The question looms over Camden Yards like the big, antiseptic convention hotel that has blocked out the best part of the Baltimore skyline:
What will Andy do now?
The Orioles' two-week downturn heading into the All-Star break has given club president Andy MacPhail new license to steer the team in the direction he originally intended, but that question oversimplifies the situation that faces the front office as the O's open the titular second half of the season against the Detroit Tigers tonight at Oriole Park.
What MacPhail wants to do is one thing. What he will be able to do might be another.
When he set about the task of restocking the organization and rebuilding the Orioles' player-development pipeline during the winter, he was working with stationary targets. He could identify the teams that needed Miguel Tejada, Erik Bedard and Brian Roberts, look over their organizational rosters and spend weeks playing chicken with his front office counterparts.
Nobody played the offseason game any better. The value he received for Tejada and Bedard made an immediate and long-term impact on the franchise and positioned him very well for the period that ends July 31 for dealing players without waivers. No one should doubt his ability to follow through with the in-season phase of his rebuilding program, but what happens over the next couple of weeks depends far more on circumstances beyond his control.
Case in point: The likelihood of getting top value for Roberts during the winter was based largely on the identifiable needs of the Chicago Cubs. Ultimately, the deal didn't get made, but only because the two sides could not agree on the price. The in-season equation is far more complicated because it includes variables that are almost impossible to predict.
The Cubs have moved on. They became more comfortable with their second base situation and used some of the players in the proposed Roberts deal to trade for quality starting pitcher Rich Harden. There are believed to be several teams interested in Roberts, but the possibility of replicating the returns for Bedard and Tejada is more likely to come down to competitive bidding between two division rivals or some contender's urgent need that has yet to become apparent. The same goes for anyone else MacPhail wants to unload.
Reliever George Sherrill, for instance, appeared to be losing value during a two-week slump in which he blew three saves in dramatic fashion. But he enhanced his credibility as a big-time closer with a terrific performance in the All-Star Game, and his name had to come up in the Los Angeles Dodgers' front office after the team had to shut down closer Takashi Saito for at least six weeks with an elbow sprain.
"As far as trading for a closer, it's a lot like trying to acquire a shortstop," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told reporters at the All-Star Game on Tuesday. "It's a premium position, and most teams don't carry an excess."
The Dodgers have closer-in-waiting Jonathan Broxton, 24, to move into the role, but you can bet manager Joe Torre would prefer to have a more proven option to help him keep his long streak of playoff appearances alive. And the Dodgers have the kind of young talent that would make it easier for MacPhail to deal away a major component of the Orioles' bullpen.
It likely would take a similar situation to create a decent market for Aubrey Huff, though he has been another pleasant surprise this season. He leads the Orioles in home runs and RBIs and has made a lot of people forget his offseason transgressions, which should make him attractive to a team that needs a solid left-handed hitter and might be willing to take on some of his salary. To rate any significant return in talent, however, might require a team to develop a greater sense of urgency.
I'm pretty sure MacPhail isn't sitting in his office pushing needles into various Major League Baseball-licensed voodoo dolls and trying to hurry along the process, but he has been around long enough to know that opportunity comes in many forms - not all of them pleasant.
Nobody around here is happy that the uplifting first half has given way to this kind of speculation, but it has created a certain clarity of purpose for the front office.
Everybody knows what he should do now. Getting it done might be another story.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.