FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- --If you believe everything you read -- and, in this tough newspaper environment, I certainly hope you do -- Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts will be headed to the Chicago Cubs or another contending team in the not-too-distant future.
It's not really a question of whether he'll be traded, but where and when and why the deal hasn't been made already.
The last part is easy. The Cubs haven't offered enough yet, but they probably will at some point. The timetable is a little more difficult to project because the window for dealing Roberts extends from right now until the July 31 deadline for making trades without waivers.
There is more than one way to look at this, of course. The Orioles fans who have bought into the Andy MacPhail rebuilding movement might be eager to get this show on the road, seeing as how we're just a couple of weeks from Opening Day. And then there are the Roberts fans who recognize that a deal is inevitable but aren't in a hurry to say goodbye to one of the team's most popular players.
I'm guessing Roberts would go along with the first camp, though he's too polite to say that publicly. Who could blame him for wanting some resolution to the situation after spending the winter and the first three weeks of training camp in trade speculation limbo? Who could blame him for wanting to start the season in the same place he figures to end it?
There have been no significant developments over the past week or two, and the time left for getting the deal done during spring training is growing short. The Orioles aren't fettered by any hard-and-fast limits on when they can act, but you can bet both teams would like to reach some semblance of roster certainty over the next 10 days.
Does that mean a deal is imminent? No. It probably means that if the Cubs do not show a sense of urgency during the next week or so, this could stretch well into the season and the chemistry of the situation could change dramatically -- which might not be a bad thing.
The Orioles don't have a promising young second baseman ready to move into the starting lineup, so the timing of Roberts' departure is not critical to the progress of the rebuilding program. He'll look just fine jogging down the orange carpet on Opening Day, and he'll continue to be one of the league's top leadoff guys no matter which league he is in or what uniform he's wearing in April.
The chances of the Orioles obtaining full value for him in trade might actually increase if he gets off to a good start, and the market for him could expand if another contending club suffers a costly injury at second base or at the top of its batting order.
This line of reasoning might appear to run counter to my rationale for encouraging MacPhail to move quickly to trade Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard during the offseason, but it really doesn't. Those two situations were markedly different for markedly different reasons.
The Orioles needed to move Tejada because he was a looming public relations disaster and because there was no good reason to pay him $12 million per year to headline a team that isn't targeted to be a divisional contender until after his contract expires.
Bedard's situation bore some contractual similarity to Roberts', but the probability of serious injury or diminished performance is much greater for a pitcher than an infielder, as is the statistical impact of playing for a team that is not expected to win 70 games this year.
Of course, Roberts also could get hurt or have a difficult start, but there is enough upside to keeping him around a few more months to offset that risk. He's also a much-loved player whose continued presence would be applauded by most Orioles fans, even those who are convinced that the final deal in MacPhail's trade trifecta is essential to the club's long-term success.
The only thing we know for sure is that it's a complicated situation that might become more urgent for the Orioles if Adam Loewen's shoulder soreness turns out to be more than a mild case of tendinitis.
In the meantime, MacPhail seems to hold the top card in this front office game of showdown, and he seems to be in no rush to play it.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.