DETROIT -- The Orioles said they would not make a trade unless they could improve for this season and beyond. They never said they wouldn't trade Roberto Alomar.
Reality has set in -- the reality of losing Alomar, the reality of a near-impossible wild-card pursuit. But typical of the Orioles' luck in 1998, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
General manager Pat Gillick said last night that the club has drawn legitimate interest in Alomar, but that a deal was unlikely with the All-Star second baseman sidelined by an injured right pinkie.
The Orioles apparently have discussed various combinations with Atlanta, offering Alomar and reliever Armando Benitez and requesting a starting pitcher -- either Denny Neagle or Kevin Millwood -- plus a top prospect in return.
But Alomar's injury, combined with the Braves' reluctance to part with a top prospect, apparently has eliminated the chances of the clubs completing a blockbuster deal.
"He's not healthy," Gillick said during the Orioles' 14-2 victory over Detroit. "He probably will be healthy, but not by [tomorrow]. If you deal somebody on the DL, the other club has to be aware, has to assume the responsibility."
Whatever, the Orioles' willingness to trade Alomar is the strongest indication yet of their lack of confidence in re-signing the potential free agent. Rather than be left with only draft picks, why not pursue something more in return?
A deal for Neagle or Millwood would fit the team's stated intention to improve for this season and beyond. Neagle is signed through 2000, with a $5.25 million option in 2001, while Millwood, a rookie, would be under the Orioles' control for five more years.
Gillick said the Orioles' chances of making a deal by the deadline are "50-50". Yet, his expectations are low, even with the club willing to part with a "certain level of prospect" or a member of their 25-man roster.
"I don't know if that would get you an upper-level pitcher," Gillick said. "It probably would get you one of the second-tier pitchers."
That's probably as high as the Orioles can aim.
A multi-player package for Carlos Perez?
Ryan Minor for Todd Stottlemyre?
Dumb and dumber.
The party line is that the Orioles' major additions will come from within once Alomar, Jimmy Key, Harold Baines and Arthur Rhodes come off the disabled list.
The bottom line is that the Orioles are 16-3 since the All-Star break, and they still trail wild-card leader Boston by 10 games in the loss column.
Stottlemyre won't help them get the wild card. Perez won't help get them the wild card. Probably no one pitcher could help them get the wild card, OK?
This could be the first time in four years that the Orioles have not made an impact trade before the July 31 deadline for completing trades without waivers.
Losing a potential free agent like Alomar would be acceptable. Losing a potential impact player like Minor would not.
The Orioles had reasonable success with their mid-season trades the past three seasons, landing Bobby Bonilla in 1995, Eddie Murray, Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia in '96, Geronimo Berroa and Harold Baines in '97.
But they were tied for the wild-card lead when they acquired Bonilla. They were four games back when they acquired Murray. And they led the division when they acquired Berroa and Baines.
Why not take another chance, especially for a pitcher like Perez, who would be bound to the Orioles for at least one more season, as Bonilla was in '95?
Because the deficit is too large.
Because the prospects are too valuable.
Because the whole thing just makes no sense.
Asked yesterday if he expected the Orioles to make a deal, manager Ray Miller said, "I don't think so. I'd like to add a pitcher, but so would 29 other clubs."
The Orioles are exploring trades for both starters and relievers. Oakland's Mike Fetters is one bullpen possibility, but as a potential free agent, is he worth even a marginal prospect?
The Red Sox are expected to add a starting pitcher and right-handed hitter by the deadline. They just began a 12-game trip to the West Coast and Texas, but after that they play 31 of their final 47 games at Fenway Park.
They have a .660 winning percentage at home. They've got Pedro Martinez pitching every fifth day. They could be on the verge of adding Stottlemyre, Tim Belcher or Mark Portugal.
Why should anyone expect them to collapse?
The Orioles can dream -- they've won the first two games of an 18-game stretch in which they will play only twice at Camden Yards, and the competition for the next two weeks will be as feeble as Detroit.
Maybe they can reduce the deficit to five games. Maybe they can get closer with 23 of their final 39 games at home. Maybe they can turn the final four games of the season at Fenway into a wild-card showdown.
But what are the odds?
The Orioles finally are developing a solid core of prospects -- catcher Jayson Werth, infielders Minor, Calvin Pickering, Ivanon Coffie and Jerry Hairston Jr., pitchers Matt Riley and Brian Falkenborg and outfielder Darnell McDonald.
Not all of them will make it. But the more you keep -- indeed, the more you acquire -- the better the chances that you'll develop major-leaguers, perhaps even future stars.
It is critical that such an evolution take place, or the Orioles will have little choice but to keep awarding long-term contracts to potential free agents in their 30s.
Let the Red Sox do what they must to strengthen their wild-card chances. There are times when a team needs to step back, face reality and protect its future. That's the proper course for the Orioles if they can't trade Alomar.
Pub Date: 7/30/98