SAMMY SOSA is perfect for the Orioles: a perfect cartoon symbol for a franchise spinning its wheels at a critical crossroads.
And to think that by taking on Sosa, the Orioles might only further facilitate the Cubs' attempt to sign Magglio Ordonez, one of three free agents the Orioles long targeted to sign this winter.
The Orioles are now on the verge of consummating a deal that is more strange than interesting. It's a deal that tells of a team that not only can't compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, but also can't compete with its new neighbors, 40 alarmingly few miles to the south.
It's one thing to have a severe competitive disadvantage. No one expects the Orioles to come close to the talent and money of the Yankees and Red Sox. But a perception disadvantage? The Orioles are in charge of their own destiny in that department.
Are the Orioles really so desperate that they'd take on someone else's incredibly shrinking baggage?
Welcome to Baltimore, Sammy. Let's blow you a kiss. Then, let's blow a little steam.
It's too tempting and too fantastically easy to batter and baste the Orioles. This move does as much, if not more, to draw attention to the Orioles' myriad competitive and perception problems than it does to solve the one about who hits alongside Rafael Palmeiro, Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada.
Sammy Sosa in Baltimore? Who's next on the Orioles' most-wanted list, Jason Giambi?
Bring us your tired, your poor, your former MVPs and home run kings, now that they've become disgruntled pariahs in their own cities.
This is not what the Orioles should be: a repository for screwed-up superstars whose former teams will do anything to dump them. And with the Cubs reportedly paying up to $12.5 million of Sosa's freight, that, folks, is a dump. That's bad.
Bad because the Orioles are a team that once tried to upgrade its talent via a trade for Derrek Lee, an underrated and attractive young first baseman who dashed all hope by saying he preferred the Cubs.
Bad because the Orioles, on a free-agent roll last winter, wanted Vladimir Guerrero enough to offer more than $70 million on the heels of a $72 million deal for Tejada.
It's bad because this winter, the Orioles said pitching was a priority, then couldn't sign Carl Pavano or trade for Tim Hudson, instead praying that Sidney Ponson's misadventures with a personal watercraft prove the low point of his year.
It's bad because when they couldn't sign a front-line pitcher, the Orioles tried to sign a power-hitting first baseman, only to watch Richie Sexson pick the Mariners and Carlos Delgado choose the Marlins.
Did someone say "confederate money"?
"Not for lack of effort" was the way Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie characterized the team's efforts.
Perhaps, but the lack of results in upgrading the Orioles this winter is no less startling, even taking into consideration the climate of fiscal caution the Orioles are operating under.
The Nationals have arrived in D.C., and there's no compensation package from Major League Baseball yet, but even these issues can't excuse the lackluster performance of the front office.
Now the stunning news about Sosa breaks up a dormant winter like a burly Cub breaking out of stone silent hibernation.
The corked bat; the potential reality that Sosa used performance-enhancing steroids; his walking out of Wrigley Field before the end of last season's finale: These are the actions of a larger-than-life showman fumbling to stay relevant in The Show.
Sosa, billed as an ambassador for the game, has become a clown.
It's little wonder why the Cubs have less tolerance for Sosa now than in his 1998 heyday, not to mention no use for him - to the tune of spending money to subtract him. The Cubs are a team that can depend on Lee, Nomar Garciaparra, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Greg Maddux to get them to the postseason.
Selling tickets or hitting home runs are certainly commodities that a baseball franchise might consider when devising a marketing strategy, but weren't the Orioles supposed to be on to bigger and better things?
Not at the moment, they're not. Sammy Sosa's one-way ticket out of Chicago brings him to Camden Yards.
It might be good for Sosa, 36, to get out of the Windy City. He clearly can't wait, giving up at least one year of guaranteed money to leave Chicago.
It might be good for Tejada, who apparently pushed for his Domincan Republic countryman to join him in Baltimore.
It might be good for Lee Mazzilli's lineup card and for ticket sales, since Sosa has more All-Star appearances than Jerry Hairston - who, by the way, has to be thinking he won the lottery with this trade to a contender and his boyhood home.
But Sosa smacks of being too little, too late; a deal of convenience that isn't about franchise building, that's not consistent with the so-called "Plan."
This is another Orioles stopgap measure, like trading Denny Bautista for Jason Grimsley because the bullpen was imploding.
This is a reminder that when all else fails in an effort to upgrade your ballclub with young talent that can grow together, you can always take on someone else's kiss-blowing cartoon character.
Projected Orioles Opening Day batting order:
2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora
SS Miguel Tejada
RF Sammy Sosa
DH Rafael Palmeiro
C Javy Lopez
1B Jay Gibbons
LF Larry Bigbie
CF Luis Matos