Silence of the O's at trade deadline now a tradition

August 01, 2007|By RICK MAESE

If spring in Baltimore is marked annually by the crack of wooden bats and the sound of baseballs smacking into leather gloves, the summertime soundtrack is becoming just as familiar. Trading deadline around the Orioles' warehouse offices was marked once again by the sounds of crickets chirping, not telephones ringing.

The past week has taught two important lessons to baseball observers in the area.

First of all, the support shown to Cal Ripken Jr. at last week's send-off and again over the weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., confirmed there's plenty of passion for baseball in this region. It just needs an appropriate outlet.

And second, as the trade deadline unceremoniously passed yesterday, we learned that we'll have to wait a while longer before front-office officials can put another hometown All-Star in Orioles colors. The Rangers traded Severna Park native Mark Teixeira to the Braves, not the Orioles. Teixeira is the only local product who could even wave a fan of feathers near Ripken's throne. Alas, this year, the Orioles never had a chance.

Their inability to make a viable offer for Teixeira isn't an indictment of the front office and its ability to negotiate as much as it is a statement about the franchise itself. The Braves are built to be active around the trading deadline; the Orioles are built to sit on the sidelines and idly watch. "I don't think we came real close" to making a move, said Andy MacPhail, Orioles president of baseball operations. "There were different names that we explored and different concepts that we explored. But I don't think we ever got to the point where we thought we were close to something being consummated."

MacPhail termed the inactivity "disappointing," which certainly leads us to believe that he has found the pulse of this team and city pretty quickly.

So why didn't the Orioles make much noise in the marketplace? It turns out teams wanted something of value in return. Because of this, the Orioles were never a player in the Teixeira sweepstakes.

Did you see what the Rangers received in return for Teixeira? A rookie catcher and four minor-league prospects. The prospects' names will be important in a couple of years, but what you need to know now is this: Three of those players would have qualified as the top-rated prospect in the Orioles system. Outside of their starting ace, Erik Bedard, the Orioles had nothing comparable to offer -- short of trading the entire Double-A Bowie franchise.

"Starting pitching is something that nobody has enough of," MacPhail said. "And it's hard to replace. We clearly would have had to [have] something that was overwhelming [to trade Bedard]."

But back to the Braves. Their wheeling and dealing these past couple of days serves as a reminder that a stocked farm system doesn't just pay dividends in filling the big league roster; it also provides plenty of bait to acquire proven players in trade.

Last year, the Braves farm was ranked No. 16 by Baseball America, just one spot ahead of the Orioles. However, in the previous five seasons, they were never lower than seventh. The Orioles, on the other hand, were No. 12 in 2006 but were ranked in the bottom five from 2002 to 2005 (including last in 2003 and second-to-last in 2002).

Without anything to dangle in front of other teams, it's no wonder team officials sat around tapping their fingers yesterday. The Orioles brass' only hope at making a move yesterday was in the final hours before the 4 p.m. deadline. They had hoped other teams might realize their respective demands were too high and would call the Orioles with a lower asking price. By now, we know the result -- crickets.

The Orioles are blessed with just enough young pitching arms to feel hopeful and cursed with so little that they're forced to sit silently on the sidewalk of baseball's trade highway as other teams zip back and forth.

MacPhail tried to view the weeks leading up to the deadline as validation of the young talent the Orioles have. Fans should appreciate the optimism, but the immobility also reflects on the young talent the Orioles don't have.

"There is a nucleus of young starting pitching that I've been impressed with. ... We're starting -- and I emphasize starting -- to build some depth there," MacPhail said. "We're not there yet, but some of the building blocks are present."

If there was any good news produced by the Orioles yesterday, it was the announcement that interim manager Dave Trembley would hold his post through the end of the season. Trembley earned the position, and MacPhail was right in rewarding him with a public vote of confidence.

And I suppose there was also one other bit of good news. You know those chirping crickets around the warehouse? Well, I finally figured out the tune they have been singing. It's a Ray Charles song:

That old sayin', `Them that's got are them that gets'

Is somethin' I can't see

If ya gotta have somethin'

Before you can get somethin'

How do ya get your first is still a mystery to me

You've got to have something to get something in today's baseball world. And once again yesterday, we saw that the Orioles have just enough to not get anything at all.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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