Shaking it up

Tejada just begins tear-down before rebuilding

On the Orioles

December 13, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Funny how things turn out sometimes. The arrival of Miguel Tejada four years ago was supposed to signal the dawn of a new era for the Orioles organization. Now, his departure is being cast the same way.

The Houston Astros gave up five players to beef up the middle of their lineup. The Orioles took the first step in a "no pain, no gain" rebuilding process that will either put the organization back on the road to respectability or eventually confirm the worst fears of a fan following that had lost all confidence in Orioles management before the arrival of new president Andy MacPhail.

The only thing certain is that something dynamic had to be done to change this struggling team's destiny, and what could be more dynamic than trading away the most storied player on the roster?

No doubt, there are going to be people who look at those five unfamiliar names and scratch their heads, but this is a corner that had to be turned. The Orioles were going to lose 90 games next year with Tejada or without him. Now, at least, there will be some point to it.

MacPhail was brought in to do this kind of dirty work, and there is more to do. Don't be surprised if pitching ace Erik Bedard is headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers or Seattle Mariners between now and the start of spring training. Don't be surprised if the Orioles give away Melvin Mora and Jay Payton or even pay someone to take them. Don't be entirely surprised if the Orioles pay recently suspended outfielder Jay Gibbons big bucks just to stay away.

Every one of those potential scenarios has been on the street for a while, but they all became much more plausible when the first big domino fell yesterday. For the first time since the Orioles signed Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro (for the second time) after the 2003 season, the fans can say, "Here we go!" instead of "Here we go again."

That's why you can't evaluate this deal on just the players who have traded places. The Orioles added some decent young talent, but every young player is a gamble and not everyone in the deal is going to end up as a front-line major league player. In fact, there will almost certainly be moments over the next couple of years when disgruntled fans wonder why the Orioles were stupid enough to trade a potential Hall of Famer for these guys.

I'm sure there already are whispers that the Orioles didn't get enough, that they should have held out a few more weeks to see whether the Los Angeles Angels would throw another top prospect into the mix. It will always be thus, but MacPhail is a pretty smart guy who spent the past two months gauging the market for Tejada, and this is not only what the market would bear, but it also is the kind of broad-based package that begins to achieve his goal of repopulating the upper levels of the player development system.

If he deals Bedard or Brian Roberts, he'll get even more. That's how it starts to get better around there. That's probably the only way it gets better.

MacPhail is not generally known for his bold strokes, but this is no time for nuance. The Orioles have suffered through 10 straight losing seasons, and there was nothing about the final makeup of 2007 roster that suggested they would evolve into a winning team over the next two years, though that was the original plan that led to several of the ill-advised contracts that put them in the hole MacPhail is trying to dig them out of.

He made it pretty clear during the final months of the season what he intended to do, and it is a credit to his brutal honesty about the state of the organization that many fans were becoming impatient for him to start a multiyear rebuilding process. Who would have believed a year ago that anyone would embrace the notion that it likely will take at least a couple of more losing seasons to get where the Orioles need to go?

I was having trouble believing it myself until I heard the grumbling when MacPhail came back from the winter meetings without completing a deal for any of the Orioles' three top veteran players.

Instead, he was able to change the subject yesterday as the baseball world braced for today's release of George Mitchell's long-anticipated report on the sport's performance-enhancement scandal.

If nothing else, the Tejada trade is proof that MacPhail - unlike some of his predecessors - does not live in fear of making a mistake that will evoke the eventual wrath of owner Peter Angelos.

There are never any guarantees. It's possible that, four years from now, somebody will bring up the name of third base prospect Michael Costanzo and someone else will ask whether that was the squatty bald guy from Seinfeld. It's not a perfect science.

It is, however, a start. MacPhail has taken that first big, scary step into the unknown, and Orioles fans seem willing to follow.

Here we go!

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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