Orioles facing decisions

The Baltimore Sun

Five story lines for the Orioles in the second half:

Who will manage?

At least until early August, the answer remains Dave Trembley, formerly the bullpen coach, who took over for Sam Perlozzo on June 19 and has compiled a 9-9 record, while having the luxury of writing Miguel Tejada's name into the lineup only three times.

Under Trembley, the Orioles have played looser, more aggressively and made fewer mental errors. Trembley has done a good job of resting what had been a tired bullpen and communicating with what had been a disenchanted clubhouse. His rah-rah, "play the game right" style has been well received by the players, who have participated in infield practice before the first game of each series under Trembley.

Club officials have repeatedly recognized that the Orioles are playing with much more energy and enthusiasm and cited Trembley as a main reason. But they have yet to say that he'll manage the club the rest of the season.

Instead, Andy MacPhail, whose hiring was announced just days after Perlozzo's dismissal, has put the manager question on the back burner after top choice Joe Girardi rejected the Orioles' offer. He said that it will be revisited after the July 31 trade deadline, though he would prefer a manager in place before the start of the offseason.

Club sources say MacPhail has at least started making a list of potential managers; however, it doesn't appear that he's ready to act anytime soon. Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Joey Cora, all of whom have managed in Mac- Phail-led organizations before, are among the candidates.

"That has been pushed aside until we get past the deadline," MacPhail said. "I don't think you can be anything but impressed with the enthusiasm and energy level of the team since Dave has taken the helm. We hope that continues."

Can they sign Wieters?

The Orioles took a significant risk when they chose Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters with the fifth overall pick in last month's first-year player draft. Wieters' talent has never been questioned, but the Orioles' ability to sign super agent Scott Boras' client has been.

They have until Aug. 15 to do it, and although both sides acknowledge there has been some communication between the two parties, they are nowhere near a deal. In fact, the Orioles said the process will likely drag into August, though they fully expect to sign the catcher, whom executive vice president Mike Flanagan has likened to a switch-hitting Joe Mauer.

However, before fans fret about the latest one to get away, consider the following: The Orioles wouldn't have drafted Wieters without the front office and ownership having an idea of what it will take to sign him.

Also, there is a reason both sides might purposefully wait until the last minutes. Draft picks are often paid in a slotting system, meaning they make a little less than the pick before them and a little more than the pick after them. The Orioles know they'll have to pay Wieters much more to secure his services. And to not upset the slotting process - and the commissioner's office - it makes sense to wait until some of the picks before and after Wieters are signed.

Will they make a deal?

Everything coming out of the Orioles' front office points to the fact that it plans to be very active in trade talks. MacPhail, not known for bluster, acknowledged that the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline can heavily "impact the direction of the team."

What makes it more intriguing is that MacPhail has watched the Orioles for less than a month, so he'll have to rely heavily on the advice and evaluation of other club executives.

"I would expect that there will be some people that want to take advantage of the fact that I'm new," MacPhail said. "I am sure I'll get the opportunity to do a lot of dumb things before July 31, but that's not my intention at all. We're going to try to participate in anything that will make us better."

But do the Orioles have anything to offer? Tejada was the team's biggest trade chip, but his injury has put that to rest. The shortstop had his wrist examined yesterday and there is a chance he'll return to action before the trade deadline. But it's unlikely a team would be willing to match the Orioles' asking price for a player who will have been out for around a month and faces questions about declining power numbers and suspect defense.

Instead, the Orioles most likely to be moved include Kevin Millar, Steve Trachsel, Jay Gibbons and Corey Patterson - none of whom would draw much more than a mid-level prospect in return. In order to dump Gibbons, the Orioles would likely have to eat a significant portion of his salary or take back a similar contract in return.

It is widely believed in the industry that to make a splash, the Orioles will have to trade some of their young pitching, and they're not ready to do that.

"We think we'll be in it, but we're probably not going to give up our young pitching," Flanagan said.

Giving opportunity

When the Orioles designated veteran reliever Scott Williamson for assignment last week, MacPhail said the intent of the move was to open a spot for a younger pitcher. So up came left-handed pitching prospect Garrett Olson, who will make his second major league start this week.

MacPhail said he would like to get a look at a couple of other young arms later in the season, but only if he's told that they are close to being major league ready. Relievers Jim Hoey and Cory Doyne will probably be the next pitchers called upon, as MacPhail wants to take inventory of what the Orioles have. Olson, even if he is sent down after his next start, should get a longer look later this season as team officials envision him being in the running for a spot in the rotation in 2008.

But barring injuries or decisions to cut several players loose, their current roster, which features several under-performing veterans signed to multi-year deals, doesn't have much flexibility - at least not until roster numbers can expand in September.

Vice president Jim Duquette said the club won't let that stand in the way of giving other players a shot. But at this point, the Orioles' high minor league affiliates don't have many players considered high prospects, so it's probably foolish to expect that the major league roster will be drastically altered either by trade or call-ups late in the season.

Future of nucleus

Tejada has gone public with a trade request before. Brian Roberts has expressed frustration with the constant losing and chose to extend his deal by only a year, rather than signing a long-term contract. Erik Bedard, the Orioles' burgeoning left-handed ace, will get the next opportunity to secure his long-term future with the club.

The club plans on exploring a multi-year extension with Bedard this offseason. He has said he'd be interested in listening, but whether he would sign would depend on a number of factors.

Presumably, one of them is winning. The next 2 1/2 months could offer some clues if the Orioles are any closer to being competitive in the American League East, along with whether the front office chooses to keep the Orioles' nucleus together.

"If they came to me, I have no idea what I would do," said Roberts, when asked whether he'd be interested in negotiating a longer-term deal this offseason. "Yeah, I think we are better. But I'm still tired of losing. There is only so much you can say, 'We're better.' Three years from now, I don't want to keep saying that we are better when we're 10 games under .500."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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