Clock is ticking

Patience is a virtue, but it'd be nice to see deals

On rebuilding the Orioles

January 10, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

I've got to tell you, the post-Tejada euphoria has worn off, and I'm ready for the next big step in the long-range Orioles rebuilding program that all of us signed up for when we welcomed new club president Andy MacPhail into our lives.

It's hard to explain, but when I heard they were tearing down the old JumboTron video board yesterday, it reminded me that the demolition of the old team is far from complete, and time seems to be running short.

(OK, if you put me on a lie-detector test -- and, I hope, Roger Clemens left the seat warm -- I would be forced to admit I'm using the removal of the old scoreboard as some kind of allegory for what's going on with the Orioles roster, but I actually got the idea from reading yesterday in The Sun that MacPhail might have to fill some holes with free agents if he can't complete a couple of deals soon. Of course, polygraphs are unreliable and I won't be taking one, so I stand by my original statement.)

This is not to criticize MacPhail. Quite the contrary. He has embarked on a program to reseed the upper levels of the player development system and find new homes for players who do not fit his long-range vision. Better than that, he has convinced a lot of Orioles fans that the result will be worth their patience.

That's called leadership, and it's good to see in an organization that has been adrift so long, but it sure would be nice if the Seattle Mariners decided today to overwhelm the Orioles with an offer for Erik Bedard or the Chicago Cubs decided tomorrow to deal several top pitching prospects in a package for Brian Roberts.

MacPhail is quite a patient man himself, so he isn't going to move either of those players if the deal isn't right.

"The only deadline that really applies is July 31," he said yesterday.

True enough, Bedard and Roberts are under contract for the next two seasons, so they can just as easily be dealt at midseason as now, though waiting carries the risk that one or both of them could get hurt before then. There's also the possibility that holding off for another six months and signing stopgap free agents will push the Orioles' new horizon back another year.

The Orioles entered the offseason with high hopes for a string of deals that would produce a fresh, young club with a bright -- though possibly distant -- future. That's still the plan, but attempts to define top value for Bedard have been hampered by the lingering availability of Minnesota Twins pitching ace Johan Santana, who figured to be wearing New York Yankees pinstripes or some other big-market uniform by now.

MacPhail acknowledged this week that he will have to go looking for temporary solutions in the bullpen and center field if a deal does not get done that addresses those areas in the next couple of weeks.

Maybe that won't be necessary. There are rumblings in Chicago that a Roberts deal might go down soon. The Chicago Tribune speculated yesterday that the Cubs could be close to acquiring Roberts for a package that includes young pitchers Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher and infielder Ronny Cedeno.

There have been similar reports out of Seattle that the Mariners are getting closer to acquiring Bedard for a package headed by top outfield prospect Adam Jones, so it's possible the Orioles' rebuilding program could surge forward at any time.

MacPhail denied earlier this week that anything was imminent and continues to stress that there's plenty of time to do what needs to be done.

No doubt, after 10 straight losing seasons, the fans feel a sense of urgency to push the process along, but most seem willing to go along for this ride at whatever speed MacPhail chooses to go.

"I haven't been here for that history," MacPhail said, "but I've been very happy with the [fan] response to this point. I'm not surprised. They are sophisticated baseball fans, and I think they understand."

They'll have to, because the scoreboard allegory only goes so far. The old scoreboard started coming down yesterday, and everyone is pretty sure there will be a sparkling new one in place in short order. The other rebuilding process is going to require a little more faith.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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