Better to lower sights than mortgage future


The bigger the talk, the softer the walk. And vice versa.

That's usually what happens when they play the baseball trading game, which is at its peak right now. The contenders work to assure they continue to contend, while the pretenders, well, they mostly connive so they can keep on pretending.

The mind of the beholder can determine which category best fits the Orioles -- but the standings give the most accurate clue. While names like David Cone, Roberto Alomar and Kevin Tapani are bandied about, often with careless abandon, the more realistic possibilities are generally overlooked.

Which is why Scott Erickson, Scott Klingenbeck and the ever popular "player to be named" are so prominent today. The Orioles, of course, are expected to acquire every name player who appears available.

They could trade for Cone or Alomar today, tomorrow or next week if they were willing to pay the bounty that would severely mortgage, or maybe destroy, whatever might be left of their future. Or they could continue trying to plug the gaps, which is why a trade of Klingenbeck for Erickson sounds more feasible -- at least until the player to be named is.

But you can take this to the bank -- there isn't a trade the Orioles could make that will guarantee them success this year. Unless their present cast can show dramatic improvement in the second half, the Orioles are destined to finish no better than the middle of the pack.

Even in the suddenly subdued American League East, there is no sure quick-fix formula. And the supply of Band-Aids is about depleted.

If the Orioles aren't as high on Armando Benitez and his volatile temperament as they were a year ago, he certainly could be a principal figure in a trade. But it would be foolish to think he could be the principal player involved when you're talking about a Cone or an Alomar.

Cone is one of the best pitchers in the game. But he's 32 and, since his 20-3 season with the New York Mets in 1988, has never put up numbers that equate with his salary.

Alomar is 27 and arguably one of the five best players in the game. He brings a lot of ingredients to the kitchen and is a potential Hall of Famer. He's not available for just another blue-chip prospect.

The Orioles can afford to package some decent young players in a trade. Paul Carey, for instance, might help the Twins at first base, but his path to Baltimore is blocked by Rafael Palmeiro.

Outfielder Mark Smith has some offensive potential, as does Tommy Smith long range. There are more than a handful of pitching prospects, but the best ones, such as Rocky Coppinger and Jimmy Haynes, are more than throw-ins. They are potential replacements when the Orioles realize they can't afford the pitching staff they already have.

There's enough talent to put together an attractive trade offer, no doubt. But not enough to afford the kind of three-for-one package it will take to land one of the big boys.

And with this season rapidly becoming a long-shot hope at best, the long-range gamble simply isn't worth it. Better to walk loudly and carry a small stick than to dump all the eggs in a basket that may already be riddled with holes.

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