Baltimore Orioles: "Around the Diamond": Starting Rotation

Lawrence BarrecaAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2009

This is now the tenth part in my multi-part series, “Around the Diamond”, as today we take a look at the starting rotation. Let me first start off by letting off some steam. Many O’s fans have been repeatedly saying that this team is not moving in the right direction. Here are some quotes from actual fans commenting on the Baltimore Sun:

McFail will give us more of the same year after year. We get the retreads and hasbeens blended with the youth until they can Escape to New York. Perennial contenders for fifth place each year.

"If he won't sign Brian I hope he tells us the deal Brian turned down. I bet it is below market just so he can justify trading him away.”

“The Orioles are a joke, plain and simple! When are you fans going to stop throwing your money into this team? Schmuck says McFlys plan is to throw money into player development... How? After losing out on Tex McFly is looking to sign over 36 players Redding, Hendrickson and Zaun! And how many players on the starting roster are under 30? Two! Jones and Markakis! The other starters, Mora, Huff, Izturis, Scott, Guthrie, Roberts, "No catcher - Zaun" and "No DH Listed" are all over 31! This team has no clue just like the last 11 years and they play the fans every year…”

These are just a few of the comments that I found expressing frustration towards what the O’s are still trying to accomplish: rebuild. I don’t know about everyone else, but reading those kinds of things irritates me. Well, for all of those whom agree with the comments above, I hope to make you think with this article.

Last offseason, the O’s went into the year with another subpar starting rotation. They dealt Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners, and they would acquire four pitchers in the deal: Tony Butler, Kameron Mickolio, George Sherrill, and former M’s top pitching prospect Chris Tillman. They would also acquire more talent from the Miguel Tejada deal, as the Astros would send pitchers Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, and former 'Stros’ top pitching prospect Troy Patton.

These deals left Baltimore going into Opening Day with a rotation consisting of Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera, Steve Trachsel, Garrett Olson, and Brian Burres. As many of us predicted, it didn’t turn out so well. The O’s had to have pitchers in the farm system step up, including former top-pitching prospect Radhames Liz, as well as Chris Waters, Lance Cormier, and Brian Bass.

The Orioles would end the year with a 68-93 record, dead last in the American League East standings. Something had to be done.

The O’s would go out and draft southpaw Brian Matusz in the 2008 MLB Draft. Now, the O’s have something.

However, it doesn’t all revolve around Matusz. It revolves around three pitchers at the moment: Matusz, Tillman, and a youngster by the name of Jake Arrieta. Let’s get to this year’s rotation first. Going into this season, only one thing is certain: Guthrie will be the ace. Recently, the Orioles have signed free agent lefty Mark Hendrickson to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. He is basically Daniel Cabrera for half the price. Hendrickson is not expected to bring a solid performance every fifth day, though, instead he is expected to be a stop-gap pitcher and eat innings.

Behind Hendrickson, it is a dog-pile to see who can grab the other three spots. Obviously, one choice would have to be Garrett Olson. Olson went 9-10 last season, with a 6.65 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 132.2 innings pitched. The ERA is what scares all of us. Next to Olson, we have 28 year-old Chris Waters. Last year, Waters went 3-5 with a 5.01 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched. The one highlight that many O’s fans still remember is his one-hit performance of the Los Angeles Angels on the road.

The final spot (or any spot for that matter) is left for many. We have righties Matt Albers, Radhames Liz, and Hayden Penn, and we have the lefty Troy Patton. If there is anyone out of this bunch that I would like to see succeed as a starter, it would have to be Patton. To me, Albers and Liz are destined for the bullpen, and Hayden Penn is, once again, destined for the disabled list.

So, for now, the Orioles’ starting rotation is a train-wreck. Let’s take a look into free agency to see what’s out there. First off, we have a Japanese pitcher by the name of Kenshin Kawakami. This righty will be 34 years of age come June, so rebuilding is not the plan here, yet I think that he would be a solid pickup. Here’s why: Not only will Kawakami come to Baltimore and provide leverage on a dwindling staff, he will also help in encouraging more Japanese players to think about the O’s.

For example, the Red Sox went out and got Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima. Now, many Japanese stars like the idea of playing at Fenway Park. Don’t believe me? Kawakami himself has said that he has a desire to play in Boston. As for other players in free agency, many people have expressed interest in Derek Lowe, but I believe that it would be pointless. Why sign a veteran to a multi-year deal, shell out a bunch of money, and watch his career begin to sink? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Someone else is Ben Sheets. Sheets would be a fine acquisition on a one-year deal; however, he will always be an injury risk. Besides, the O’s front office hasn’t expressed much interest with his name. Other names include Tim Redding and Braden Looper. Both could be very suitable options, and if Kawakami is not signed, then I believe that the O’s should pursue either one of them aggressively. Hey, you need someone to pitch, right?

That’s it for the free-agent market, now let’s look at trades. Before Friday night, I had nothing to write about dealing with trades, then something magical happened. The clouds opened up and I heard the choir in the background singing “Hallelujah” as I read the post. According to Roch Kubatko of MASN Online, there have been trade discussions between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox regarding a swap for Brian Roberts. He says that the O’s would deal Roberts to Chicago for starting pitcher Gavin Floyd.

Roch also believes that the O’s should request 25-year-old second baseman Chris Getz, someone whom Orioles’ scouts are high on. Here is what Roch had to say:“I'm just saying that White Sox general manager Kenny Williams would love to acquire Roberts, the Orioles apparently brought up Gavin Floyd's name, and the White Sox appear willing to trade him—probably figuring this would be a good time to move him, with his stock so high. And Chicago has a second baseman who could be included in the deal, one that the Orioles really like.”

My take: I love it! Not only would the O’s be receiving a speedy, leadoff-hitting second baseman to replace Roberts, they would also be getting one of the best young pitchers in the game.

Just imagine this rotation in the future:

1) Jeremy Guthrie: 10-12, 3.63 ERA

2) Gavin Floyd: 17-8, 3.84 ERA

3) Brian Matusz: 11-2, 1.81 ERA

4) Chris Tillman: 11-4, 3.18 ERA

5) Jake Arrieta: 6-5, 2.87 ERA

Are you drooling yet?

That’s the only trade rumor that I have heard thus far, but I’m sure that there are more yet to come. Now that we have assessed the market, let’s look within the organization. Down on the farm, the O’s have a number of pitchers whom are waiting for their grand opportunity. Many names include Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, Bradley Bergesen, Troy Patton, Bob McCrory, Brandon Erbe, Chorye Spoone, Pedro Beato, Zach Britton, and Tim Bascom.

There is only one problem: This process will take many years before it fully develops. Now, this might not be the case for Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz, due to the fact that they are lighting up the minor leagues. Look out baseball world, in about two years, the O’s will be back! But for now, all O’s fans can do is watch the master plan unfold. To all of the Orioles’ fans that have dissed MacPhail for not getting Teixeira, I have one thing to say: get a grip!

Open your eyes and look at what is happening. A new era in Baltimore baseball is in place.

It’s just not here yet.

Be sure to check out next time’s topic as we take our last look at the Baltimore bullpen.


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