Crop rotation: Pitching staff of future now thing of past

The Baltimore Sun

Hayden Penn is gone from the Orioles. That makes Penn look bad, and makes Andy MacPhail look pretty good, for right now.

As for Mike Flanagan, Jim Beattie and Jim Duquette, if you see them, give them a hug. They don't look bad or good in light of this, just unlucky.

It was on their collective watches, in various combinations from roughly 2002 to 2007, that Penn joined with Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera as the Rotation of the Future, the one around which the renaissance of the Orioles was being built. Remember when Leo Mazzone was going to guide those arms to greatness, when he was the final piece to the puzzle? You should; it was only three springs ago.

Now, within the past 14 months, via trade, release and bizarre free-agent departure, all four pitchers have been dispersed elsewhere. That makes MacPhail a genius only in knowing, in most of those instances, when to give up on the dream.

He certainly can't afford even a private smile about it, either, not to imply that he wants one. MacPhail is trying to lay his own pitching foundation. Better luck on his dream than on the one he replaced. Because that largely is what took the old one down. The previous management wasn't wrong on those young pitchers, individually or collectively. They simply didn't have enough health, good timing or plain dumb luck.

They weren't the only ones, and this wasn't the only franchise. This still isn't an exact science. What teams even have that kind of quartet, that you don't have to think about, that you can build around now or down the line? The World Series contenders have a couple of lockdown starters at most - the New York Yankees, for instance, who bought theirs. Three is a luxury; four is a miracle. Rotations get patched together all sorts of ways. Drafting the members over a short span of time, then lining them up and marching them into history together, that's a wish you hope really hard to come true.

Instead, what comes true is this: monster talent that never gets harnessed (Cabrera), an attitude that doesn't match the arm (Bedard), a body that becomes depressingly fragile (Loewen) and a weird blend of all of the above (Penn). Plus the chronic Orioles problem of not getting any other segment of the franchise in order, to give them a window to grow up.

If nothing else, you would think the odds of one of them fulfilling his potential was pretty good, but they went 0-for-4.

Still, to laugh too heartily at the guys who made that call for banking on that foursome is too harsh. And too premature. We're hearing the same song with different names about this version of the Orioles. It's bleak now, but hold on, the cavalry's coming, and it's heavily armed.

Everybody is saying it, including MacPhail. Everybody surely is also hoping the same story won't be written about the young pitchers on the farm that is being written today about Penn, Cabrera, Bedard and Loewen. Just don't be too shocked or angry if it is.

It's not those front office clowns or those underachieving pitchers or something else undefinable that we can blame on Peter Angelos. It's just baseball.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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