Prospects prime clubs for future


David Cone has been traded twice within the past four months for a total of six players, none of whom has played a day in the major leagues.

Jim Abbott went in a deal that involved four minor-league players.

Ken Hill did not command a major-leaguer in return.

Bobby Bonilla was swapped for a pair of prospects.

Rubin Sierra and Danny Tartabull changed addresses and nobody, other than their immediate families, really cares.

To Orioles general manager Roland Hemond the rash of trades is a throwback, of sorts, to a different era. To others, who can't see beyond the dollar signs, it is a sign of the times.

"In a sense it reminds me of the old baseball conventions, where a flurry of trades were made before the [trading] deadline," said Hemond. "Now, the deadline is during the season."

Ever the optimist, Hemond sees the trading activity as a plus for baseball. "For the clubs that are building, it's exciting for them -- they're getting excellent young prospects. All of a sudden, in a couple of years, they can be contending.

"It's like us in 1988, when we lost all those games [107]. We traded high-priced veterans like [Mike] Boddicker, [Fred] Lynn and [Eddie] Murray -- and the next year we made a run at it with a younger crew."

The Orioles, obviously, are not planning on making a run with a younger crew anytime soon. But then, neither are the New York Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays opened the season in the same mind-set, sending three good prospects to Kansas City for Cone, but then changed boats in the middle of the river.

There was a time when trades in the midst of a season could be appraised almost instantly. No more.

There has never been a time in baseball history when so many quality players were traded in such a short time span for unknown players. To be sure, some of them, perhaps many, will come back to haunt the teams that let them go.

But for now, all of the trades are sound because none of the contenders gave up a player who figured to play a role this year. As Don Mattingly said after the Yankees acquired Cone: "I never heard of the other three guys."

However, there was a time when nobody ever heard of Mattingly, either, a time when he easily could been a throw-in on a trade had the Yankees been in a position to contend. Just as there was a time when nobody ever knew about the Braves' John Smoltz, when the Tigers traded him for Doyle Alexander.

It is a game of contracts and dollars these days, as even Hemond admits. "There are clubs not doing well enough to handle the payroll they have," he said. "They have to pare it."

Just imagine, the New York Mets are in the former category, the Orioles in the latter. Times do change.

And as they change, we will see more and more high-quality, high-salaried players traded for ones unknown except by their closest relatives. Some of those unknowns will ultimately be on the other end of one of these trades -- sent packing by a contender turned pretender looking toward the future.

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