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MacPhail digs in for makeover of roster

The Baltimore Sun

Clearly, the Orioles are a much more entertaining team when you don't have to watch them play.

It has been six weeks since they closed out their 10th straight losing season, and things are just starting to get interesting. Club president Andy MacPhail basically shopped the whole roster at the general managers meetings, leaving little doubt he will move aggressively over the next couple of months to remodel the ballclub.

That should not come as a great surprise to Orioles fans. MacPhail was brought here to be an agent of change - otherwise, what was the point? - but he did not reveal a lot about his plans during the lengthy evaluation period that followed his introduction in June.

Now, things are beginning to take shape. He still hasn't spelled out everything, but he basically acknowledged over the past week that he's fielding offers for Miguel Tejada and will listen to anyone about anything if that will help him get where he's trying to go.

It was particularly refreshing to hear his reaction to the rumors about Tejada and the rival New York Yankees. The typical GM response would be to deny anything is going on and deliver the usual disclaimer about the rarity of significant trades between division rivals.

MacPhail didn't confirm any serious trade talks with the Yankees, but he made it clear that he would not foreclose the option simply because they are one of the teams the Orioles are trying to catch in the American League East.

Quite the contrary, he came back from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., this week bragging that the Orioles' contingent "batted a thousand" at the GM meetings, which presumably means he unearthed enough interest in the club's veteran nucleus to restock the organization with young talent. That will take a number of deals involving a number of players, some of them longtime fan favorites.

Tejada seems almost certain to open next season in a different uniform because the right deal would broaden the talent base and conserve about $24 million in payroll for a team that probably won't contend during the final two years of his contract. And the right deal is probably out there, though the Orioles could have gotten much, much more if they had accepted one of the packages that was offered for him at the midseason waiver deadline in 2006.

MacPhail also would love to shed some of the other big contracts that are weighing down the team, such as the one the Orioles gave free agent Aubrey Huff last winter.

Melvin Mora can see where this is going. He said in an interview with The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec on Wednesday that he would consider waiving the no-trade clause in his contract if it would get him to a winning team.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of all this is the sea change in public opinion during the past year. There was no consensus for dealing Tejada two seasons ago, even though he had aired his discontent with the direction of the team the previous winter. There certainly was no clamor to get rid of the popular Mora, who cemented his standing with Orioles fans when he was the only active O's player to show up for the funeral of popular coach Elrod Hendricks.

The fans finally reached their tipping point after consecutive losing season No. 10 and now seem open to a long-term rebuilding plan. MacPhail might have sensed that during the four months he analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, or maybe he just couldn't see any alternative.

This year, there is no talk of trying to patch up the team with a couple of expensive free agents. In fact, MacPhail sidestepped most of the free-agent talk at the GM meetings and concentrated almost entirely on preliminary trade discussions, projecting the anything-might-go attitude of a guy who is confident he has the ability and the authority to turn this thing around.

In short, it's starting to look as if there really is a new sheriff in town, though the proof will be in the makeup of the roster a couple months down the road.peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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