Question is, build for future or September?


As they ponder possible trades that might plug some holes, the Orioles remain in a position that requires re-evaluation of their roster. This has been a very difficult team to gauge, but there are some guidelines.

Good teams do not lose to bad teams on a regular basis, yet the Orioles have lost six out of nine to the Minnesota Twins, who have the worst record in baseball. Is that one of those unexplainable flukes -- or an accurate barometer?

xTC By choice, the Orioles have replaced three regulars (Andy Van Slyke, Bret Barberie and Leo Gomez) from the Opening Day lineup. Two others (Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Hoiles) have been ineffective and are on the disabled list.

Two of the original five starters (Sid Fernandez and Arthur Rhodes) are no longer in the rotation. Half of the bullpen that opened the season (Brad Pennington, Alan Mills and Armando )) Benitez) is gone.

Of the 25 players currently on the active roster, 15 (60 percent) were not with the Orioles a year ago. That's a staggering turnover rate for a team that was 14 games over .500, on a pace for 91 wins, and 2 1/2 games away from a possible playoff berth when last year's strike-shortened season came to an end.

There is no evidence yet to suggest the Orioles improved themselves, which is why they are considering even more changes. There have been rumors of a trade for Bobby Bonilla since last winter and the outfielder is undoubtedly available as the New York Mets look for ways to pare their payroll and continue their rebuilding program with younger players.

What the Orioles have to decide is whether they are willing -- and can afford -- to pay the price. There are no guarantees that Bonilla, whose effectiveness decreased after his separation from Barry Bonds, is the answer.

With power from both sides, the switch-hitter would fit nicely into the fourth spot in the batting order. But Bonilla is a defensive liability who can't be hidden either in the outfield or at third base. With another year (at $4.5 million) left on his contract, he'd likely push Harold Baines out of the designated hitter role in 1996.

Unless the Orioles' current cast improves markedly, which is still distinct possibility, Bonilla won't make the difference this year. And, at the cost of two blue-chip prospects (from among the likes of Hammonds, Benitez, Alex Ochoa and Jimmy Haynes), he would be an expensive gamble.

What the Orioles have to decide is just how good they think this team is. Or, how weak is the rest of the AL East?

Can one player, such as Bonilla, be the difference between a division champion and an also-ran? If so, then the uncertain nature of the game dictates they make a move. However, they can't afford to completely mortgage the future in doing so because they are going to need more talented young players in the immediate future.

Normally, at this time of year, a team with a sub-.500 record

would be looking toward the future. But, despite preseason predictions to the contrary, there isn't a completely sound team in the AL East.

Which is what really complicates things.

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