we see a pattern here?

In other words, all this talk about how nice it is that Gibbons, Larry Bigbie, Luis Matos, Roberts and/or Hairston are coming of age and represent a nucleus of "good, young players," evidence suggests the Orioles were up for bigger and better - at any position where they could improve the ballclub.

"We'll look at any scenario that we think improves the club," Flanagan said.

The Dodgers come to Fort Lauderdale Stadium today. The Orioles have been showcasing Gibbons in road games this spring. Bigbie and Roberts or Hairston interest the Dodgers, too.

The Orioles can be patient. But how patient? What if the Dodgers make a deal for Alfonso Soriano? Cat and mouse is about to turn more feisty in order for the Orioles to land their next big dog.

They aren't done. They can't be.

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