By Peter Schmuck
3:27 PM EST, February 6, 2012
Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie has been the cornerstone of the Orioles' starting rotation for the past few years, which is probably not saying a whole lot, but you still have to give him credit for going out there and taking one -- or 17, in the case of 2011 -- for the team. He was a good soldier and he is a pretty good pitcher, but he's in a better place now.
No one should be surprised that he's gone. He would otherwise have spent Monday morning in an arbitration hearing, hoping to be awarded more than $10 million for a season in which he led the majors in losses for the second time in the last three seasons. Don't know if he would have won the case, but the Orioles weren't taking any chances. New executive vice president Dan Duquette would rather stockpile lower-priced pitchers and hope that there really is strength in numbers. The good news is, we won't have to wait long to find out now that the Super Bowl is over and the equipment trucks are rumbling toward Sarasota.
The deal for two unheralded major league pitchers (Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom) isn't going to turn the Orioles into an AL East contender. It's really not even going to save much money, since both of them will combine to make more than $8 million and the Orioles might have won the arbitration case against Guthrie and been on the hook for only $7.25 million. This was about what former GM Andy MacPhail called "building inventory." The Orioles went into last year depending too heavily on their young pitching and Duquette has spent his first O's offseason building organizational pitching depth.
He already has made his goal clear. He wants to finish at .500 or better this year, which seems like a stretch unless Brian Matusz is the Comeback Player of the Year and Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton each take another developmental leap. That could happen, but the Orioles have already proven the folly of banking on the best-case scenario.
The $10 million question, however, is pretty obvious. Did the Orioles have a better chance of reaching .500 this year with Guthrie, or will they be better off without him?
My guess is that they would be better with him, but that doesn't mean they should not have traded him. He will be eligible for free agency at the end of this season, so his name would have been at the top of the rumor list all season. There's a case to be made that he would have garnered more value at the end of spring training or in July, but that has to be based on the presumption that he will pitch well and stay healthy. It'll be interesting to see how Guthrie handles the pressure of this coming contract year.
It'll also be interesting to see how he pitches in the thin air of Denver and how much he benefits from an NL West schedule that doesn't include 36 games against the Yankees and Red Sox.
Orioles fans should wish him well. He was a solid citizen and a positive guy working under very negative conditions the past five years. This looks like a good deal for him. At first glance, it doesn't look that good for the Orioles.