O's can't afford to forgo trades

July 27, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

IT WOULD BE easy at this point for the Orioles just to back away from the trade-deadline market and do less to improve their playoff chances.

In fact, that would almost make sense.

Between their two failed trade attempts and their 9-20 record since June 22, they're hardly looking like a team capable of reaching the playoffs, much less making noise there.

Why give away anything valuable to try to fix a season looking increasingly grim?

Here's why: Because they're still so close to the leaders in the divisional and wild-card races that they can catch them with one or two reasonably hot weeks.

You can't back away when you're that close.

As well, keep in mind that the Orioles have been losing because they're hitting .249 and scoring 2.8 runs per game in their past 10 games, and, well, they're better than that.

In other words, their recent offensive shortfall is a slump, not the unmasking of the "real" Orioles.

It's a temporary condition, not a definitive statement about their potential to hit and score.

They still have the second-highest team batting average in the American League, and they're third in total bases and home runs. They're going to hit.

Their pitching might not hold up, but their hitting should improve, especially with Javy Lopez back (he hit a game-winning home run last night) and Sammy Sosa starting to produce. Imagine if they add another right-handed bat.

With their pitching actually faring better lately since bottoming out before the All-Star break, they still have the potential to win their share of games and make a run.

Can they hang with the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League East, or the A's and Twins in the wild-card race? Who knows? But they have a realistic chance, and they should do all they can to improve themselves in the five shopping days left before the deadline.

Can't get A.J. Burnett to fill out the rotation? How about Kevin Millwood?

Can't get Phil Nevin to bolster the lineup? How about Matt Lawton?

The aborted deal for Burnett was the wrong move, anyway; as desperately as the Orioles need another starting pitcher, they had no business making a deal with so many negatives.

Burnett might be the best starter available, but he's overrated, a No. 3 guy on a good staff, and he wasn't going to sign an extension, so he would have been a two-month rental.

Then there was the Marlins' determination to include Mike Lowell, an expensive, slumping slugger. (Sound familiar?) The Orioles were right to view that as a deal-breaker.

They need to make a move, but not that one.

In the other aborted deal, Sidney Ponson was sent to the Padres for Nevin, a solid veteran, but "Tar Heel" Nevin killed the deal by invoking his limited no-trade clause for a third time since 2002.

It's actually funny when you think about it: The Padres keep trying to get rid of Nevin, but they keep dealing him to teams on his no-trade list. Think they'll figure out the problem?

Ponson's contract also has a limited no-trade clause, but you can be sure the Orioles aren't going to deal him to one of the teams on that list. They're ready to get rid of him and they're going to find a way to do it by the end of the week.

Some have suggested that subtracting Ponson might hurt more than help the Orioles in the short run because they need more starting pitching, not less.

On the other hand, opponents are hitting an astounding .329 against Ponson this season, so it's not like the Orioles would be subtracting an effective pitcher. They certainly ought to be able to find someone to replace him.

Any deal involving Ponson wouldn't constitute a by-the-book July deadline deal, of course, because the Orioles' primary goal is just to get rid of him. They've seen enough.

If they can somehow also use him to improve their playoff chances this season, that would be gravy.

Their 5-4 win last night only underscores the point that their season still has legs, that the Red Sox and Yankees are hardly out of reach.

They haven't resembled a contender lately, but sure enough, they're still in contention after seven long, losing years.

The last thing they should do is let their recent slump encourage them to think - and act - otherwise.

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