Batter up

O's must be ready to swing deals at winter meetings

On the Orioles

December 03, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

If you look closely, you can see definite signs of progress in the Orioles organization, the most recent being the decision to establish a legitimate baseball operation in the Dominican Republic.

If you step back, however, the bigger picture doesn't look much different than it did when new club president Andy MacPhail walked into our lives unexpectedly last June.

That's why the winter meetings, which officially begin today in Nashville, Tenn., are so important. That's why MacPhail needs to treat them with the sense of urgency that is not really in his true nature.

It isn't enough to know that smarter people are now running the organization and that they have a plan that will make things better over the long haul. It's imperative that the fans get to see the process start to work in some tangible way if they are to jump on board in time to provide any meaningful support to the effort.

The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," something the Orioles might already know if they had spent a little more of their scouting budget on the Pacific Rim. Though the front office has taken several administrative steps during the past six months, the Orioles have yet to put that first foot in front of the other in the actual reconstruction of the team.

That first step needs to come this week, and it needs to be significant enough to build confidence that MacPhail really has the wherewithal and the ability to set the Orioles on a new path.

No one questions his executive acumen, but this slowly developing offseason can only reinforce widespread skepticism about the potential for the organization to improve.

MacPhail seems determined to transact this difficult business without jousting the ghosts of seasons past - which is admirable - but he has to face the reality that the fans will be haunted by them until somebody actually chases them away.

Does that mean he should go to Nashville and give away Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada? Of course not.

Does it mean the front office needs to make the best deal it can for one of its valuable players to jump-start the rebuilding process? I believe it does.

Maybe it isn't now or never. Maybe a scenario will develop in which the superstar players who have gummed up the trade market - Miguel Cabrera and Johan Santana - don't move for a couple more weeks and it makes sense to wait a little longer for the smoke to clear and decent interest to develop.

That's fine, but I'm not buying the notion that the team can afford to hold on to these guys for another year if MacPhail doesn't find the perfect deal this winter.

I've heard the argument that Bedard will be worth just as much or more in July as he's worth now, which might be true if you could guarantee he'll be healthy and productive at midseason. I've also heard how the Orioles have to be extra cautious because they only have so many tradable players and can't afford to make a mistake.

Of course, it's that kind of thinking that has made them one of baseball's most timid teams at trade time since the Glenn Davis disaster of the early 1990s.

If they hang on to Bedard without signing him long term, they become vulnerable not only to another injury but also to the possibility that he could make it difficult to complete a deal next year by telegraphing a firm intention to enter the free-agent market after the 2009 season. If you think he's above that sort of thing, you haven't met him.

There are all sorts of reasons to move aggressively on Tejada, starting with his declining defensive skills and the fact that you can win 70 games each of the next two years with his $12 million annual salary or without it.

The most compelling reason for decisive action, however, has nothing to do with the circumstances of the individual players. The Orioles cannot wait an additional six months or a year because they already have waited long enough.

Telling your beleaguered fans it's going to take three years to become competitive is one thing. Telling them that three-year wait isn't going to start until next year is quite another.peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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