As soon as I got the email that alerted me to the deal that sent Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado in exchange for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, I had to take a moment or two to regain my composure. I'm sure most Baltimore Orioles fans know the feeling of which I speak.
In all honesty, my first thought echoed the sentiment posited by O's beat writer Roch Kubatko (MASN). He stated in his review of the trade, "On the surface, I don't love the trade. In fact, my first reaction was, 'That's all they got for him?'"
Dan Duquette, the Orioles newly christened executive vice president, offered a different opinion on a conference call with reporters, saying that "we didn't have any offers of young prospects for Jeremy, but I'm happy with the pitchers we added. They'll make us more competitive."
Before we go any further, let's take a moment to examine the players the O's got in return for Guthrie.
Hammel is a six-year veteran who just turned 29 this past September. He was selected in the 10th round of the 2002 draft by Tampa and has bounced around from the team that drafted him to Colorado and now to Baltimore. He started out in the big leagues as a reliever, and he was pretty ineffective in that role. He really began to blossom after a 2009 move to the rotation, one that coincided with his move to the National League. In three seasons with the Rockies, Hammel went 27-30 with a 4.63 ERA and a 2.34 strikeout/walk ratio.
Lindstrom, 31, is an Idaho native who was drafted out of high school by the Mets the same year the Rays drafted Hammel. He reached the majors one year later and has put together a successful career as a reliever. He posted a 3.88 ERA in three seasons with the Marlins, who acquired him in 2008, and saved a career-high 23 games in his lone season with the Astros. He had one of the strongest seasons of his career in 2011, posting a 3.00 ERA and allowing just three home runs in 54 innings.
Okay, now to the debate, and by debate I mean the one I had in my head after learning of the news. It went a little something like this:
Optimistic Zach: "Alright! The O's picked up two quality players and I no longer have the 'agida' over whether or not the team is going to trade Guthrie."
Pessimistic Zach: "Are you kidding!?! 'Quality players?' Is that what you call a guy with a career ERA one shade away from 5.00? Hammel couldn't hack it with the Rays back when they had the Devil in them. And Lindstrom? We're trading away 200 guaranteed innings for a middle reliever? You've got to be kidding me!"
Opto-Zach: "Whoa there, cool the jets. You might not think Hammel and Lindstrom are much, but you keep forgetting that Guthrie lost 17 games last season...and 17 three years ago. In fact, he's lost 48 games the past three seasons. You're sad to see that go?"
Pessi-Zach: "Indeed I am! At least Guthrie was a proven commodity. He may have lost more games than any other pitcher during that time period, but he also cracked the 200-inning mark in those three seasons. And he provided a reassuring presence for a team whose rotation was stacked with young talent."
Opto-Zach: "That same 'young talent' that looked so strong in 2011? Like Brian Matusz, who set Major League records for most home runs allowed per nine innings and worst ERA for a pitcher with at least 10 starts? Or Chris Tillman, who alternated between no-hitter stuff and no-out stuff?"
Pessi-Zach: "Yeah, yeah, yeah...let's get back to the main point of my argument, which is...the Orioles could have gotten more for Guthrie."
Opto-Zach: "I dunno, you heard Duquette. He said there were no real prospect offers coming for Guthrie. This is the guy who built the Red Sox into championship contenders here...I think we should believe him."
Pessi-Zach: "Oh, you mean the guy who got fired the season before the Sox broke the curse? Yeah, let's believe that guy."
Opto-Zach: "Back to the point. I like the additions of Hammel and Lindstrom. Hammel can take Guthrie's spot atop the rotation and he can act as a mentor to the younger guys. Lindstrom provides a veteran presence in the bullpen. He's been consistent throughout his career in the bigs and could be the very stabilizing presence the team has been looking for."
Pessi-Zach: "You leave out the most important part: the fact that Hammel is nearly 30, and Lindstrom is over 30. Both guys are on the backslide of their careers and offer no hope to the 'baby Birds.' You think watching Hammel get shelled every fifth night in the A.L. East is going to help build confidence in Zach Britton and Matusz? I think not."
Opto-Zach: "That's just shortsighted. Not every player acquired through a trade is going to be a star. And what's the difference is Hammel isn't Cy Young worthy? It's not like the O's are competing for a spot inside the top four in the East. If they want to go out and get Clayton Kershaw in a few years when they feel they'll be more competitive, who's to say they won't do that? Hammel is the right guy at the right time for the right team."
Pessi-Zach: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but I'll look past your stupidity to bash Lindstrom a bit. Did you happen to notice that his strikeout rate (K/9) has been on the decline for three consecutive seasons? Or that he struck out a career-low 36 batters in 2011?"
Opto-Zach: "Did you also happen to notice that he walked a career-low 14 batters? I too can quote Baseball Reference."
Pessi-Zach: "Ooooh, look at you!"
Opto-Zach: "Shut it! All I'm saying is that they got what they could for Guthrie, given the circumstances, and that they should be content to move on with a roster that got better at one position (relief pitcher) and younger at the other (starting pitcher)."
Pessi-Zach: "Yeah, because contentment is what wins ball games, especially in the East. They still could have gotten more."
Opto-Zach: "What is this 'more' you keep referring to? Nobody is going to offer top-notch prospects for a guy who averaged 15 losses per year. Detroit isn't going to throw down Jacob Turner. The Mets aren't looking to deal Zach Wheeler, who coincidentally we probably should have drafted instead of Matt Hobgood in '09, for a back-end starter, which is what Guthrie really is. The fact that Colorado has a pretty deep farm system, and that we weren't able to squeeze anybody under the age of 29, tells you all you need to know about Guthrie's worth on the market."
Pessi-Zach: "So where do we go from here? We have a starting rotation anchored by Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter, potentially backed up by two Asian imports (Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada), and closed out by any number of the team's underperforming youngsters (Matusz, Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Britton and Brad Bergesen). That sounds like a recipe for 100 losses and a last-place finish."
Opto-Zach: "This is Baltimore. That sounds like progress."
Pessi-Zach: "Let's just agree to disagree on the worth of the new guys and agree to agree that we're screwed."
And that's pretty much how things went down. In the end, I'm still not sure whether or not it was a good idea to deal Guthrie for two average big-leaguers, but they are bodies with proven track records in the majors, so I guess it's not all bad.