The Orioles answered their biggest question of the offseason Friday by trading ace pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for five players, proving emphatically that they are committed to the rebuilding process.
With the trade, the Orioles picked up their center fielder for the present and future in Adam Jones, their 2008 closer in George Sherrill and three pitching prospects who add depth and talent to a minor league system badly in need of both.
But the deal also raised more questions, none bigger than the future of All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts. Four days before pitchers and catchers have their first spring workout, Roberts is the only one of the Orioles' three biggest offseason trade chips still with the club.
At Friday's news conference announcing Bedard's trade, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail acknowledged that Roberts' situation was a "logical question that will come next."
"We are going to evaluate every opportunity that comes to us, and if we think at the end of the day it makes sense to move forward, we're going to move forward," said MacPhail who has acquired 10 players for Bedard and shortstop Miguel Tejada. "We want to win. We're serious about wanting to win. Sometimes you have to pay the price for that. You have to be willing to make the short-term sacrifice. But being stuck in neutral and staying where we were, that to me was very untenable, very unattractive."
Like Bedard, Roberts is two years shy of free agency and has shown apprehension about being on a rebuilding team. Roberts also could yield three or four players, fitting MacPhail's blueprint of getting quality and quantity in return.
MacPhail has talked extensively to the Chicago Cubs about Roberts, discussing several packages but not settling on one. Trade talks could drag into spring training, with pitchers Sean Gallagher, Sean Marshall and Donnie Veal, infielder Ronny Cedeno, and outfielders Felix Pie, Tyler Colvin and Matt Murton among the names mentioned.
Several reports have indicated that the Cubs are unwilling to trade Pie or Colvin, a potential sticking point for some members of the organization. And the wild card in the situation remains Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has long admired Roberts and nixed a trade last season that would have sent him to the Atlanta Braves.
"Everything I've asked Peter to do, he's given me," MacPhail said. "I'm sure there are going to be times where I'm not going to get everything I've asked for. But I'm batting about a thousand now. I can't ask for more. The one thing I keep mentioning to Peter is, 'Look, you've got to let it be on me. If I [mess] this up and I don't get enough back, it's on me, and he needs to get somebody else in here.' "
While pondering his options with Roberts, MacPhail also intends to sign at least one veteran pitcher to man the back of the rotation. The club has talked with the representatives of Steve Trachsel and Josh Fogg. It's expected the Orioles will make a push to sign one of the veterans in the coming days and then allow youngsters such as Troy Patton, Garrett Olson, Matt Albers and Hayden Penn to compete for the final spot.
"It's always nice to have a buffer of someone that has experience and has been through the wars, so to speak, and can help out the young guys on the staff," manager Dave Trembley said.
As of now, only Jeremy Guthrie, Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera are penciled into the rotation, and Loewen is coming off elbow surgery. The left-hander said Friday that his arm is getting stronger and he feels as if he never had surgery. That's a good sign for the Orioles, who will need several pitchers to make up for Bedard's absence.
"It's a very big challenge," said Loewen, who went 2-0 with a 3.56 ERA in six starts last season. "We're going to have to work very hard to win games now because we're not going to have that solidified top starter. But I think we have the right guys to do that. Guthrie really emerged last year. That's what me and Daniel need to do, and just really be consistent and eat those innings."