The 2000 purge revisited: for better or for worse?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When former Orioles vice president Syd Thrift reflected on the 2000 trade deadline this past week, he still found good reasons for all those deals the team made during one of the most dizzying 72-hour periods in franchise history.

With a flurry of five moves before that season's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Orioles jettisoned six of their most popular players: Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Mike Timlin, Will Clark and B.J. Surhoff.

Of the 14 players they got back, two are on the Orioles' major league roster: Melvin Mora and Brook Fordyce.

Beyond that, the returns have been mostly disappointing.

"One thing about it," Thrift said in a telephone interview, "we weren't afraid to make the moves, were we? You know all of them aren't going to turn out good. You've got to have the courage of your conviction."

The Orioles were struggling with a group of high-priced veterans, and in his first season atop the baseball operations department, Thrift tried his best to give the franchise a brighter future.

After making the fifth and final trade - the one that sent a tearful Surhoff to the Atlanta Braves - Thrift made a confident proclamation: "Somebody is going to be able to sit up here three years from now and say how smart they are."

The three-year anniversary of that statement comes Thursday, as does the first trade deadline for the two men who replaced Thrift in December, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan.

Even with several of their players drawing trade interest this year - including Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson, Tony Batista, Jeff Conine, Melvin Mora, Rick Helling and Pat Hentgen - Orioles officials insist there won't be another purge.

The six players Thrift traded at the 2000 deadline were making a combined $24 million, and the moves helped cut costs. Thrift now says trimming payroll for 2000 and beyond was "the main objective" for those moves.

Mike Hargrove, who was in his first year as Orioles manager that season, declined to comment for this story. Surhoff, who returned to the club this year, still hasn't criticized the moves.

"I realized that there were going to be some changes," Surhoff said. "We were trying to figure out a way to move forward."

And Thrift isn't taking back his comment that the trades would look pretty good three years down the road.

"Where's your team right now?" said Thrift, who now works as a consultant for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "Is it better than it was then? That's the point.

"There's no question about it; it's a better team."

Here's a glance back at those trades with a look at where each player is now:

Trade 1: Bordick to the New York Mets for Mora, Mike Kinkade, Leslie Brea and Pat Gorman.

Bordick: He was eligible for free agency after the 2000 season and went to the World Series with the Mets before the Orioles signed him back after the season. He left for Toronto last offseason and is batting .250.

Mora: A 28-year-old rookie when he came to the Orioles, Mora has blossomed from a utility player and .249 career hitter into an All-Star this season.

He spent six weeks leading the American League in hitting.

"Mora can play five positions, and he's one of the most sought-after players in the game right now," Thrift said. "He's like a package of five players.

"Who's better than that? How much is he really worth?"

Kinkade: After getting released by the Orioles in 2001, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and has found a spot on their major league roster. He is batting .223 with five home runs in 64 games.

Brea: Appeared in eight games with the Orioles and is now pitching for the Somerset Patriots in the Independent Atlantic League. Entering Friday, he was 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 29 relief appearances.

Gorman: Retired from professional baseball April 3.

Trade 2: Timlin to the St. Louis Cardinals for Chris Richard and Mark Nussbeck.

Timlin: The former Orioles pitcher is a fixture in the Boston bullpen. He's 3-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 44 relief appearances.

Richard: Hit 28 home runs in 192 games during his first two seasons with the Orioles before a second left shoulder injury derailed his career. The Orioles traded him to Colorado on March 11 for Jack Cust. Richard hit .222 with one home run in 18 games for the Rockies before undergoing a third surgery on his left shoulder.

Thrift said Richard and Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons were "neck-and-neck" on the organization's depth chart in 2000, "but [Richard] had the bad fortune of being injured."

Nussbeck: He's also in the Independent Atlantic League, pitching for the Camden Riversharks. Entering Friday, he was 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 13 starts.

Trade 3: Johnson and Baines to the Chicago White Sox for Fordyce, Miguel Felix, Juan Figueroa and Jason Lakman.

Johnson: Left the White Sox as a free agent after the 2000 season and signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Florida Marlins. The Marlins dumped him to Colorado, and he's hitting .223, despite playing half his games at Coors Field.

"Look at how much money we saved [with Johnson]," Thrift said. "We weren't going to sign him."

Baines: Played in 32 games with the White Sox in 2001 and then retired with 2,866 career hits.

Fordyce: Hit .322 down the stretch in 2000, prompting the Orioles to give him a three-year, $7.7 million contract. After struggling in 2001, he lost his starting job to Geronimo Gil in 2002, but has rebounded nicely this year, hitting .269.

Felix: The Orioles released the right-handed pitcher, and he's still a free agent.

Figueroa: Signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and is pitching for Double-A Tennessee. Entering Friday, he was 5-2 with two saves and a 2.92 ERA in 34 relief appearances.

Lakman: Was released by the Seattle Mariners in April 2002 and is now pitching for the Victoria Capitals in the Canadian Baseball League. Entering the weekend, he was 1-2 with a 4.10 ERA in 20 relief appearances.

Trade 4: Clark to the Cardinals for Jose Leon.

Clark: Helped St. Louis replace the injured Mark McGwire, batting .412 in the 2000 National League Championship Series and then retired with 2,176 career hits.

Leon: Hit .247 in 36 games with the Orioles last season and started this year on their Opening Day roster before getting sent to Triple-A Ottawa, where he entered Friday batting .256.

"Don't write him off yet," Thrift said. "He might be another Luis Matos."

Trade 5: Surhoff and Gabe Molina to the Atlanta Braves for Trenidad Hubbard, Fernando Lunar and Luis Rivera.

Surhoff: He felt blindsided by the trade after practically being assured by the Orioles that they weren't going to move him. He hit .277 in three seasons with the Braves and returned to the Orioles this year. He is batting .337, though injuries have limited him to 57 games.

Molina: Signed with the Cardinals and is pitching for Triple-A Memphis.

Entering Friday, he was 1-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 47 appearances.

Hubbard: The journeyman outfielder hit .185 in 31 games before the Orioles released him after the 2000 season. He's now playing for the Chicago Cubs and is batting .250 in nine games.

Lunar: Hit .235 in 75 games with the Orioles over parts of three seasons before getting released. He signed with the Kansas City Royals and is catching for Triple-A Omaha. Entering Friday, he was batting .223.

Rivera: The Orioles had hope that he could be part of their 2001 rotation, but he wound up needing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and hasn't been able to pitch since. The Orioles released him April 3.

"We traded Surhoff for one of the best pitching prospects in the country, and he broke down," Thrift said. "Call up anybody in baseball, and they'd say he was one of the best pitching prospects in the country."

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