The Baltimore Orioles had one member of their rotation they knew they could depend on, a pitcher who had started on Opening Day in three of the last four seasons, and had provided stability among a group of unproven youngsters.
Now he's gone.
Baltimore shipped right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies Monday morning for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom.
The Orioles designated left-handed specialist Clay Rapada for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Dan Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations, thanked Guthrie for all he had done with the franchise while describing his two new acquisitions as "dependable, durable and qualified" pitchers.
"We spoke to a number of teams about Jeremy Guthrie and we recognize that Jeremy's been a dependable pitcher for us," Duquette said. "With arbitration looming with Jeremy Guthrie and also free agency at the end of the year, we thought this was a good opportunity to make a trade that strengthens our ballclub with a solid major-league starting pitcher and also a quality reliever in the bullpen."
The Orioles gave the 32-year-old Guthrie his first legitimate shot to pitch in the majors after claiming him off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in 2007. He repaid them by going 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA in 161 appearances (153 starts) over five years with the club.
He tossed at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons, but also led the American League in losses twice and allowed homers at a high rate (1.2 per nine innings) during that time.
"We've been trying to find an innings-eater and somebody who's pitched at the top of a rotation," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd told reporters. "Someone who understands how to handle that. Certainly, in Jeremy's case, he's been that type of player with the Orioles."
The Orioles were scheduled to have an arbitration hearing with Guthrie Monday, where he was set to earn close to $10 million for 2012.
Guthrie was caught off-guard by the trade.
"It was bittersweet," Guthrie told reporters. "I appreciate my teammates and the fans in Baltimore. ... I'm very excited at the prospects of coming to Colorado and pitching for a team built to win now. I hope I can go in there and do what I do and help the team."
In exchange, Baltimore brought back two major-league hurlers, neither of whom have a similar pedigree to Guthrie. But Duquette expressed hope they could both be improved now that they don't play half their games in Coors Field.
Hammel is a 6-foot-6 right-hander who has gone 34-45 with a 4.99 ERA in 169 games (115 starts) with the Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays. He has thrown between 170 and 178 innings in each of the last three seasons and struck out three times as many as he walked in two of those campaigns.
Although the 29-year-old pitched to a 4.76 ERA in 2011 and was demoted to Colorado's bullpen last August, his ground-ball rate (43.9 percent), versatility and strong finish made him attractive. Hammel posted a 1.85 ERA over his final seven games (two starts).
"I was able to learn some things about myself and really take some steps in the pitching mentally part of the game at the end of the season last year," he said. "I'm excited to go join the rotation with the Orioles and just see if I can help out the team any way that I can."
Hammel spent three years in the AL East with the Rays, going 7-15 with a 5.90 ERA in 73 games split between the bullpen and rotation, and acknowledged he's looking forward to the challenge of returning there.
Lindstrom, who turns 32 Saturday, has posted a solid 3.81 ERA in 312 relief appearances over five seasons with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Rockies.
The hard-throwing right-hander went 2-2 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA in 63 appearances last year after converting 38 of 46 save opportunities over the previous two seasons.
"Matt has shown to be a dependable late-inning reliever," Duquette said. "I like a power arm at the end of the game and we've got a couple for [manager Buck Showalter] in Jim Johnson and now Matt Lindstrom. I like the manager having that kind of strength in the bullpen."
Lindstrom seemed excited about the possibility of closing again after being used as a set-up man by the Rockies.
"I definitely look forward to the opportunity to go out there and help close games down," he said. "Whether it be in the seventh eighth or ninth inning, I kind of use the same mindframe and approach every time I go out there. But I definitely look forward to the opportunity of maybe getting some of those save chances."
The deal leaves the club with 11 pitchers competing for five starting spots. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen and right-handers Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta and Hammel are likely in the rotation with the other spot up for grabs.
In the end, it boils down to adding two major-league pitchers for the price of one, both of whom are under team control through 2013 where Guthrie is slated to become a free agent after this season.
Hammel will make $4.75 million and Lindstrom is set to earn $3.6 million in 2012, so the two combine to make a salary about the same as Guthrie would have.
"I am happy with the pitchers that we've added," Duquette said, "because I think they'll make us more competitive."
NOTE: Duquette said he has had exploratory talks with Manny Ramirez's agent and the team has seen him work out. But Duquette added that he is still evaluating whether it's the right move for the organization to bring in a player like Ramirez, who is suspended for the first 50 games of this season for a failed drug test.