THE BUZZ is as deafening as last year's cicada invasion. The Orioles - for all of the weeks of whispered denials - appear to be very close to adding superstar Sammy Sosa to an already solid offensive lineup and filling their offseason credibility gap.
That's the word out of Chicago, where the talk shows were sizzling yesterday about the pending departure of one of baseball's all-time home run kings. That's also the word from a very high-ranking major league source who revealed that the likely Orioles package would include Jerry Hairston and two minor league players.
So it apparently wasn't just a trial balloon full of hot-stove hot air, after all. The Cubs had been hinting for weeks that a deal with the Orioles might be possible, but there have been two schools of thought in Baltimore as to whether it would be the right move for the beleaguered franchise:
It's too logical. The club has been frustrated in its attempts to acquire a marquee starting pitcher or, for that matter, any big-name free agent. The negative fan reaction to the club's failure to sign first baseman Carlos Delgado only created more pressure to make a big PR splash before spring training.
It's not logical at all. Why would the Orioles give up anything of value to acquire a player clearly past his prime who stands to earn about $35 million over the next two seasons?
The Orioles definitely needed to do something to re-energize their fan base. The failed attempt to sign Carl Pavano early in the offseason set the tone for a winter of discontent that was threatening to undo much of the progress that was made last year with the acquisition of popular Miguel Tejada and the continuing development of several bright young pitching prospects.
The front office also dallied with a deal that would have put former Oakland Athletics ace Tim Hudson at the front of their rotation, only to drop out when they could not get a 72-hour window to try to negotiate a long-term contract.
The organization painted itself into a corner by promising that this winter would bring the dynamic improvement that would vault it into wild-card contention.
Then the market began to run away just as Major League Baseball was deciding to plant the vagabond Montreal Expos 50 miles down the freeway.
Owner Peter Angelos may have said (in this column) in late September that the Orioles would spend whatever might be necessary to upgrade the team regardless of any intervening negative variables, but he seemed to change his tune when free-agent salaries spiraled up and compensation talks with Major League Baseball over the renamed Washington Nationals bogged down.
The Orioles tried to save the offseason by offering Delgado $48 million over four years, but when he signed with the supposedly small-market Florida Marlins this week for $52 million, the reaction was predictable. The fans felt betrayed and, presumably, Angelos and the front office staff felt even more pressure to do something dynamic.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have been trying desperately to move Sosa, who wore out his welcome in Chicago when he tangled with manager Dusty Baker late in the summer and walked out on the club during its final 2004 game.
Maybe it would be a win-win ... or maybe not.
If the AL East is all about star power, than Sammy might be just the thing to boost the Orioles into the spotlight alongside the Yankees and Red Sox ... if he has anything left.
Remember, this is the guy who went swing for swing with Mark McGwire in the most exciting home run race ever. This is the guy who has hit 60 or more home runs in a season three times - more than any other player.
This is also a "me guy" who was suspended and fined for using a corked bat a couple of years ago and has heard his share of steroid inuendo. Nobody said he was perfect - just maybe perfect for an Orioles franchise that has spent the winter flailing around.
There is a precedent. Former Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox slugger Albert Belle was caught with a corked bat back in the 1990s, and look where he ended up in the twilight of his career.
Sorry I brought that up.