Staying on deck

ON BASEBALL

MacPhail's best move this week might be no move

On the winter meetings

December 03, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

As Orioles president Andy MacPhail begins his first winter meetings with the club today in Nashville, Tenn., those who have endured 10 consecutive losing seasons have a little request: Do something.

Take charge. Show the fans which direction this club is headed. Let them know someone finally has a plan and it is being executed.

Solid advice. But it's easier written than done. Because MacPhail is in the unenviable position of demonstrating aggressiveness while at the same time not rushing into a decision that could further disable this limping franchise.

He has attended these meetings for decades. This one, though, might be his most challenging. Because what he does - or doesn't - accomplish could establish the Orioles' plight for the next few years.

MacPhail took over in June, and his biggest roster move so far has been dealing veteran afterthought Steve Trachsel for a couple of fringe major leaguers.

To receive anything from the Chicago Cubs for Trachsel is commendable, but adding Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry doesn't exactly rival Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson in Orioles trading lore. MacPhail understands that. He knows he wasn't brought here to keep shuffling the deck of mediocrity.

He wants to make an impact transaction that shoves this franchise onto the path of respectability. But he also knows making a move for the exclusive purpose of making a move doesn't work. That's precisely what has gotten this organization into its current mess.

"I think you have an obligation to do things that in your mind make sense and help you achieve whatever goal you're trying to achieve," he said. "If it doesn't fit in those parameters ... you don't do it."

In the past decade, the Orioles have led the universe in inconsequential and inane winter moves. They have made splashes (Albert Belle, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa) and drips (Marty Cordova, Kris Benson, Danys Baez). None has been an unmitigated success; many have been disasters.

The most promising offseason was 2003-2004, when the club spent $121.5 million on four players, three of whom were dismissed before their contracts ended and the fourth - Tejada - could be ushered out this month.

Then there was the great reliever heist and first baseman boon of 2006-2007 that propelled the Orioles to a sterling 69 wins. The Orioles signed nine major league free agents and made two trades last offseason. None of any consequence, of course, but fans couldn't complain that nothing was being done.

Owner Peter Angelos is criticized for the club's free fall, but he's not the one who keeps making unwise signings and trades in December and January. That responsibility lies with his charges in the front office - and that's why Angelos decided last summer to bring in MacPhail and effectively, if not officially, replace executive vice president Mike Flanagan, who stayed, and vice president Jim Duquette, who resigned in October.

It is MacPhail's primary duty to stop the desperation cycle. And if that means doing nothing this week - to the chagrin of desperate fans - then so be it.

Despite the availability of the Minnesota Twins' Johan Santana and Florida Marlins' Miguel Cabrera, teams still have interest in Tejada, catcher Ramon Hernandez, and ace Erik Bedard. But those are MacPhail's limited chips.

If a strong package of ready-to-play prospects doesn't emerge this week, then MacPhail has to have the courage and fortitude to temporarily close shop and wait for the right deal. With his most marketable players signed through 2009, he can remain relatively patient, especially if all the powers-that-be have finally accepted the reality that this club is years away from competing with the big boys in the American League East.

Unfortunately, that means the Orioles might have to avoid headlines in Nashville while other clubs grab the spotlight - another excruciating chapter for fans and a public relations disaster for MacPhail, who already has the reputation in some circles as a painstaking and painfully deliberate decision-maker.

The alternative is to take the best offer available, even if it is well below asking price, just to prove MacPhail isn't sleeping at the wheel.

"We're certainly going to try to do something. But at the end of the day, regardless what I say here, actions speak louder than words," MacPhail said. "If it's a lousy trade, it's not something that you're going to want to live with. You have to discipline yourself."

This week will test his resolve. He's in a difficult, maybe impossible, position.

But MacPhail, a seasoned baseball man, knew that when he took the job.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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