Lack of depth at key spots puts O's in a weak position

The Baltimore Sun

It has been about a month since new club president Andy MacPhail began a comprehensive evaluation of the troubled Orioles organization, and the jury of one is still out.

That's just as well, since the July 31 waiver deadline is now all but irrelevant.

The day MacPhail walked in the door, there was a lot of buzz about what he might do to realign the roster. There were trade whispers about Miguel Tejada and speculation about several of the club's other veteran players. There was a clear sense of anticipation that the new baseball operations chief would be the agent of dynamic change, even though MacPhail was known more for his steady leadership in Minnesota and Chicago.

Maybe he would have shuffled the roster at the trading deadline, but we'll never know.

The injury to Tejada took him out of realistic consideration for the kind of deal that might have changed the direction of the franchise. The foot injury that is expected to push Melvin Mora onto the disabled list today has left the Orioles without the entire left side of their infield, which will make it even more problematic to move any of the remaining healthy position players.

There's always the Aug. 31 trading deadline (before players who change teams become ineligible for the postseason), but trading players through waivers is much more complicated.

What MacPhail has been left with is the unpleasant reality of an organization with so little position depth that there was no serious candidate waiting in the wings to audition during the absence of Tejada or Mora. It was pretty much the same when catcher Ramon Hernandez was on the DL.

Oh, there are always minor league players to take the roster spots, but most teams have somebody at Triple-A who might be interesting to take a look at. The Orioles are so thin at third base that there was no great sense of urgency to add anyone to the roster while Mora hobbled around on a sprained foot for the past week and a half.

Top infield prospect Bill Rowell is at least a couple years away, and he might end up shifting to first base before he gets here. The closest guy to the majors is former Minnesota Twins prospect Terry Tiffee, who could get the call today if the club finally puts Mora on the DL.

In the meantime, utilityman Chris Gomez is the best option at third, and Aubrey Huff has resumed taking ground balls there just in case.

It's almost hard to believe. The team that developed Brooks Robinson and Doug DeCinces and a third-baseman-turned-shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr. has not had a threshold third base prospect since Ryan Minor in the late 1990s, and he didn't pan out.

Interim manager Dave Trembley, still bathed in the glow of his first major league managerial gig, remains upbeat while acknowledging that the situation is a challenge.

"It's kind of like the old thing we learned in Psychology 101: Is the glass half-empty or half-full?" Trembley said. "You can look at it from a negative standpoint; you can look at it from a realistic standpoint. ... When one door closes for somebody, it opens for somebody else."

Unfortunately, in this case, the negative standpoint and the realistic standpoint are one and the same. The glass isn't half-empty. It's almost completely empty, but you have to applaud Trembley for convincing his team that there is still enough water in it to compete without two of its best players. The Orioles are 10-10 since he took over as manager, which is quite an achievement under the circumstances.

MacPhail can evaluate all he wants, but he's going to end up reaching the same conclusion. The Orioles must either blow up the budget in the offseason to close the talent gap or pray that Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen, Daniel Cabrera and Jeremy Guthrie blossom next year into something akin to the 2006 Detroit Tigers starting rotation.

Otherwise, the Orioles are several years away from growing enough talent to get within one or two free agents of competing for a wild-card playoff berth. Maybe MacPhail could have sped things up with a major midseason deal - or maybe he wouldn't have tried - but that possibility was foreclosed soon after he moved into his office.

Trembley, continuing to wax philosophical before last night's victory, couldn't have summed up the club's predicament better.

"Problems are easy to identify," he said. "Solutions are harder to get to."

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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