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 his own skin.

MacPhail might not even be done with the rotation. He was adamant when asked 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 will 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 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.

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