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Two down — Two down - sort of, anyway - and now one more essential move to go.

The Orioles traded their most expensive and accomplished veteran, Miguel Tejada, to the Houston Astros in December for five prospects to trigger a much-anticipated rebuilding effort.

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And it looks as if soon they might finally send ace Erik Bedard, pending approved physicals and blood oaths, to the Seattle Mariners to complete Step 2 of the three-pronged improvement plan.

Once the dust settles on this Bedard mess - and there hasn't been this much dust swirling around the printed word since John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath - the Orioles will have five more players in the fold for now and the future.

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Then attention must be turned to getting the best possible deal for the team's lone 2007 All-Star, second baseman Brian Roberts.

Trading Roberts, however, would be the trickiest maneuver of all.

Because it isn't a smart marketing move.

But it is the right baseball decision, assuming, of course, that club president Andy MacPhail gets a strong package for Roberts.

Based on his three trades since arriving here in June (including moving veteran Steve Trachsel to the Chicago Cubs last season), MacPhail is getting solid return for his veterans. Therefore, he can probably carve out a respectable swap for Roberts, likely with the Cubs, who need a leadoff man and have some intriguing young players.

The question is whether owner Peter Angelos would sign off on a Roberts deal, any Roberts deal. It might seem laughable given all of the confusion and delays of the past two weeks, but trading Roberts might prove more complicated than jettisoning Bedard.

Angelos has made no secret of his admiration for the popular, homegrown Roberts, his passion on the field and compassion off it. Angelos already vetoed one Roberts deal in 2006 that would have sent him to the Atlanta Braves - a trade that, in retrospect, would have been a bad one for the Orioles.

What it proved is that Roberts is worth more to Baltimore and Angelos than to other clubs. Here, he is not just a second baseman and leadoff hitter. He is the face of the franchise, with the only real competition coming from new golden boy Nick Markakis. Without Tejada and Bedard, Roberts is also the club's most talented veteran.

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And even though they look destined for another losing season in 2008, the Orioles still have to sell tickets and market their on-field product. That becomes tougher when the message is: "We're going to be bad, and we've gotten rid of your favorite players, the ones most worthy of your hard-earned buck."

The hurdles go beyond the almighty dollar, however. Angelos is extremely loyal. He also abhors how conclusions are jumped to in this information age. Whereas some believe Roberts' inclusion in the Mitchell Report and his subsequent admission he used steroids once in 2003 would make it easier for the Orioles to trade him, the opposite is likely true.

No way Angelos wants it to be perceived his support for Roberts wavered after the Mitchell Report. And if Roberts is traded, the lead in most reports will be that Roberts was dealt away within months of his steroid admission. Perhaps not fair, that would be the perception - at least nationally.

Ultimately, though, if Angelos vetoes any trade involving Roberts, it's because he doesn't think the Orioles are getting enough in return or the club has already taken sufficient steps toward rebuilding. And it will be tough for MacPhail to overcome that.

Perhaps the only way Roberts is dealt - barring an overwhelming offer by a desperate club - is if the second baseman goes directly to Angelos and asks for a ticket out of town. That's not Roberts' style, but he has already said he's not keen on being part of a rebuilding effort.

It would take a miracle for this team to make the postseason before Roberts' contract expires in 2009, and, by then, he'll be 32 and his window for being a key component of a contender will be closing.

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Given the respect between him and Angelos, the personal touch might work. The alternative is that Angelos rejects the request for business reasons and the sensitive Roberts feels trapped in Baltimore, which could quickly turn his clubhouse influence from positive to negative.

Sound far-fetched? Well, so does the concept that one trade could take weeks to advance from tentative agreement to completion. But baseball life is different here. We all know that.

Regardless, trading Roberts is the next obvious step for MacPhail. And, if the right players are available in return, it's a necessary one if rebuilding correctly is the definitive plan.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com


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