Busy signal?

Let's start today with some unsolicited travel tips, shall we?

Erik Bedard, if you and your magical left arm are just now booking your spring training flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., be advised that you might want to opt for a transferable fare.


And Peter Angelos, esteemed owner of the Baltimore Orioles Baseball Club, if fans' fears are confirmed and you're even considering vetoing a blockbuster trade, you might want to start traveling under an assumed name.

And Andy MacPhail, a respected baseball mind charged with resurrecting baseball in Baltimore, if your boss won't allow you to do what's needed to improve this team, you might want to start pricing one-way fares out of town.


What are we to make of the odd stalemate that has developed between the Orioles and the Seattle Mariners, teams reportedly close to a trade that would ship Bedard westward and bring three to four prospects to Baltimore?

Lips went on lockdown yesterday, and speculation outpaced actual developments. But despite the baffling facade of this deal, there is some certainty. Forget about wondering which uniform colors Bedard will wear next season, what happens in the next couple of days will go a long way toward determining the Orioles' future. Put simply: We're about to learn just how likely and how feasible it really is for MacPhail to rebuild this franchise.

Since the trade was reportedly near completion Sunday evening, the two sides have barely budged. Inaction has fueled fan paranoia, and we're left to sift through mostly conjecture, innuendo, unnamed sources and second-hand information. The exact details will be known soon enough, but the perceptions of what is and isn't happening reflect poorly on the Orioles.

It certainly seemed as if the two teams agreed to some form of terms over the weekend - at least the baseball people assigned to make baseball decisions for the respective teams agreed to terms. And they began to make preparations. The Mariners yanked outfielder Adam Jones from his Venezuelan winter league team and prepared him to come to Baltimore for a physical.

From the Mariners' end, they clearly thought they were close to a done deal. A doctor's stamp of approval for Jones could have been the last obstacle. But Jones never showed up for a physical.

Here in Baltimore, you can never be certain a deal is done. While the Mariners started moving their chess pieces around the northern hemisphere, the Orioles' front office had a much bigger move: running the proposal through Angelos' office, where many deals have died and many ideas have sat and collected dust.

Something happened between Sunday morning and Sunday night, from the time the Mariners told Jones to pack his bags and the time the Orioles said no physical was pending. Reportedly, Angelos happened, which is rarely a good thing. He might not have nixed the deal entirely - and in theory, it could still go down any minute - but the momentum seems to have ground to a halt.

Angelos was unavailable yesterday and unable to tend to baseball matters. That should be a good thing, because he has baseball men who are paid to make baseball decisions. And if MacPhail really was close to finalizing a deal with the Mariners, he should have the authority to pull the trigger.


This, of course, speaks to the very thing Orioles fans fear most: The authority and autonomy MacPhail was granted when he signed up for Baltimore's Great Reconstruction Project was a false promise. If Bedard isn't posing with a Mariners cap by the end of the week, the facts won't even matter because everyone in baseball will be convinced Angelos again got in the way.

MacPhail has been working on this deal for weeks. If he thinks it's the best he could get, what information or reasoning could Angelos possibly have that warrants a veto or extended discussions?

As most Orioles fan know, this discussion isn't really about Bedard, and it's not really about Jones or any other Mariners prospects. This one speaks to the core of this organization's persisting problems; it speaks to the past, and it speaks to the future.

This one is about MacPhail and his ability to build this franchise. Is he on a leash? Is he trusted by his boss? Does he stand a chance of accomplishing something here that other honorable and hopeful men before him failed at?

These aren't new questions. They were the same ones Orioles fans posed the day MacPhail signed up for what might be the toughest job in baseball, and they've been asked nearly every day since.

Well, wait no more. The way this Bedard trade plays out could finally provide the answers.