There's always next year, but O's need to make deal to win now

July 01, 2005|By John Eisenberg

THE Orioles are much more interesting when they're in the running for a playoff spot instead of wallowing near the bottom of the American League East. It has been awhile.

Their success has generated several questions and raised the stakes on others. Should they extend manager Lee Mazzilli's contract? What about the contracts of co-general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan? Do they make a trade to enhance their playoff chances? If so, do they go all out or play it safe with their future?

Opinion on these topics seems to be divided - and in some cases, still unformed - both inside the organization and among the public.

But one of those questions doesn't warrant a debate. The answer is easy.

Do they go all out to try to make the playoffs this year, even if it means risking a piece of their future? Absolutely.

The argument for them having a chance at the postseason isn't a flimsy platform built of balsa wood - it's a solid-state case. They're where they need to be now, even after slumping last week and giving up the division lead they held for 62 days. They had the lead in the wild-card race before last night's loss.

They're there.

The suggestion that they shouldn't make a big trade because they'll have a better chance in 2006 is ludicrous.

Who knows what will happen between now and then? Nothing in baseball is ever thus, especially with a franchise just finding itself after seven straight losing seasons. The 2006 Orioles could have a new manager, a new front office, new coaches, different chemistry. Brian Roberts could be hitting .265 instead of .365. Someone important could get injured.

Numerous unexpected breaks have aided their cause this season. Bruce Chen has come out of nowhere to become a dependable starter. Roberts has emerged as an All-Star, not just a useful player. Injuries have hurt them, but just about everyone should be back for the stretch run.

When good things happen, you have to try to make the most of them because they might not happen again, at least not in the next season.

The Orioles could be under .500 a year from now and starting to think about 2007, not 2006. It wouldn't make sense then to pull the trigger on an expensive trade.

But nothing should be stopping them now.

The AL East race isn't over just because one Boston Globe columnist said it was.

With another quality starting pitcher, the Orioles would stand a chance against wild-card competition such as the Yankees, Indians and Twins.

And of course, anything can happen once you make it to October, as the recent World Series triumphs of the Red Sox, Marlins, Angels and Diamondbacks have demonstrated.

The point is you have to pick your spots to try to give yourself the best chance of winning, and the Orioles are in such a spot.

In a perfect world, they could acquire the quality starter they desperately need without giving up too much in return. Beattie and Flanagan should try out as many deals as possible in the next month in hopes of arranging one that lands a pitcher at a reasonable price. (And not a marginal pitcher who might be - might be - better than what they have. Please, don't give away talent on a gamble like that.)

But of course, the world isn't perfect, and to get a quality starter like an A.J. Burnett or a Jason Schmidt, the Orioles would have to give up quality in return. That could mean a package including Jorge Julio and Daniel Cabrera or Hayden Penn - a high price, for sure.

It's easy to argue against giving up such young talent because it's a blatantly short-sighted move.

Raising a generation of young pitchers is the best way to guarantee yourself a winning future, and you're bound to regret giving up part of that generation.

It's more prudent just to hold on to whatever assets you have and dream of the day when they all mature.

But it's even easier just to continually hide behind that dream and keep playing for the future when, in fact, there are times when the present begs for attention in the form of a dramatic move intended to give you a better chance of winning - now.

If the Orioles are smart, they should realize that, after seven often dull years of losing, they owe it to their fans to do the most they can to make 2005 as interesting and successful as possible.

A fine opportunity has arisen. Who knows when one will again?

It would be a shame if the Orioles blinked and didn't try to make the most of it.

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