A week ago, the Baltimore Orioles were on the brink of signing Jeromy Burnitz to a two-year, $12 million contract. Five days after I criticized the team for their lack of direction, Burnitz has switched direction and is close to a one-year deal with the Pirates, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For the Pirates, this is a bad move really. Pittsburgh, perennial bottom-feeders in the NL Central, already had a better-than-average hitter in Craig Wilson. While ESPN didn’t list him as a Pirates starter, it’s hard to imagine Wilson, who hit 29 home runs in 2004 before missing much of 2005 with injuries, lingering on the Pirates’ bench. Much like the Orioles, the Pirates a team going nowhere fast while flushing money down the drain.
However, the Burnitz deal is only tangentially about the Pirates. More importantly, Burnitz’s decision to spurn the Orioles or the Orioles’ decision to look elsewhere for a right fielder matters more for the fact that the Orioles aren’t wasting payroll or a roster spot on Burnitz. In fact, it may pave the way for the Manny-Miggy blockbuster that’s been rumored in major media outlets and blogs across the country.
The Orioles have their backs to the wall with Miguel Tejada. He wants to be traded, and other teams are courting Baltimore. The Cubs have inquired about Tejada and are willing to part with Mark Prior if the price is right. But the biggest suitor seems to be one of Baltimore’s AL East rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are rumored to be offering up Manny Ramirez and pitcher Matt Clement for Tejada and one of Baltimore’s outfield prospects Nick Markakis.
Without Burnitz, the Orioles need to do something for their team. While Burnitz wouldn’t have been an offensive savior for a struggling Baltimore franchise, his decision to sign with the Pirates may be a sign that the free agent, much like the All Star short stop, wasn’t keen on playing on a team going nowhere. By trading Tejada for Ramirez, the Orioles may well be signaling that they are ready to go somewhere.
If the Red Sox and Orioles consummate this complicated trade, I see two possible outcomes. The first is that Ramirez stays on with Baltimore. He’ll slot nicely into the Orioles’ lineup and would mash the ball in Camden Yards just as well as he would mash anywhere. As a bonus, the Orioles would get a decent mid-rotation starter in Matt Clement, and Clement would have three years to work with pitching guru Leo Mazzone in an effort to put his talent together and possibly put his inconsistencies behind him.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox would get a short stop for the next five years who’s at the top of his game. Tejada would fill in the gap nicely that Manny leaves open in the lineup. And it’s hard to believe that Tejada in 2008 for $12 million would be a worse deal than Manny in 2008 for nearly $20 million. While the Red Sox would still have to find a left fielder, Tejada would certainly be an adequate replacement for Manny’s bat in the lineup. Plus, a Miggy-David Ortiz duo is fairly fearsome.
In the second scenario, the Orioles keep Clement but spin Ramirez to the Mets for a pitcher and a prospect. The pitcher could be Kris Benson and the prospect could be Lastings Milledge. Both of those names have been bandied about. In this scenario, the Mets get their man, and the Orioles get another pitcher who could enjoy Leo Mazzone’s tutelage along with a prospect. These moves could both benefit the Orioles further on down the line.
Now, while it’s fun to play virtual General Manager, a few obstacles stand in the way of this trade. First, the Orioles are not too keen on trading Miguel Tejada to a division rival. While the Orioles are in no danger of competing against the Red Sox in 2006, they don’t want to have to face Tejada 19 times a season every year until the end of the decade. Second, Manny’s no-trade clause represents a bit of a challenge in this move. Ramirez could threaten to veto the trade if he doesn’t get a significant contract extension; he may ask the Orioles to guarantee his options through 2010 at $20 million a season. A guarantee of that amount until Manny is in his late 30s could cripple the Orioles (or Mets) financially.
In the end, I remain skeptical that this trade will happen. The Orioles are under no obligation to trade their best offensive player and to assume a ton of money in the deal. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Peter Gammons reported just a few minutes ago that the long rumored four-way trade has never really been a reality. Executives seem to think Tejada will remain with the Orioles, and the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for their short stop solution and a destination for Manny Ramirez.
Either way, we should know by the end of this week. The Orioles are determined to resolve this issue sooner rather than later. It’s a tough situation for a struggling team, and I don’t envy them this decision.