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July 17, 2008: Trade Table Bargains Not Easy To Find

“He is a good player, but we lost with him; we can lose without him.”

It's a phrase that comes up when trade rumors heat up around the All-Star break. Given the Orioles' finishes in the standings over the last 10 years, it is an understandable statement.

However, it is not an accurate assessment of how to evaluate a player's value to his team.

With the O's recent losing streak to close out the first half of the season, trade debates have crept back into conversations. Many are in favor of moving veteran players to continue the rebuilding project. But in building for the future, it is important to look at what players mean to the fabric of the team, and it's different for each player.

Analysis of a player's role on the team was important in the offseason trades involving Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada.

For the last couple years, Orioles fans wondered who the real Tejada was. That question has been answered now that he is in Houston. Tejada is a great player for a good team. On a team with a chance to win, he has energy, focus, leadership, and there is urgency in his game. On a bad team, these attributes disappear.

Nobody questions Bedard’s talent. What is questioned, though, is his toughness, durability and competitiveness. In two major league cities, he has not lived up to  expectations.

Bedard and Tejada wanted the Orioles to upgrade for a chance to win. The problem was that to make the necessary upgrades, they had to move those two players. It has been a case of addition by subtraction.

The addition by subtraction theory has become a hot topic in relation to second baseman Brian Roberts, who many believe has the highest trade value. Recently, a fan called in to a sports talk show to remind listeners that the Orioles have posted a losing record every year Roberts has been on the roster, saying, "We can finish last without him."

It's a difficult statement with which to agree. The Orioles have lost a lot of games while Roberts has been on the roster, but they haven’t lost because of him.

There is nothing in Roberts’ makeup that would make his departure addition by subtraction. In fact, it would be the opposite. Roberts plays hard every time on the field. His game never changes. His attitude is seemingly always the same.

Much of the surprise offensive prowess the team has displayed can be directly linked to Roberts and his success as the sparkplug at the top of the lineup. His style of play makes the players around him better.

A player like Aubrey Huff would be ideal to move at this time. Enjoying his best season in several years Huff could be an attractive bat for contending teams looking for offense.

Knowing that the Orioles will be looking for significant talent in return, some teams may be reluctant to deal for Huff. He is enjoying a fine season, but recent trends say this is an aberration.If nothing of value is offered in return, it may be better for the Orioles to keep the first baseman/designated hitter.

There is no guarantee of how much talent other clubs will bring to the trading table. In years past, the Orioles made moves just to make them. But the new mantra for the franchise needs to be "get the right deal at the right time."

While building for the future is paramount, the Orioles need to keep their future stars. If every piece around Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Jeremy Guthrie are traded away now, it may be easy for those players to find the door when they have the opportunity. Markakis, for instance, will be halfway through his servitude to the Orioles at the end of this season. Keeping him and others happy and hopeful may be keys to what happens in the future.

If the Orioles can plug more holes with real prospects, go for it. If the opportunity doesn't present itself, the team needs to work with what it has and move on. What fans in Birdland want is the right deal at the right time.

Allen V. McCallum Jr. is a baseball analyst for 1570 AM, WNST.

Issue 3.29: July 17, 2008