General manager Dan Duquette has a difficult job. Rebuilding a team with 14 consecutive losing seasons is no easy task, and doing it while playing the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox 19 times a year only makes it harder.
The Orioles have been stockpiling young talent over the past few years. Fans have endured consistent losing while anxiously waiting for the arrival of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta to the major leagues. The plan was for these young pitchers to join ace Jeremy Guthrie in the rotation, creating a pitching staff that could counteract the huge lineups of Boston and New York.
This did not exactly pan out. Guthrie now pitches for the Rockies, Matusz is coming off a historically terrible season and Tillman and Arrieta both struggled in 2011.
The Orioles have been attempting to follow the example that the Rays set in 2008 when they won the pennant as a small-market team in the daunting AL East.
This style dictates a focus on pitching and defense as an organization and relies on the development of young players as a cheaper alternative to high-priced free agents that will inevitably find their way to a big-market club.
The Rays got some phenomenal young pitching from the likes of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, David Price and others, as well as some great hitting seasons from young stars Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford that fueled their run to the World Series. All of these players were drafted by the Rays (except Kazmir, who was received in a trade as a minor-leaguer and made his major league debut with the Rays).
The Rays also got a little luck when they signed Carlos Pena to a minor league contract in 2007, since he turned into a monster in the middle of their lineup, but good drafting and player development are mostly responsible for the Rays’ success.
The Orioles have had much less success with their young talents and certainly would not be described as a lucky franchise. Their pitching development has stalled, Brian Roberts has been consistently hurt and their golden boy Matt Wieters had a slow start at the plate (although I fully expect him to improve in 2012).
There is nothing to be gained, however, by giving up on Matusz, Tillman and Arietta. All are under the age of 27 and have shown promise in the past.
If they were to be traded, what could the Orioles possibly stand to gain from this impatience? If Guthrie was only worth Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, a mediocre starter and a bullpen addition respectively, what could they really expect to get for Matusz or Tillman?
Not that I hate the move from a front office standpoint—Guthrie was a free agent after this season anyway, Hammel can at least absorb his innings and both Hammel and Lindstrom have excellent walk to strikeout ratios. As a benchmark of the market for Baltimore pitching, however, it does not say much.
The Orioles have had a quiet offseason, suggesting that they will continue their rebuilding strategy rather than trying to make a splash with a big free agent acquisition. These kinds of acquisitions can put a team that’s close to the playoffs over the edge, but they rarely accomplish the kind of improvement that the Orioles would need in 2012.
It is important to show patience with the pitchers on the roster and to continue to allow the younger pitching talent (Bundy, Bridwell, etc.) to develop in the minors where they belong—even if just one of the current pitchers develops into a reliable starter, which would be one more reliable starter than the O’s have now.