The trade that wasn't

The Baltimore Sun

CHICAGO -- It consumed Dave Trembley's offseason. When he walked the beach near his Florida home, ate lunch with his wife or traded e-mails with friends, the Orioles manager had his lineup on his mind. He juggled it in his head and on paper, playing with combinations and thinking of ways to maximize its talent.

However, there was one constant in every one of his lineups: Brian Roberts playing second base and leading off.

"My thought process was Brian was going to be with us from Day One," Trembley said. "I never thought of any other option. Why go to Plan B when Plan A is still in effect?"

Trembley had heard the months of speculation that the Orioles would trade Roberts to the Chicago Cubs before the start of the 2008 season. But as he expected, it never happened and Roberts will play at Wrigley Field tonight for the first time in his career as an Oriole.

"There were certainly times where I definitely thought that's where I was going to be," said Roberts, 30. "It looks like everything has worked out well for both sides. They're playing good baseball, and we're playing good baseball. I've always been happy in Baltimore, and I always will be if that's where I am forever. It was just one of the things you deal with and move on."

Both teams have done just that. With Roberts as their catalyst, the Orioles are two games over .500 in what has been billed as a rebuilding year. The Cubs have shrugged off key injuries to post the best record in the majors.

They lead the National League in batting average, runs, hits and on-base percentage, and, with ace Carlos Zambrano out, their need for a starting pitcher is seemingly much greater than their desire for another bat. Meanwhile, it no longer appears certain the Orioles will trade Roberts, the two-time All-Star who is signed through next season.

"He's having a great year, and he's an important part of [the club]," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said. "He is a prototypical leadoff guy. He works the count. He's turning double plays. Right now, things are going pretty good. I just pretty much try to stay out of their way and let them do their thing."

Despite media reports suggesting otherwise, MacPhail denied he was ever really close to trading Roberts to the Cubs. MacPhail spoke to several teams this offseason about Roberts, including the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, according to league sources.

However, the talks with the Cubs are the ones that went public. The Cubs made a multi-player offer for Roberts that included shortstop Ronny Cedeno and pitching prospects Sean Gallagher and Donald Veal. The teams talked about several other packages but could never agree on a deal, and both sides have benefited in the short term.

Cedeno (.275 average) and Gallagher (3-3, 3.97 ERA) have played important roles for the Cubs, while Veal, 23, is 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A.

Roberts is putting together another fine season, batting .290 with five homers, 29 RBIs and a .372 on-base percentage. He is tied for the American League lead in triples (five), second in doubles (26), fourth in steals (21) and tied for 10th in walks (39).

In the Orioles' 38 wins, Roberts is hitting .312 and has scored 30 runs. In 34 losses - Roberts sat out two games (both defeats) - the second baseman is batting .266 and scored 13 runs. During the Orioles' two five-game losing streaks this season, Roberts is a combined 6-for-31 with two runs.

"I understand trades are part of the game and they need to be done at certain times, but in this case, I couldn't be happier that Brian Roberts is with us," Trembley said.

But how long will that remain the case? MacPhail, who has acknowledged he has been surprised by how well the Orioles have played this season, reiterated he has no interest "pulling the rug out from underneath them."

"These decisions get to be self-evident," MacPhail said. "The more you let the time sort of progress, the clearer the picture is going to be. You don't have any deadline for another five or six weeks, and the baseball world can change twice over that period."

Roberts said it was initially a letdown that the deal wasn't completed.

"I'd be lying if I said in some ways that you did want to win and you're looking and seeing what most people would have predicted your best chance of winning wasn't here," Roberts said. "I think if you asked 99 percent of the people in Baltimore, including our [general manager], they wouldn't have said, 'This was our year to win.' I wasn't disappointed because I wanted out or anything like that. There was just so much talk about it that it was hard not to think about all those different scenarios really."

Asked about still being traded, Roberts said: "To me, it doesn't seem like that's where it's headed ... but you can't predict your future in this game."

Before the 2007 season, Roberts signed a deal that bought out one of his free-agent years, but he passed on a longer-term contract because he wanted to see the direction of the club. The Orioles lost 93 games and again finished fourth in the AL East. However, Roberts said he sees things changing for the better.

"If they would have come to me [in] August, I probably wouldn't have had a whole lot of interest," Roberts said. "I said I wanted to see where this team was headed when I signed a year and a half ago. In August of last year, I didn't know where that was, to tell you the truth. But I think I have a little better of an idea now, sure."

Roberts and the Orioles have had no recent contract talks, and MacPhail said, "Those things come in their own due course." Roberts said he would be interested in listening, "but it would have to be the right situation for everybody."

"Obviously, they don't think they have to rush anything, because they haven't come to me, but I'm not running to them either," he said. "If I was an Oriole for the rest of my life, I'd be perfectly happy about that. I'd like to win, but I'd love to do it with the Orioles, too."

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