When the Orioles were in extensive trade talks with the Chicago Cubs last year about Brian Roberts, they wanted young outfielder Felix Pie and were told that he was unavailable.
Yesterday, with the Cubs running out of both patience and opportunity for their one-time top prospect, they sent him to the Orioles for starting pitcher Garrett Olson and Single-A pitcher Henry Williamson.
The trade was Orioles president Andy MacPhail's latest attempt to make the team's roster younger and more athletic, and add to the organization's young position-player depth, which has been lacking for years. Pie, who turns 24 next month, has struggled in brief stints with the Cubs the past two seasons, but the Orioles are enamored of his tools and plan to give him an extended big league opportunity.
Pie said he is happy to go to the Orioles and get a chance to play "every day."
"I had the opportunity to play every day in the minors, and everybody knew me in the minors," Pie said. "In the big leagues, it was a little different. It was up and down and up and down, and I didn't get a chance to show people that I can play every day and I can be a superstar. Now, I can show everybody what they are getting from me."
Pie, a left-handed hitter, is likely to be used in a left-field platoon with Ryan Freel and be the main backup for Adam Jones in center field and Nick Markakis in right. His addition also means that, at least for now, Luke Scott, who started 100 games in left field last year, will become the team's everyday designated hitter and Aubrey Huff the team's regular first baseman.
"We're excited to have Felix," said MacPhail, who was the general manager of the Cubs when they signed the Dominican Republic native as an amateur free agent in 2001. " ... He's an excellent defender with a plus arm, great speed. We think he'll hit in the major leagues. We'll give him an opportunity to show it. We're going to be patient with him."
In parts of two seasons with the Cubs, Pie had a .223 average (58-for-260) with three homers, 30 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. In parts of seven minor league seasons, Pie has a career average of .299 with 62 home runs and 317 RBIs in 627 games.
Pie was out of options and would have had a hard time cracking the Cubs' Opening Day roster after their offseason additions of outfielders Milton Bradley and Joey Gathright.
"He's going to be with us all year," MacPhail said of Pie. "Our guys think he'll be able to make the adjustments. It stays with our trying to get younger and more athletic ... and putting more emphasis on defense in the outfield. I can't imagine there is a better defensive outfield in the game when we have Adam, Felix and Nick out there."
Pie has played left in only three big league games and said he hasn't played there in the minors.
"I think I am going to be OK in left field. I get an opportunity to play now. I'll be in spring training and I know my situation, and I'll help my team win."
MacPhail acknowledged that he hadn't acquired a first baseman largely because he had hoped this deal would go through. He reiterated that he is comfortable with Huff at first base and expects Scott to still play some in left field.
"I'd like to play the outfield, to tell you the truth, but if I was DH'ing a few days a week, it wouldn't be bad," Scott said. "I always say, whatever they want me to do, I'll do my best at it."
The trade of Olson leaves the Orioles' rotation even more in flux. The left-hander, 25, was 10-13 with a 6.87 ERA in 33 starts for the Orioles the past two seasons, and with Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara seemingly the only two locks for the rotation, Olson was a front-runner to secure one of the remaining three spots. Now, Radhames Liz and Hayden Penn have better chances to make the rotation, though MacPhail hasn't ruled out adding a free agent.
"I got the call from [MacPhail] this morning, and it did catch me by surprise," Olson said. "It kind of hit me strange. It is exciting, a new challenge. But part of me is also sad to be leaving. It's like a family in Baltimore."
Williamson, the Orioles' 14th-round selection in the 2007 draft, went 0-1 with a 3.72 ERA (12 earned runs in 29 innings pitched) in 20 games with short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva last season.
Note: : MacPhail said there had been no movement in contract-extension talks with Markakis. The Baltimore Sun reported Saturday that the Orioles are close to signing Markakis to a six-year deal worth between $64 million and $66 million in guaranteed money. "We're close, but we're not quite there yet," MacPhail said yesterday.
AS THE ROTATION TURNS
With yesterday's trade of Garrett Olson, the Orioles' rotation picture got even cloudier. Only Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are locks, leaving three open spots from a pool of candidates (2008 record and ERA in parentheses).
Matt Albers, RHP (3-3, 3.49 ERA)
His shoulder issues make it hard for the Orioles to count on him.
Danys Baez, RHP (did not pitch)
He hasn't started since 2002, but the Orioles are serious about giving him a shot.
Brian Bass, RHP (4-4, 4.84)
He's probably more likely to make the roster as a long reliever than a starter.
Brian Burres, LHP (7-10, 6.04)
He has an uphill battle to regain a rotation spot after starting 22 times in 2008.
Mark Hendrickson, LHP (7-8, 5.45)
Orioles officials would prefer him in the bullpen, but they might have no choice.
Brad Hennessey, RHP (1-2, 7.81)
Team officials think this minor league invitee will stick and possibly start.
Radhames Liz, RHP (6-6, 6.72)
Will need to prove he has developed secondary pitches to crack the rotation.
Troy Patton, LHP (did not pitch)
Coming off shoulder surgery, he's likely headed to Double-A or Triple-A.
Hayden Penn, RHP (6-7, 4.79 in Triple-A)
The former top prospect is out of options, so it's now or never.
Chris Waters, LHP (3-5, 5.01)
Held his own in 11 starts last year but will need to do more this spring.
Note: : Baez and Patton missed the entire 2008 season because of elbow and shoulder surgeries, respectively.