Trading Reynolds and Hardy would send wrong message to O's fans

July 05, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds celebrated the Fourth of July weekend by launching rockets all over Atlanta and Arlington, Texas, and now ranks eighth in the major leagues in home runs. J.J. Hardy has re-emerged as one of the best all-around shortstops in the game and was one of the top candidates to represent the O's at next week's All-Star Game.

In other words, Andy MacPhail's two major trades of the past offseason seem to have turned out pretty well, even if the rest of his team appears to be coming apart at the seams.

The question now is whether those two players represent a solid chunk of the team's not-too-distant future or the main trade chips for another wave of rebuilding, which could begin during the 3 ½ weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline for making trades without waivers.

It shouldn't be a tough choice. The Orioles finally have brought in a couple of exciting position players to join Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters as the relatively young non-pitching nucleus of the team. Hardy needs to be signed to a multi-year extension, but Reynolds is under contract for one more year and the Orioles hold an option to extend his current deal through the 2013 season.

MacPhail already has said that he wants to extend Hardy, and Hardy has made no secret that he is willing to stick around for a few years under the right circumstances, so we're going to find out pretty quick whether owner Peter Angelos truly is willing to spend what it takes to keep quality players around long enough to build a winning team.

Let's hope he is, because Hardy has become a big fan favorite in a very short time. He's a solid defensive player who has stepped in for Brian Roberts at the top of the batting order and delivered more on both sides of the ball than anyone had a right to expect after the Orioles acquired him from the Minnesota Twins for relief prospects Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson.

He's also the perfect bridge to highly rated infield prospect Manny Machado, and could move to another infield position if Machado arrives in the majors ahead of schedule.

Reynolds got off to such a slow start that his early season performance evoked comparisons to last year's failed Garrett Atkins experiment, but he has surged back with such offensive fury that he's nearly on pace to hit 40-or-more home runs for the second time in three seasons. He hit Nos. 19 and 20 on Monday night against the Rangers and entered Tuesday night's game with 13 home runs and 25 RBIs since June 1.

The Orioles knew what they were getting when they acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitchers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio just a couple of days after trading for Hardy at the winter meetings last December. Reynolds is baseball's all-time single-season strikeout king and his average dropped below .200 last season, which is the only reason anybody would deal a 27-year-old slugger who averaged 35 home runs in his previous three seasons.

Obviously, Reynolds is not a perfect player. He has piled up as many errors as home runs and he remains a big strikeout guy (though not as big a strikeout guy as he was in Arizona), but the Orioles finally have a pure power guy in the middle of their lineup and there's no reason to shop him around when he's signed right for at least the next year or so.

It might seem tempting to see how many solid prospects Hardy and Reynolds might bring at midseason, since the Orioles are almost devoid of position depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, but it would be the wrong thing to do with the Orioles four years into the MacPhail rebuilding plan and the fan base hanging by a thread.

The Orioles need to keep their best players and buy some more during the coming winter. They need to prove to the fans that they not only want to win but are willing to pay for the privilege. What they cannot do is keep trotting out one-year free agents and trying to sell the future to a fan base that clearly isn't buying it anymore.

Extending Hardy this month and holding onto Reynolds would be a good start. Overbidding for Prince Fielder this winter would be a game-changing step in the right direction. Making a full commitment to the final stage of the MacPhail plan is the only way to keep faith with the fans — and the players — who have stuck out some miserable years to get to this point.

Starting over again is not an option.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" every Friday at noon on WBAL (1090 AM).

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