Don't wait unless better trade certain

For a moment, forget about the swirling and unending theories as to why an Erik Bedard trade to Seattle hasn't gotten done yet.

Forget about medical complexities, demanding owners, contract extensions.


There's only one reason the Orioles shouldn't deal their ace and best trade chip to the Mariners for outfielder Adam Jones and a few other prospects: if club president Andy MacPhail is absolutely sure he'll get a better package by holding on to Bedard a little longer.

No other explanation is acceptable.


When MacPhail dealt shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros in December for five young players and then didn't spend on free agents, his path was set.

This team won't win by 2009. It's time to face that. And it won't win after 2009 unless the current roster and farm system are restocked with talented youth.

Being frank with the fan base - and with owner Peter Angelos - that this moderately expensive, veteran team has to retool to have any future in the American League East can't be easy for MacPhail. Especially when the only solution is to unload your few legitimate stars for a bunch of risks who could flame out.

But in this decade of embarrassment, the Orioles have never rebuilt - not in a painful way, anyway. Sure, in 2000 they traded solid veterans for a bevy of mediocre kids - transforming the club from old and underachieving to young and underwhelming.

Angelos, who is 78 but maintains a frenetic pace, has been reluctant to strip this franchise to its skivvies and start again. Giving up is not normally a palatable business strategy, particularly for someone who has been so successful in other endeavors.

He also hasn't been willing to abandon financial sensibility and spend as maniacally as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Unfortunately, though, those are the only choices in this division. Halfway in between doesn't work. Period.

This time, the Orioles actually have bargaining chips and are set to get legitimate pieces in return. One baseball executive who has watched Jones play extensively said at the worst the 22-year-old should be a plus major league defender and solid hitter. At best, he's a Gold Glove winner, .300 hitter and run producer in the No. 5 hole.

Reliever George Sherrill is an undervalued left-hander who can close games in a pinch, and Chris Tillman, 19, projects to be at least a No. 3 starter. There are likely one or two others in the proposal, possibly including 20-year-old left-hander Tony Butler, another behemoth pitcher (6 feet 7) with upside.


That should be enough, even if it is for the rarest of breeds, a left-handed ace under 30.

Bedard is excellent, one of the best in the majors. And he likes Baltimore enough, about as much as the low-key Canadian likes anything. He's basically left alone here to pitch, and that's something that won't happen in a major market.

But to persuade him to stay with a bad team in the middle of his prime, the Orioles would have to dangle a franchise-record contract. And, really, what's the point?

At the earliest, this club won't be competitive until Bedard is 31 and has 400 more innings on his odometer. And that's assuming the Orioles can be a good team without the windfall of prospects they would receive from Seattle by trading Bedard.

It's an assumption they can't afford to make. And the same goes with dealing the club's lone All-Star, Brian Roberts, to the Chicago Cubs or any other high bidder.

Roberts, 30, is the franchise's most popular player on and off the field. But, like Bedard, his contract expires next year. And, perhaps even more so than Bedard, it's hard to picture Roberts as an Oriole in 2010.


Losing has taken an increasing toll on the usually positive Roberts. His frustration was palpable last season.

If the Orioles attempt to sign both to extensions and fail, they are left with draft picks and more years of waiting. If they extend them both, they are building around two 30-somethings in 2010 and beyond with a limited number of talented youngsters as a supporting cast.

If both are traded, however, MacPhail will be finishing what he started when he dealt Tejada in December - while adding a dozen or more young players to the cupboard.

It might not work, of course. Prospects are just that; no guarantees are included. Still, the Orioles likely will finish at the bottom of the AL East this season with or without Bedard and Roberts.

If MacPhail can get significant value for his two remaining trade chips - and the reported Jones package should qualify - he has to make it happen.

Return value should be the only holdup. Everything else is a hollow excuse.