The great white-flag debate

Should the Royals sell Ervin Santana and store more assets, or hope he'll keep them in contention? Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Before the trade deadline in 1996, then-Orioles general manager Pat Gillick assessed his team and decided to blow it up. He arranged trades of Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, believing that Baltimore’s organization needed an injection of prospects for its depleted farm system.

When you looked at that through the prism of the standings, it made complete sense: On July 28, 1996, the Orioles were 12 games out of first place.

But Baltimore owner Peter Angelos had a completely different perspective -- as someone who was focused on selling tickets, selling hope. And he thought it was a bad idea to raise the white flag on the season with more than two months to play because of what that said to paying customers.

That the Orioles surged back and advanced all the way to the American League Championship Series didn’t necessarily mean that Angelos was right and Gillick was wrong, because there have been plenty of examples of owners stepping in and killing deals for the same reason only to see their team fall out of the race.

But that example should underscore the reality that Major League Baseball teams aren’t run like Strat-O-Matic teams: They are businesses. Sure, the chances of the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies, who are both eight games out of first place, look really bad, and the same goes for the Seattle Mariners, 11 games out in the AL West.