The Orioles downplayed the likelihood of making a significant deal at the Winter Meetings -- and I suppose there are some people who are going to downplay the significance of the deal they made -- but acquiring veteran starter Kevin Millwood was a pretty good way to kick off Andy MacPhail's winter upgrade program.
No, he's not Roy Halladay, but he's a solid veteran who was a good influence on the young players in the Texas Rangers clubhouse last season, and he's the guy who is going to take the monkey off Jeremy Guthrie's back in 2010.
Guthrie did everything he could to fill the No. 1 starter role the past two years, but everybody knew it was too much responsibility for him, and he wilted under the weight of it last season. Millwood will assume that role, which should make everybody in the rotation more comfortable in their own skin.
The trade is just as important from a public relations and marketing standpoint because it sends a signal that the Orioles are serious about improving the team for 2010. MacPhail has to follow up with several more acquisitions over the next couple of months, but he has made good on a key priority with plenty of time left to concentrate on upgrading the corner infield positions and the bullpen.
He may not even be done with the rotation. He was adamant when the first question was posed about the possibility of gambling on one of the risky free agent starters -- such as former Oriole Erik Bedard -- contending that the Millwood deal made that more rather than less likely.
"We're still in the pitching business,'' MacPhail said. "I don't think with the first move, we could afford to have that kind of risk. Now, we have some latitude to take a flyer."
That's good news. The Orioles are going to have to catch a little lightning in a bottle to be more competitive this season. If they could get lucky with one of the high-risk pitchers on reasonable terms it would open up the possibility -- however slim -- of a competitive breakthrough.
There's still much to do, but it has to be a big relief for Orioles fans to know that some real work has begun.
Associated Press photo