Do dirty work, O's - clean this house

November 03, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

The cruel reality of the Orioles' latest rebuilding effort can be seen in the empty lockers of the nice guys who are its earliest victims.

Tom Trebelhorn is gone after 12 years in the organization. Andy Etchebarren is out as manager at Single-A Aberdeen. Semi-coaches Sammy Snider and Rudy Arias were told this week their loyal service will no longer be required. These are modest moves, to be sure, but they signal a drastic change in the way the new Orioles front office is going about its business.

Club president Andy MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley have dispensed with sentiment and begun the unkind task of making sure next year's team looks nothing like the one that couldn't break the 70-win barrier this year. The only question is how far they are willing to go to make fans forget the past 10 losing seasons and focus on a brighter - though somewhat distant - future.

Here's hoping they go for broke.

The time has come to unload anyone and everyone taking up payroll and roster space who has little chance to be around by the time MacPhail projects the Orioles will be ready to compete in the American League East.

Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons ... that means you.

Erik Bedard? Sign him up now or send him on his way for a decent package of developing position players.

Brian Roberts? You probably keep him, but keep an open mind.

Everybody else is available for the right price except Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen and maybe Jeremy Guthrie. Even those three do not have the credentials to be considered untouchable, but you've got to build around something.

It's taken a long time for me to come around to this way of thinking, because for several years I didn't believe the franchise could afford the attendance backlash that would come from a total rebuilding effort. But we're way beyond that now.

Fan cynicism is at an all-time high, and the Orioles probably will take another big hit in their season ticket sales this winter. There's really nothing that can be done to prevent that, short of signing Alex Rodriguez, acquiring Johan Santana and exiling Peter Angelos to Elbe, so there's no sense worrying about it anymore.

MacPhail will attend next week's general managers meetings in Orlando, Fla., where he likely will gauge interest in some of the aforementioned players. His top priority should be to find a buyer for Tejada, who still has value, though not nearly as much as he did when several teams came calling in July 2006.

The alternative is to keep Tejada and pay him $12 million per year to sleepwalk through two more seasons that hold little hope for a truly competitive situation in Baltimore.

The same rationale should apply to Mora and Huff, though moving them will be a bit more challenging. Mora has a no-trade clause and lives in the area, which will make him resistant to a deal. Huff still has some value as a run-producer, but his power numbers have declined in each of the past five seasons, and he's guaranteed about $7 million per year through 2009.

The Orioles will have to absorb salary to move some of their entrenched veterans, but that might be the only way to restock the organzation at the foundational level.

The Bedard situation is the most problematic because he is the kind of starting pitcher the Orioles should be building their rotation around. If he wants to stay and is ready to commit to a long-term deal, that's one thing. If he's not willing to get serious about that, he's the one Oriole who's certain to bring the kind of talent in return that would jump-start MacPhail's rebuilding program.

It should be a pretty simple calculation for MacPhail, now that he has had time to evaluate the organization. There are a lot of players who are part of the problem and a select few who could be part of the solution. The proper course seems fairly obvious, and it will require a proper housecleaning.

Even the fans are beginning to recognize that things are not going to get better until the franchise goes back to Square One and does the right things to grow back into the winning organization they can embrace again.

MacPhail supposedly has a mandate to effect dynamic change. Let's hope he doesn't blink.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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