O's, Sherrill ride July trade winds

ON BASEBALL

July 27, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

The Orioles' official motto for 2008 is, "This is Birdland."

The unofficial one, the one club president Andy MacPhail and the front office discussed extensively in the spring, is, "We're not in the 2008 business. Or the 2009 business."

It's bad form - and terrible marketing - to announce that your team has given up on a season before it has begun. So that was never proclaimed, just assumed. The fans seemed resigned to it. The club would lose a bunch, but it would develop young talent, maybe trade for some more and be ready to make a statement in a few years.

A funny thing happened along the way, though. These hardworking, victory-starved Orioles started out hot - 6-1 and then 14-9. They were over .500 a week into July.

Newcomers such as George Sherrill, Matt Albers, Luke Scott and Adam Jones made an immediate impact and mixed wonderfully with holdovers such as Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff.

Somewhere in that success, the supposed lost season of 2008 got, well, lost.

MacPhail, who always plays it close to the vest, said he is staying the course, hasn't abandoned the original plan. But there also is an undercurrent within the Warehouse that he shouldn't break up a team that has such great chemistry and a legitimate chance at finishing .500 for the first time since 1997.

We should have a better idea of what he is thinking by 4 p.m. Thursday, the deadline for nonwaiver trades. We should know more about the Orioles' future by what uniform Sherrill is wearing Aug. 1.

The best guess is that the deadline will come and go and the 25-man roster will remain the same, as will this franchise's prospects for 2010.

Part of it is beyond MacPhail's control. The majority of his potential trade chips - Kevin Millar, Huff, Jay Payton, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Ramon Hernandez - likely will pass through waivers in August because of hefty existing contracts, ineffectiveness or limited skills.

As he did with starter Steve Trachsel last season, MacPhail can hold on to them and wait to see whether another club gets desperate and overpays.

So the July deadline is somewhat artificial to the Orioles in that they will likely be able to make moves next month. The problem is that none of those trade chips will yield real building blocks for the future.

The reality is the Orioles have two players older than 30 with legitimate value to other teams: second baseman Roberts and Sherrill, the club's first-year closer.

The sense among baseball people is that Roberts is going nowhere - at least not until after the season. One talent evaluator said the perception is that the Orioles won't trade him, and no team could afford the price in talent even if the Orioles were willing to deal their offensive catalyst.

That leaves Sherrill, the club's only All-Star this season.

He has been here only a few months but has endeared himself to his teammates and the fans. With his 28 saves before the All-Star break and his tremendous one-hit performance against a star-studded lineup in the midsummer classic, he has proved his worth. He wants to stay here, so dumping him would be tough.

Said one major league general manager about the 31-year-old left-hander: "I love him. He's got serious [guts]. The best thing about him is he has no fear. He'll go right at anyone."

In the next breath, the GM added: "I am not sure he is viewed as a closer. But he's definitely a [heck] of a setup man."

This statement muddies the waters.

In one sense, the Orioles should trade Sherrill, who is under club control through 2011, only if they can get top value. He is, after all, an All-Star closer and has been more effective in that role than the late-inning specialists used by the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins, to name a few.

If the Orioles can't get closer worth for their closer, then why trade him? Why not keep him and watch him save more games this year and maybe for the next three?

But the flip side is that Sherrill's trade value might never be higher than it is right now. There are so many contending teams desperate for bullpen help and few answers in the market - the Oakland Athletics' Huston Street, the Colorado Rockies' Brian Fuentes, the Texas Rangers' Eddie Guardado and the Cincinnati Reds' David Weathers - that, at the least, MacPhail should be able to acquire two legitimate future major leaguers in return.

If Sherrill is traded, it shows the rebuilding plan is still in full force. If he isn't, the only reason should be that no one offered help for the future.

The other argument for not trading him is that the team has no one else with closer experience and might not in 2009 if Chris Ray can't rebound from elbow surgery.

The answer to that one is simple: If the Orioles aren't in the 2008 or 2009 business, it shouldn't matter. As it was intimated in March, the focus needs to be on 2010 and beyond, at the expense of limited success now.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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