There is a contingent of Orioles executives headed this weekend for the winter meetings in Indianapolis, but I'm worried that Andy MacPhail and his staff have forgotten what baseball's annual offseason convention is really all about.

They'll tell you it's an opportunity for representatives of the 30 major league teams to come together to transact various forms of league business and ramp up trade talks and free-agent negotiations.

That's all true, but they know as well as you do that trade talks and contract negotiations can be conducted just as easily by conference call in this day and age, and the Rule 5 draft could be dispensed with on the Internet if that were really the point of the winter meetings.

What makes the event worth the price of all those plane tickets and hotel rooms is much more basic.

The convention - which also brings together the major and affiliated minor league organizations - is an oasis of baseball in the middle of the football season that puts the sport briefly back at center stage right before the big push to sell tickets for the following season.

It's an opportunity for a team like the Orioles to capture the imagination of their fans and create new hope for the coming spring. And I think MacPhail - for all the generations his family has been prominent in the game - has lost touch with that concept, or doesn't think that it's very important after his team's 12th consecutive losing season.

MacPhail is, by nature, a very conservative baseball executive, which may serve him well if he ends up fulfilling a half-decade of rumors and replaces commissioner Bud Selig in a few years. It does not serve him so well at this point in his tenure as the Orioles' president of baseball operations.

It is his nature to downplay the club's chances of making any significant moves over the next four or five days, but I don't think that's going to play very well on Pratt Street, and it shouldn't.

Remember, it was MacPhail who said when he rehired Dave Trembley that the time finally had come to judge the manager and the club on wins and losses.

Maybe you (and I) read too much into that comment, but it sure sounded like it meant that the Orioles were turning a corner and the front office was ready to make some decisive moves to upgrade the club.

So, why is MacPhail putting it on the street that the Orioles will be less active at these winter meetings than they were last year, when they acquired Ryan Freel and signed Cesar Izturis?

He indicated in an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week that the Orioles likely will get more aggressive later in the offseason and should be more active than last year as they get closer to spring training.

Sorry, but he has to know that will sound to fans like he's going to wait around until all the decent free-agent players are gone and bid on what's left. It sure sounds like that to me.

I'm guessing that he just wants to temper any unrealistic expectations, but this is no time to shake that monkey off your back.

The Orioles need a right-handed hitter to fill the run-production gap in the middle of the lineup. They need a starting pitcher and another candidate for the closer role.

That's a tall order in a soft free-agent market, so where is the logic in waiting until it gets even softer?

The burden of proof figured to get heavier in each year of MacPhail's rebuilding program, and he was the one who pointed to 2010 as the year when things would begin to turn upward.

Maybe it's a matter of degrees. Maybe he thinks that any improvement fulfills that promise - and it certainly won't be hard to improve on 64 victories - but if that's the case, MacPhail is playing a dangerous game with what remains of the Orioles fan base.

The Orioles can afford to sign a solid free-agent hitter and a decent pitcher without upsetting The Plan. They've even saved enough money over the past couple of years to take a chance on one of the iffy free agents who is coming off an injury (Erik Bedard?).

MacPhail obviously believes they can afford to wait and see how the market develops.

What they can't afford is for more fans to wait and see how the team develops before renewing their season tickets.

That's why it's important to look busy during the winter meetings.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimore

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