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If he's returning, Perlozzo needs sneak peek at '06 O's


IF YESTERDAY'S headline is true and Sam Perlozzo is a good bet to return in 2006, the Orioles should give him the freedom to start developing the team he is going to manage.

That means letting him play guys who will or at least might be here, as opposed to those who won't.

Sammy Sosa? With his .223 average, 84 hits, 83 strikeouts and expiring contract, he is certain not to return. Enough already with the failed experiment. Let's see Nick Markakis get some starts when the roster expands in September. The young outfielder has been blazingly hot at Double-A Bowie.

Rafael Palmeiro? It says a lot that the Orioles wanted to see him get claimed on waivers and become someone else's headache. He also won't be back, leaving first base open in 2006. Walter Young, the mammoth Triple-A slugger, is long overdue for a look.

B.J. Ryan? Having failed to get him through waivers earlier this month, the Orioles obviously aren't sure whether they're going to bring back their All-Star closer, who is set to test the free-agent market.

Ryan has pitched well, but the Orioles might be better off spending their money elsewhere, especially if Chris Ray, called up yesterday, starts showing he is ready to save games. (For what it's worth, Oakland GM/guru Billy Beane doesn't believe in investing heavily in closers, believing they can be replaced.)

It won't be easy for Perlozzo to pull any such move just yet, of course. Bringing in Ray instead of Ryan to close a one-run game would amount to a concession that the Orioles' season was over, and while that might be true, Perlozzo isn't ready to admit it -- yet.

"We still think we're in this thing. I haven't given up," he said before last night's game.

(Please be aware: He's the manager, so he has to say that and perhaps even believe it. Those of you still monitoring the Orioles' loss-column deficit in the wild-card race need to find another cause. Last weekend's three losses in Cleveland represented the last nail.)

Perlozzo went on to give a few other reasons for the Orioles to keep playing to win in 2005, including developing some organizational self-respect -- not a bad idea.

It would be a welcome change to finish over .500 after seven straight losing seasons.

"We owe it to ourselves and our fans to play good baseball over the last six weeks. I would like to make that impresson on the club," Perlozzo said, surely recalling the 4-32 swoon at the end of the 2002 season.

But Perlozzo also said that while he wasn't quite ready to start thinking about 2006, he might be in, say, two weeks. (His words.) And if his job really is safe, he would only be hurting himself by continuing to play short-timers such as Sosa.

It might be too soon to know for sure if Markakis, Young, Ray and others such as Hayden Penn and Jeff Fiorentino will be able to help, but it's not too soon to start finding out.

These situations are never quite as simple as they appear, of course. Few teams can afford to indulge the "off with their heads" approach favored on radio talk shows.

With Sosa, for instance, the Orioles need to be careful. Their best player, Miguel Tejada, is from the same country as Sosa, the Dominican Republic, and he views Sosa as no less than a deity, as do many Latin players.

Tejada surely understands that Sosa is a bust -- it has become downright painful to watch him at the plate -- but he also doesn't want to see Sosa humiliated by the club.

Mix in the fact that owner Peter Angelos was the one who drove the Sosa acquisition in the first place, and you have a maze of touchy organizational issues for Perlozzo to navigate.

As much as the rally-killing Sosa clearly needs to sit -- he might have hit bottom last night, getting thrown out at second after hitting what he thought was a home run and breaking into his famous hop -- he is a future Hall of Famer who needs to be brought down gently.

Three starts a week? Two? One way or another, it needs to start happening. Why does he need any more than a few at-bats? Why give Palmeiro any more time at first? Why play anyone other than those likely to be here in 2006?

As another disappointing season wobbles to a close, the Orioles should have just one thought on their minds -- doing anything they can to make the future better than the present.

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