Loewen could give Orioles ultimate bad appearance

October 26, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

You could make a case that losing a player whose pitching career has gone bust, and whose career as a fielder has barely started and is nowhere close to guaranteed, is no reflection on the organization that lost him. Tough break, and better luck with the next player you're trying to keep, or attract.

The Orioles had better hope the rest of baseball buys that argument. Available players now and in the future, in particular. Their own, such as Brian Roberts or Nick Markakis, for example. And others, say, just to throw some names out, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.

Because they all might very well be buying that other argument - that Adam Loewen, former first-round draft pick, former ace prospect, former bedrock of the rebuilding effort, looked for the first window of escape from the franchise and jumped out as soon as one opened. And if he can bail on the Orioles, if he has no faith in them, if he can give them that cold of a shoulder, why shouldn't anyone else?

That might not have any validity whatsoever. In fact, you could make a stronger case that Loewen is a first-ballot candidate for the Orioles Ingrate Hall of Fame. But it might not matter because if the rest of baseball thinks it, if it sees Loewen's bolt north as the norm, or as more of the same, then it's as good as true.

Loewen might not have thought of that when he made his move to the team of his national origin - and, who knows, he might not have cared. As much of a stand-up guy and character player as he had seemed to be over the years, and as much as loyalty usually proves to be a one-way street that rarely comes from the teams, didn't Loewen owe the Orioles more than he gave them last week?

If re-signing him after releasing him wasn't the formality the Orioles presumed it was, Loewen probably should have dropped a few more hints, rather than the Friday bombshell of his defection to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nevertheless, perception is reality. This is the image the Orioles have had to live down in recent years, that free agents view this once-proud destination as Siberia, that they have to overpay for the best players, that their front office is best used as leverage to enable the star to squeeze something extra out of another team.

It might not be true anymore. It might have expired 16 months ago when the Andy MacPhail regime took over. But the Loewen departure will test that notion. It sure looks bad for the Orioles now, regardless of how relatively inconsequential the move might seem.

Of course, it can come back and bite the Orioles in the rear. Loewen might never turn into an everyday position player with the kind of bat he showed before he became a full-time pitcher. But he might. The Orioles could have rebuilt something special out of the wreckage of his pitching career. They certainly were trying to at the end of last season and were willing to keep trying.

No, the Orioles weren't going to walk away from him. Instead, he walked away from them.

The Orioles and MacPhail needed this like Maryland and Gary Williams needed Gus Gilchrist to flee without warning. The more fragile reputations belong to the people left behind. They had more to lose than just a player.

Time will tell how much more the Orioles will lose because of this. Maybe nothing at all. It might be just a fluky situation with a player under unique circumstances.

If the Orioles are lucky, it's just that - and not just more of the same.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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