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Schmuck: Orioles shouldn't regret seeing their former pitchers excel elsewhere

It's just too easy. Every time the Orioles rotation suffers through a string of difficult performances, there's a natural inclination to look around the majors at all their former players pitching elsewhere and wonder if baseball operations chief Dan Duquette knows what the heck he's doing.

The obvious second-guess is always Jake Arrieta, who couldn't get out of his own way in the Orioles organization and quickly morphed into a Cy Young Award winner after he was traded to the Chicago Cubs.

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That one really is too easy, because the Orioles never figured Arrieta out and he obviously was a major talent.

However, the pitchers who actually fuel the narrative now aren't on that level and — in most cases — moving them either to bulk up for a playoff run or to ease a roster crunch seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.

The subject came up again this past week when the Los Angeles Angels called up recent Orioles prospect Parker Bridwell, who was traded in April for cash or a player to be named. The 25-year-old right-hander stepped into the Angels rotation for a spot start Tuesday night and pitched a solid six innings against the Atlanta Braves to get his first major league victory.

Parker Bridwell of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 30, 2017 in Anaheim, Calif.
Parker Bridwell of the Los Angeles Angels pitches during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 30, 2017 in Anaheim, Calif. (Harry How / Getty Images)

He was quickly sent back to the minor leagues and who knows whether he will evolve into a guy who can pitch like that on a regular basis? But it still rankles fans to see a fresh young pitcher succeed somewhere else — even for just one game — after watching Ubaldo Jiménez struggle through start after start while collecting a huge salary.

Soon enough, the talk always turns to the former Orioles prospects who have stuck at the major league level.

For instance, Brewers starter Zach Davies, who was traded for outfielder Gerardo Parra at the 2015 nonwaiver trade deadline, has a 19-12 record in parts of three seasons in Milwaukee.

Parra batted just .237 for the Orioles as they failed to reach the postseason that year. So, that deal doesn't look very good, but let's not get carried away. Davies, 24, might be a member of the Orioles rotation now if that trade wasn't made, but he also might be the luckiest 5-3 pitcher in the National League with that 5.18 ERA.

The Orioles already have more than their fair share of high-ERA guys.

The deal that sent 27-year-old left-hander Ariel Miranda to the Seattle Mariners for Wade Miley at the 2016 trade deadline certainly didn't look too good at the end of last season. Miranda finished with a 5-2 record and a 3.54 ERA with the Mariners last year while Miley struggled to a 2-5 record and a 6.17 ERA. Miranda has a 5-2 record so far this season and can back that up with solid ratios at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. That looks pretty good next to Miley's 2-3 record, but that comparison has to be tempered by Miley's 2.82 ERA pitching most of his games in one of the American League's coziest ballparks.

Duquette is not going to apologize for those deals, each of which was made with the intention of strengthening the Orioles for a possible playoff run. He also traded highly prized left-handed prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the rival Boston Red Sox at the 2014 deadline for terrific reliever Andrew Miller, who had a major impact on the Orioles' late-season drive to the AL East title.

Sure, it's galling when Rodriguez jacks up a big game against the Orioles. But that deal paid off for the Orioles on the front end and it always figured to pay off for the Red Sox on the back end. Rodriguez, 24, has a 17-15 record over parts of three seasons and had pitched well against his old team (3-3, 3.46 ERA in eight starts) before giving up four home runs in Thursday night's loss. He likely would be in the Orioles rotation now in an alternate reality, but you can't have it both ways.

Or, at least, you have to look at the whole picture. Duquette has made some terrific deals to lift the team out of a string of 14 losing seasons and into a span of five-plus seasons in which the Orioles have the most regular-season victories in the AL.

Every team makes deals it ultimately regrets. Just ask the Mariners, who have a history of feeding good players to the Orioles. Andy MacPhail pulled off a very lopsided trade in 2008, getting Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, All-Star closer George Sherrill and two other players for oft-injured starting pitcher Erik Bedard. Duquette also engineered a big Seattle steal in 2015 when he acquired 2016 major league home run champion Mark Trumbo for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger. This past offseason, Duquette sent struggling starter Yovani Gallardo to the Mariners for solid right fielder Seth Smith.

Don't know if those kind of things even out, but you would have to believe the Mariners would happily send Miranda back to the Orioles for Jones, a healthy Tillman or Trumbo.

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Duquette is known for stockpiling low-risk minor league arms, almost to a fault. But one of those relatively obscure pitchers evolved into All-Star setup man (and current closer) Brad Brach, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres for then-interesting prospect Devin Jones before the 2014 season. Brach had a couple of decent seasons as a middle guy with the Padres, but he has become a cornerstone of one of baseball's best bullpens and Jones never surfaced in the big leagues.

Don't misunderstand. The Orioles are not above criticism for their inability to develop and maintain a stable of high-ceiling starting pitching prospects, and Duquette has made some poor choices in his attempts to acquire quality veteran starters.

In a perfect world, the Orioles would be able to hold onto all their best young pitchers, but Duquette never has been in a position to sacrifice a couple of rebuilding seasons and probably wouldn't even if he could.

The Orioles have reached the playoffs three of the past five seasons and have been in contention in one of baseball's toughest divisions for almost all of Duquette's tenure. That has happened because of him, not in spite of him.

Even during a rough patch like the one the Orioles went through in May, it's important to remember that the infield grass isn't always greener in somebody else's ballpark.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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