Give Flanagan, Duquette a hand for two new arms

The Baltimore Sun

In the whirlwind of anticipation that has come with the hiring of new Orioles president Andy MacPhail, I think it's only fair to retroactively give a little credit where a lot of credit is due.

It's only fair because baseball operations vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette might otherwise be left to hold the bag full of failure that has been passed from one Orioles front office to the next over the past decade or so.

So, from all of us critics and - I'm sure - all of the club's remaining fans, thank you for stealing Jeremy Guthrie from the Cleveland Indians and thank you for taking a chance on Brian Burres.

The 2007 season hasn't exactly been a barrel of laughs, but I don't even want to think about what the first half would have been like without those two happy surprises.

We might still be waxing nostalgic for the Kris Benson era if Guthrie had not emerged as one of the brightest young starters in either league and Burres had not settled into another gaping hole in the starting rotation.

Guthrie, in particular, has turned his temp job into a more permanent place in the organization's pitching future. The Orioles already are looking forward to opening spring training next year with Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Guthrie as the cornerstones of a very promising young rotation.

Burres could be in that mix, too, but he has displayed the kind of versatility that might make him more valuable as a swing guy in the bullpen.

(Note to self: This Kool-Aid isn't half bad.)

Right now, most of the organizational excitement is centered on Guthrie, and rightfully so. He has been so solid and so consistent that it's not a stretch to say he might be headed for the All-Star Game in San Francisco if he had gotten any kind of run support and bullpen help.

He made his 12th start Sunday and suffered his second loss of the season, but even in his worst start of the year, he gave up only four runs on four hits over eight innings. He has given up two runs or fewer in 10 of his 12 turns in the rotation.

It's early, of course - Bruce Chen had a pretty good run here a couple of years ago - but this guy isn't doing it with mirrors. He throws hard, and he's opening eyes wherever he goes.

Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia told me over the weekend that he's heard hitters - in his clubhouse and on other teams - say Guthrie has some of the "nastiest stuff" they've seen all season.

I bring all this up for two reasons: first to reinforce the notion that there are some good things happening right now, even if the results have the same sour taste as the past nine seasons; and second, to caution the Orioles not to take this potential pitching renaissance for granted.

The old saw that you can never have enough pitching is 100 percent true. Just ask Benson, Jaret Wright, Hayden Penn, Adam Loewen and now Steve Trachsel, all of whom are on various disabled lists.

The Orioles will be tempted to focus largely on upgrading the batting order as MacPhail works to make the team more competitive in 2008, and nobody is going to complain if the O's land an Andruw Jones or (dare we dream) a Mark Teixeira to punch up the lineup. But the good teams also look to get stronger in the areas where they already have strength.

The Orioles got into the mess they're in by convincing themselves at several junctures over the past 10 years that they were just a best-case scenario away from being competitive. It would be easy to look at their stable of young pitchers and do the same thing again during the offseason, especially with other priorities looming.

Of course, I'd love to be in the room when MacPhail tries to explain to Peter Angelos why he should spend $100 million on Carlos Zambrano or Mark Buehrle, but that kind of bold move just might be the key to a playoff run in 2008.

It also would create the kind of roster flexibility that might actually lead to a trade for the big bat that completes a long-awaited organizational turnaround.

Just thinking out loud.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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