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Move needed for rebuilding

Everybody knows what's going to happen next. Erik Bedard is going to win 22 games and the Seattle Mariners are going to be in the playoff hunt all year, and every week or so this season somebody is going to say or write how stupid the Orioles were for trading away their best homegrown pitcher since Mike Mussina.

They'll be wrong, of course, but we live in a world where the television networks call elections before the votes have been counted and just about everything is judged with an I-want-it-yesterday mentality.

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The Bedard deal has to be viewed through a telescope - not a magnifying glass. It might not look that great up close, but it is a trade that club president Andy MacPhail had to make if the Orioles are ever going to begin growing into a solid franchise.

MacPhail said from the beginning that the organization had to start being "brutally honest" with itself and its customers, and here's the hard truth about Bedard:

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No matter what he said in the days leading up to the trade, he didn't want to stay here, and signing him to a long-term extension might have actually locked the Orioles in a no-man's land between rebuilding and respectability.

Think about it. If the Orioles had done what some fans wanted and ponied up huge money to lock Bedard up for six years - say, $90 million or more - they would have had to settle for a weaker foundation of young talent and probably spent about half that amount while a competitive team was still in development.

Even if you don't factor in some decline in performance in the later years of the contract, which is a strong possibility based on surveys of past long-term pitching deals, the Orioles would be paying a huge premium for the few years when Bedard's success might dovetail with the team's.

That calculation would be different if the Orioles were already working with a small-market payroll and Peter Angelos were getting ready to unleash the revenues from his regional sports network on the next star-studded free-agent market, but the Orioles are in the process of downscaling last year's $95 million payroll in favor of a wave of inexpensive young talent.

Maybe you doubt Angelos will pour that money back into the team if and when it gets within a few marquee players of being a legitimate contender in the American League East, but that might be the only way the Orioles ever climb out of the deep hole they've dug for themselves.

There are plenty of cynical fans who think it will all come to nothing no matter what. Ten straight losing seasons will do that to the most loyal fan base. The Orioles aren't exactly rolling in public goodwill, and dealing away your best players (Brian Roberts could be on deck) for a group of relative unknowns isn't exactly a marketing coup.

It might be a radical strategy, but MacPhail didn't come here to massage the status quo. The Orioles franchise was suffering from a chronic case of mismanagement that could not be cured with conservative treatment.

Bedard and Miguel Tejada, as talented as they are, were more a part of the current problem than they were ever going to be part of the long-term solution.

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Frankly, MacPhail should get a gold star this offseason just for getting Tejada out of town ahead of the Mitchell Report and the investigation into whether the shortstop lied to congressional staffers in 2005 about his involvement in baseball's steroid scandal.

The Orioles need a fresh start, or as fresh a start as they can get with several untradable veterans still on the roster. MacPhail has more work to do over the next few months, and Angelos might have to eat some big salaries to truly inaugurate a new era of Orioles baseball.

And, yes, it could all go the way of every previous attempt to pull the team out of its decade-long funk, but there is no percentage in perpetuating that kind of fatalism. Frustrated fans can be forgiven for losing faith, but they will guarantee the situation never improves if they give up hope.

Sure, Bedard might win 22 games this year, and if he does, every Orioles fan ought to have the same reaction.

Godspeed.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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


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