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The Orioles' auction

A year ago at this time, the Indians already were 8-14, a good indicator of where they were headed. Yet the team's higher-ups insisted that neither Cliff Lee nor Victor Martinez would be traded.

Both men were under control for 2010, the higher-ups said, and in the competitive AL Central, a team with an ace starting pitcher and a slugging catcher was well on its way to contention. A few tweaks here and there, and the Indians could make a run for it in '10.

But the Cleveland economy had just been decimated, so as the non-waivers trading deadline approached last July 31, the Indians unloaded both Lee and Martinez, in deals that were generally regarded as losses for Cleveland.

Moral of the story: Most of the time, it's too early at this time to know who will buy and who will sell in the baseball market. People keep asking at this time, because people love trade gossip. It drives Web traffic. But it's just too darn early.

The Padres, for instance, reside in first place in the NL West at the moment, so they sure as heck aren't trading Adrian Gonzalez if they actually stay in the race.- but it's too early to know whether they can actually stay in the race.

Every now and then, however, you have a perfect storm that creates a seller right now. In which it's not too early.

Come on down, Baltimore Orioles.

The whole "Best fourth-place team in baseball" thing hasn't come to be, not with a 4-17 record after last night's loss to the Yankees. They occupy fifth place in the AL East, naturally, as they've been subpar all over the field.

You can't overcome a 4-17 record in the AL East, not with the Yankees being the Yankees, the Rays playing out of their minds and the Red Sox waking up.

The Orioles still have a bright future, thanks to their strong farm system. And if you're looking for a silver lining to this Baltimore cloud, you need to look no further than to check out their tradeable assets, enough of whom are performing well. The Orioles, under president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, can drive this trade market.

MacPhail spent the winter acquiring a handful of veterans, the thinking being, "They'll help us contend, but if we don't contend, they'll bring us more young talent in a trade." Plan B already is upon us. Here's a look at the key players:

Kevin Millwood: He's in his contract year, and the Orioles are paying him $9 million for the season, with the Rangers picking up the other $3 million. So if MIllwood gets dealt at the season's halfway point, the acquiring team would have to pay him a manageable $4.5 million.

Millwood carries that aura of "veteran who won't crumble under pressure," so that could carry a little extra weight with a team like...yes, the Mets, who are always looking for public approval in addition to actually improving their team.

Of course, when it comes to starting pitching, you can expect a healthy bidding war. The most obvious teams looking for starters, besides the Mets, would be the Phillies and Ddogers, although financial constraints could handcuff the Dodgers. Then again, you could see the Orioles being open to a "We'll pay the salary if you give us good prospects" deals that the Dodgers made for Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake two years ago.

Miguel Tejada. He can still hit some, and the early defensive reviews at his new position are not discouraging. So who can use a new third baseman, not to mention a positive clubhouse presence? The Twins. The Cardinals. The Angels. The Mariners. With Tejada making just $6 million for the season, he could bring back a decent prospect or two.

Ty Wigginton: Many of the same teams could be in play for him as well as Tejada, plus Wigginton can help out at second base, first base or the corner outfield spots. He's making a reasonable $3.5 million this year. Shoot, the Red Sox could get in on him, if Gonzalez stays with the Padres and Boston's offense remains a concern.

Mark Hendrickson: It tends to be a buyers' market for relievers, so it's not like Hendrickson would bring back a franchise player. But he could get a useful body in return, if he stays healthy and productive.

MacPhail's long-term plan remains viable, so it's pretty much time now to start planning for next year. Start scouting potential trade partners. Remember, next year, the Rays will likely lower their payroll, so the AL East won't be quite as intimidating. The O's might as well prepare to stock up for that battle.

Besides, no one's coming to Camden Yards now, anyway, and of those who do attend, you'd think they'd get what the Orioles are trying to do. And they'd still have the team's real core - Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Matusz - to watch develop.

 --Here's my column off yesterday's Mets game, wondering what in the world is going on with these guys.

--The Mets are fired up for their weekend in Philadelphia.

--Fernando Nieve offered an interesting analogy when discussing his success out of the bullpen.

--The Mets won despite some heavy winds, which in turn created a garbage storm of sorts on the field.

--The Yankees won, as we mentioned, but Jorge Posada left the game after getting hit in the right knee by Jeremy Guthrie, who has become one of the Yankees' least popular opposing players.

--Curtis Granderson broke out of a slump with two hits. He also (didn't really) received a new uniform.

--Baseball announced some unexciting tweaks to the All-Star Game.

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