Look ahead

The Baltimore Sun

Clearly, it's unwise to let a short-term turn - good or bad - dictate long-term strategy, but the Orioles' slide that began just after the Fourth of July and has landed them in last place in the American League East is indicative that the current roster is not going to be the one that makes this franchise a contender in a year or two or three.

The O's have had their moments this year and have showed some tenacity, but outfielder Jay Payton put it well after a 6-5 home loss to Detroit on Thursday night when he said, "We've got to play perfect baseball."

That's just the point, and it has been all season. This team has no margin for error, and that's no way to go through a season and hope to make it to the playoffs. Any error, on the field or on the bases, any injury magnifies this team's vulnerability.

The immediate relevance of all this is the July 31 trade deadline approaching. Obviously, the Orioles are not buyers in the trade market - they are sellers. They would be peddling players of some value for players of some promise.

The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec did a terrific job of outlining the Orioles' trade options in an article during the All-Star break. Jeff pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of trading the eight most likely candidates: (in alphabetical order) Chad Bradford, Daniel Cabrera, Ramon Hernandez, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar, Jay Payton, Brian Roberts and George Sherrill.

In examining that group, the player that may seem most obvious is second baseman Roberts. His name has been swirling in trade rumors since the offseason. He would certainly fetch the highest price in prospects. However, the biggest problem with trading Roberts, who turns 31 in October, is creating an even larger hole in the crucial middle infield.

The O's are still trying to settle shortstop after trading Miguel Tejada, and to deal their star second baseman without a replacement could be courting disaster for the long haul. If you're a believer in building a baseball team up the middle, even if you project two seasons ahead, you have Adam Jones in center field, you're counting on No. 1 draft pick Matt Wieters to pay off at catcher, but at shortstop and second base (without Roberts) , you have ... what?

That makes Roberts a tough call.

Another player of consequence for whom the O's can get something substantial and who should be movable is Daniel Cabrera but, as Zrebeic pointed out, this is a team that has just two starters right now who can consistently churn out innings - Jeremy Guthrie and Cabrera.

You'd have to be convinced that Adam Loewen will get healthy or someone else can be your No. 2 next year to make a Cabrera deal. Plus, some likely suitors, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, have already made trades for immediate pitching help, so the list of dance partners is getting shorter.

Most likely it would be a trade of less consequence: Bradford, Hernandez, Huff, Payton and Millar. Those players will bring returns of varying value. Huff probably the most. Millar, the least. Sherrill would appear to be just too valuable to the O's at the moment.

However, with the future in mind, the climate is right to begin moving some of the current roster.

As I said at the top, the current bunch of losses shouldn't cause alarm or provoke panic trades to clear out the clubhouse, but it's also a reality check that Orioles followers shouldn't get too attached to the names in the lineup now. It just doesn't make sense.


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