Orioles cannot afford to evade tough choices

ON BASEBALL

December 05, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.-- --So you want the Orioles to get better? You want them to stop being a baseball punch line and compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East?

You want this franchise-record streak of nine consecutive losing seasons to come to an end sooner than later?

Well, then hard choices need to be made. Sentimentality has to be put aside in favor of making the best decisions for the organization.

And that might mean the Orioles have to trade second baseman Brian Roberts.

We'll break for a second to let the teenage girls wail.

OK, now it's the 20-something women's turn. Now, the older ladies. And let's have a quiet, manly moment of silence for the guys who see Roberts as the gritty throwback to the glory days.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada might be the club's best player and Melvin Mora might be its most outspoken, but Roberts is the most popular. He is polite, hard-working, good-looking and homegrown - exactly the kind of player Baltimore's beaten-down fan base must cling to.

And yet he's at the heart of a serious trade offer: Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Atlanta Braves for second baseman Marcus Giles and slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche.

Put the Brian Roberts Growth Chart down for a minute, read that offer again and admit it is at least intriguing.

Roberts, 29, is actually older than Giles, 28. And, though they have different offensive games, their primary production numbers could be a wash in 2007. Add in that LaRoche and his 30-plus-homer, left-handed power bat is desperately needed in the middle of the Orioles' lineup and the high-ceiling Penn looks expendable.

So, despite the possibility of losing Giles in a year, it's definitely an offer worth mulling. Before the awe-struck teeny-boppers get their pigtails in a bunch, though, know this: Roberts isn't going to Atlanta. Not now anyway.

Owner Peter Angelos isn't letting Roberts, one of his favorites on and off the field, leave without a king's ransom. And it's doubtful anyone would pony up enough for Roberts to make it reality.

Braves GM John Schuerholz, who doesn't easily back down, and his assistant, Frank Wren, who drafted Roberts for the Orioles, initiated this.

The offers, from the Braves or maybe others now, could keep coming. And the Orioles must keep listening.

One industry source said the Orioles aren't bringing up Roberts in talks with other teams - partially because there are few teams that can give them a quality second baseman in return and partially because he's Roberts.

But they should shop him and the rest of their actual commodities - Tejada, Erik Bedard, Chris Ray, Ramon Hernandez, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis. After nine losing seasons, the Orioles can no longer draw a circle around their best players and say "No" to every offer. They just don't have enough talent to do that.

Trade Markakis and Bedard? Most likely not. But listen and suggest? Absolutely. You never know when someone else may blow you away.

As much as Roberts is beloved, he is the only member of the above group not signed for 2009. And, unless the Orioles offer a lucrative extension, he likely will test the free-agent market after 2008. He'd be foolish not to, considering what good, speedy leadoff hitters go for these days.

For example: The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Juan Pierre an insipid five-year, $44 million deal this year. By comparison, Roberts, a better all-around player, should get more than Pierre. It's doubtful he'll get less - they share the same agent.

Simply put, Roberts is a quality major leaguer and a quality representative of the Orioles. Losing him would be a shame on many levels.

But if the fans, front office and ownership really want to win, they have to consider the tough options.

Trading Tejada is one of them. But, honestly, everyone in Baltimore is numb to that one by now after last year's intermittent requests to be dealt.

If Tejada's dealt, some fans will even say good riddance.

Roberts, though, has never given an indication he wants to be elsewhere. Really, he's never been anything but the good soldier.

Still, if he can make this team better, if he can give it an improved chance of winning by leaving, however, it has to be something the Orioles must consider.

Maybe not this deal, but one in the future.

Sentimentality is nice, but it can't overshadow continual losing.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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