Caught looking

The Baltimore Sun

Nashville, Tenn. -- The Orioles' front office contingent left here yesterday with an oft-injured, journeyman catcher and a Rule 5 minor league reliever in its winter meeting shopping cart.

And nothing else.

It could have been worse. The Orioles could have taken home one of those tacky "Grand Old Opry" plastic boots and a garish "Country Christmas" T-shirt.

Actually, it could have been much worse.

The Orioles could have acquired a bunch of expensive, mediocre veterans as they have in the past. Or they could have traded away a few of their significant chips without getting players who can set them up to succeed in 2010 and beyond.

No, the Orioles didn't accomplish anything this week toward their future goals. There were no signs that the revolution has begun in Baltimore.

And surely some fans are angered that an inferior club that limped to 69 wins in 2007 is still intact as Christmas nears.

But the Orioles didn't do anything rash or stupid either; that, in itself, is a victory.

Besides, they weren't alone in their inactivity.

With an unimpressive free-agent class and a trade market that was slowed by a few big-ticket items, this week was a relative dud industry-wide.

The Florida Marlins and the Detroit Tigers made a blockbuster deal involving Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and the Los Angeles Dodgers landed center fielder Andruw Jones. Those were the headline grabbers.

Few others - with the exception of Trader Jim Bowden down the street in Washington, who has bought and sold several supplemental pieces this month - have done anything. This wasn't what new Orioles president Andy MacPhail wanted in his first winter meetings with this club. He said Monday that he would be frustrated if nothing significant happened this week.

That was telling. Because MacPhail has the reputation of downplaying everything, of never raising expectations. So for him to say he was optimistic he would get something accomplished was out of character. And it stoked the hot stove fires.

But, really, this whole inactivity scene also was anticipated.

MacPhail is known as someone who takes his time and studies all options. He has to make sure he is making the best deals because his valuable trade chips are limited. And making trades - especially ones in which the purpose is to extract top prospects from other organizations - isn't easy.

So the "when" really isn't important. MacPhail has plenty of time to make decisions in the weeks to come, because all of his commodities are signed through 2009.

It's the "who" that matters.

If MacPhail trades second baseman Brian Roberts or ace Erik Bedard, it will show that the club really is headed in a new direction.

If he trades Roberts, Bedard, shortstop Miguel Tejada and one or two others for prospects - the right prospects, of course - it will provide legitimate hope for a disgruntled fan base.

If nothing is done now or in the next few months - nothing of significance, anyway - it will just be excruciating business as usual during the heat of summer next year at Camden Yards.

It's too early to worry about that now. The winter meetings are the most popular place to set the map for the future - but not the only one.

MacPhail and his charges will be working for the next two months to shape the roster. And he believes enough ideas were set in motion this week that there should be some trades upcoming.

So, yes, the inactivity this week could be considered a bit frustrating.

But it's too early to label this winter as a failure. Simply put, it's incomplete right now.

And MacPhail, still in his honeymoon period, deserves the benefit of the doubt that his shop is still open for business even as the winter meetings close.

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