Starting at the core, the Orioles yesterday began the inevitable, painful process of taking down their frustrating present to make way for the future by trading All-Star shortstop Mike Bordick to the New York Mets for a four-player package consisting of multi-purpose player Melvin Mora and a trio of prospects.
The move, discussed between Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and Mets general manager Steve Phillips for three weeks and anticipated ever since the Mets unsuccessfully attempted to land Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, is expected to be the first of several deals to remake an aging clubhouse destined for its third straight losing season. By dealing Bordick, arguably their most marketable available player, the Orioles intend to become younger and less expensive.
"If we had nine Mike Bordicks," Thrift said, "we would be in contention today."
The Mets completed the deal by packaging Double-A catcher/first baseman Mike Kinkade and right-handed pitchers Lesli Brea and Pat Gorman.
Finalized around noon, yesterday's trade headlined a swirl of activity that saw the Orioles release injured 38-year-old outfielder Rich Amaral, transfer pitcher Calvin Maduro from the 15- to the 60-day disabled list, place starting pitcher Scott Erickson on the disabled list and promote reliever Ryan Kohlmeier from Triple-A Rochester. Single-A reliever Juan Aracena also was designated for assignment.
"There's a certain excitement when you start turning a club over and bringing young players in. You see the potential, the abilities they have and where they can go," said manager Mike Hargrove. "It's kind of a tentative time because you're not real sure which direction [you're headed]."
Mora, 28, will start against the Cleveland Indians at shortstop today, but, according to Thrift, is projected in a utility role. He is in his first major-league season after spending parts of five years at Triple-A with the Houston Astros and Mets. Mora also played in Taiwan and Japan in 1998. The Mets promoted him from Triple-A Norfolk after starting shortstop Rey Ordonez broke his forearm and was lost for the season.
Brea, 21, is a power pitcher converted to a starter last season while Gorman, 22, has been groomed as a closer. Kinkade, 26, was recently converted to catcher, the position he played at Washington State, and will be assigned to Rochester. Kinkade also was added to the Orioles' 40-man roster.
The Orioles yesterday rejected a deal that would have sent left fielder B. J. Surhoff to the New York Yankees for shortstop D'Angelo Jiminez, who will miss this season due to a neck injury suffered in an off-season auto accident. The Chicago White Sox are believed close to acquiring designated hitter Harold Baines and have joined the St. Louis Cardinals in expressing interest in catcher Charles Johnson.
"If I had anything going, I wouldn't be sitting here right now," Thrift said, tongue in cheek, at an afternoon news conference.
Bordick's agent, Joe Bick, met with Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos in mid-May about a contract extension for his client. Angelos did not follow up until last week when he tendered a guaranteed two-year deal worth about $9 million plus a club option for 2003. Bordick was seeking at least a two-year package including a vesting option that would have paid him roughly $12 million.
"We didn't really feel the Orioles made a serious offer because it was so far below what we consider the market to be for Mike," Bick said yesterday. "I do know our interest was serious."
Bick learned of the trade from a wire service reporter and then attempted to contact Bordick, who had gone to lunch with his wife, Monica, and left his cell phone at home.
Bordick had made little secret of his desire to sign an extension. He and his family moved to Ruxton after his first season here.
"I think any player understands the game about trades and things like that," said Bordick, citing Amaral's release. "What people don't understand is most guys have families. Players make the sacrifice they make to be a major-league player. It's the family that gets hurt. That's the hardest thing with my family because they love it in Baltimore. But they've been strong throughout my entire career and I'm sure they're going to continue to be strong."
By surrendering four players for Bordick, the Mets would appear to be interested in signing Bordick long-term, something they have yet to communicate to Bick. Bordick refused to close the door to the possibility but expressed disappointment to teammates about the move.
Bordick's arrival in 1997 coincided with the club's first division championship since 1983. Like many, he believed it a harbinger of a run of success but instead experienced something less.
"I think there's a lot of frustration there because so many guys had such high hopes and aspirations for the Orioles to do much better," said Bordick. "It's certainly gotten to the point where it looked like changes had to be made. They've started to make those moves.
"And you hope for the Orioles' sakes that those moves are going to help the organization and help them get to wherever they want to be."
Bordick's mid-career development since coming from the Oakland Athletics in 1997 was nothing short of remarkable. Signed to a three-year, $9 million deal with a vesting option for 2000, Bordick nearly backed out of the agreement after reading hostile press reaction to his arriving as Cal Ripken's successor at shortstop. Only a conversation with Ripken persuaded him to come.
Initially cowed by Ripken's shadow, Bordick managed only one RBI in his first 76 at-bats and was hitting below .200 as late as May 24. In 1998, he batted only .184 against left-handed pitching despite hitting a career-high 13 home runs.
Rather than concede his limitations, Bordick immersed himself in an off-season conditioning program and became a devotee of hitting coaches Rick Down and Terry Crowley.
The results culminated in his batting a league-leading .406 against left-handed pitching last season and earning his first All-Star berth this month. Bordick also led American League shortstops in fielding percentage and total chances last season only to be denied a Gold Glove.
"It's his fault he was traded," explained center fielder Brady Anderson. "He made himself into a great player. That's why they wanted him. If he stayed mediocre, he'd still be here."
Bordick arrived at Camden Yards at about 3 p.m. to say his goodbyes and said he would report to the Mets for tonight's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bordick left a team noticeably affected by his loss.
Hargrove called him "the most professional player I've been around." Crowley, credited by Bordick for much of his offensive renaissance, lamented that he'll have to reset his watch since Bordick arrived daily to take the first turn in the indoor cage.
"It's hard to hear goodbye from him," said Crowley. "He worked to make himself a great player. To see him leave is tough. He's one of the best guys I've ever been around. I'm sure we're getting something special in return."
"It's always important when you think you see the light at the end of the tunnel that it's not a train coming at you," said Hargrove. "That's the most important thing. We never approach a game looking toward tomorrow or next year. We honestly approach every game to win that night.
"I'm not giving up on this season. We still have too much to play. Stranger things have happened."
Melvin Mora file
Personal: Height: 5-10; Weight: 180; Throws: Right; Bats: Right; Age: 28; Birthdate: 2-2-72; Birthplace: Aqua Negra, Venezuela; Resides: Naquanqua, Venezuela; Contract status: Signed through 2000; Family: Single
Major league career highlights: 1999: Appeared in 45 games in the outfield, four games at second, three games at third base and one game at shortstop. In playoffs had four outfield assists, one shy of post-season record; hit home run in Game 2 of NLCS to become seventh player in NL history to hit home run in first LCS at bat.
Background: Played for the Venezuelan National Soccer League. Played professional soccer and was an amateur boxer as a youngster; grew up with Houston's Richard Hidalgo.
Year Club Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
1999 Mets .161 66 31 6 5 0 0 0 1 4 7 2
2000 Mets .260 79 215 35 56 13 2 6 30 18 48 7
Totals: .248 145 246 41 61 13 2 6 31 22 55 9
Division Series statistics
1999 Mets .000 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
League Championship Series statistics:
1999 Mets .429 6 14 3 6 0 0 1 2 2 2 2