Time for MacPhail to Set a Few of These Birds Free

July 02, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

In one of the famous lines from the movie “A Bronx Tale”, Robert DeNiro’s character tells his son that the saddest thing in the world is wasted talent, and the O’s are wasting a bunch of it. The talented Mr. MacPhail has had his magical trade machine on cruise control since winter, and on the field the O’s are getting much better than expected production from a number of surprising sources. The problem however is that since there is still not enough talent to swing the O’s into contention in the very near future, the surprising on filed contributions are largely being wasted on a season that had been written off before it even began.
Forget for a second that the once eminent trade of Brian Roberts has been a forgotten theme since the start of spring training, whether or not Roberts could still be a viable top of the order hitter when the O’s are ready to contend is still debatable. What’s not debatable however is that the O’s are getting better than expected production from a number of unlikely sources, and there are plenty of guys here who have value and won’t likely be around when better days are upon us.
Brian Roberts, who was thought to be on the market probably saw diminished trade value after a slow start to the season, but a strong June has redeemed Roberts and he remains the O’s most valuable trade commodity. But speaking of diminishing value, both Daniel Cabrera and George Sherrill saw each of their stocks reach an all time high early in this season, and may both be slipping with each and every appearance now. For these two in particular and Aubrey Huff too, the time to move them is now.
Daniel Cabrera may go down as the most frustrating Oriole in history. Right up there with Jeffrey Hammonds, Ben McDonald, Larry Bigbie and Rick Schu, Cabrera’s talent has been evident to anyone following him over the last five years. Just as evident however is his inability to string together any type of success and his inability to locate pitches and command the strike zone. What sets Cabrera apart from those other frustrating birds is that his problems seem to be more mental than physical, and what’s even more alarming is the fact that he’s never had to pitch in anything close to a big game in his tenure with the O’s.
Earlier in this season, Cabrera looked to have turned the page. He had Rick Kranitz looking like a genius and was quickly becoming the emerging O’s storyline in an otherwise hopeless season. The O’s missed out on the short window of opportunity they may have had to shop Cabrera as an ace or near ace, and he is quickly climbing back to mediocrity and up the MLB walks leaders list.
There is still probably a very good market for Cabrera. Scouts and fans alike have always been intrigued by his physical gifts, and let’s face it there just isn’t a wealth of pitching talent in MLB in general. In comparison to the high asking price for a rental in CC Sabathia, there are certainly a number of GMs who’d see Cabrera as a “poor man’s” alternative to the Sabathia sweepstakes. Given the number of pitching coaches who have been unable to straighten him out, the bottom is probably dropping more quickly on Cabrera’s value than any other Oriole. And lastly, am I wrong for at least being suspicious of Cabrera’s listed age of 27, given his Dominican background and length of service in MLB already?
When it comes to George Sherrill the decision seems much easier. The Bedard trade was about Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, George Sherrill was virtually a throw in. He was a 31-year-old spot reliever with less than 150 innings pitched in 195 major league appearances over 4 years. He won the closer’s job by default, and has had the benefit of being put into a lot of save situations by the pesky birds. Sherrill has arguably exploited a league that is mostly unfamiliar with him. The league has begun to catch up with him over the past few games, and his job will get progressively more difficult as he starts to see hitters for the second and third and fourth times around.
 Sherrill’s value, like Cabrera’s seems to be plummeting by the day, and moving him quickly seems prudent. Given the market for Brian Fuentes, Sherrill would absolutely be a hot commodity if made available right now. If the O’s were able to parlay Sherrill into 3 or 4 more prospects, it’d make the Bedard deal legendary. Andy MacPhail needs to remember the feeling that he had back in February and March and not get caught up in this hoopla over a good half season.
And the last guy who absolutely has to go, sooner rather than later is Aubrey Huff. Not only does dumping Huff allow you to rid yourself of a contract that you would have rather been without prior to the start of the season, but it also turns a big negative into a positive for O’s fans and the city of Baltimore in general. Huff entered this season as public enemy number one. The chance to boo him was one of the only enticements to go to the ballpark before we understood the identity of this young core. To his credit, Huff has let his bat do the talking for him throughout the season, and his bat has done him a lot more justice than his banter.
Major league GMs are well aware of Huff’s propensity to put up monster numbers in the second halves of seasons, the fact that he is this dialed in, this early certainly puts his value at an all time high. Sure, he’s the closest thing to a middle of the order hitter on the roster and the only player on the roster capable of providing Markakis with a modicum of protection in the lineup. But if Markakis is going to develop into the player that we all hope he can be, than he’ll have to get used to being pitched around, he’ll have to figure out that part of his game.
Isn’t that what this season was supposed to be about in the first place? Weren’t these baby birds supposed to be learning on the fly, the hard way, at the major league level? I’m not sure how we got away from that vision in the first place. The players and the manager should believe that they can win, and probably would be upset if the team started shipping players out. But the front office is supposed to know better, they’re supposed to be doing the big picture thinking.
It’s time for the O’s to start unloading players to contenders where they can put their talents to use. It’s time to open up the doors for some more young talent to figure it out at the major league level. And it’s time to put Andy MacPhail’s talent as a talent evaluator and trade engineer back to use. There’s nothing sadder than wasted talent.