It was approximately a year ago when it was reported that the Phillies had inquired with the Rangers about Michael Young.
No one seemed to understand why.
Young had $48 million remaining on his contract and a no-trade clause; the Phillies had a star second baseman in Chase Utley, a star first baseman Ryan Howard; a former MVP and team leader shortstop Jimmy Rollins; and a third baseman, Placido Polanco, with two years remaining on his contract and coming off a season in which he batted .298 and played excellent defense at third base.
What did they need Young for? Why would they take such a heavy contract when their budget was already at or near its max?
No one knew, so everyone tried to come up with a reason.
I postulated that the Phillies were either going to use Young as a roving utilityman who’d get 450-500 at bats playing all over the field or they were doing their due diligence to see what the asking price was on a good, available player.
As it turned out, the explanation came when spring training started and it was revealed the Utley’s knee tendinitis could, potentially, have kept him out for the whole season. Plus Polanco had an elbow issue and other assorted injuries that threatened to keep him out for significant stretches.
Young would’ve been playing and playing regularly all season for the Phillies.
There was a logical explanation that was far simpler than anyone realized.
Now we’re seeing similar quizzical wonderment as to why the Orioles traded righty starter Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for another righty starter Jason Hammel and hard-throwing righty reliever Matt Lindstrom.
The analysis is wide-ranging and mostly critical of the Orioles for making this move.
But it’s an even trade.
Guthrie is a free agent at the end of the season, has posted 200+ innings in the last four seasons and is a pretty good pitcher with a solid ground ball/fly ball rate that allowed him to survive pitching in the AL East and his home games at Camden Yards—he should do well in Colorado. The Rockies are contenders who could use an innings-eating starter with a slightly better history in all aspects than Hammel.
Hammel is inconsistent, but also has a good ground ball/fly ball rate, is a viable replacement for Guthrie and won’t be a free agent for two years. Lindstom has struggled with the home run ball, but is a former closer with a fastball that can reach the upper 90s; he doesn’t strike out many hitters, but he’s always around the plate and is not a free agent until after 2013.
In response to the criticism, Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette said that they hadn’t received any offers of high-end young talent—what most of the critics suggested the Orioles should’ve gotten for Guthrie—and that this was the best offer he had.
Could he have waited until mid-season to see if a team panicked and offered too much for Guthrie?
What are the odds of that really? It’s Jeremy Guthrie. What were they going to get? A mid-range prospect? Maybe? Instead, they got two big league arms that give them versatility and they have them for two full years.
Some have said that the Orioles should’ve traded Guthrie at mid-season 2011. Well, Duquette wasn’t the GM then, so what would they like him to do? Build a time machine? Compound a perceived mistake made by the prior regime by doing nothing when an offer he deemed acceptable came his way?
There are ancillary shifts that could be made also. With Lindstrom, they could install him as the closer and place Jim Johnson in the starting rotation where he has the repertoire to be successful. So in exchange for Guthrie, they got Hammel—as good as Guthrie and someone who will give 180 innings; they got Lindstrom; and possibly the ability to move Johnson into a more valuable spot in the rotation.
Those who would criticize the concept of Lindstrom closing are the same stat people who say that the closer is essentially irrelevant and anyone can rack up the saves since the general rule of thumb for all teams that enter the ninth inning with a lead is that even the worst closers will convert the vast majority (95% or so) of the saves, so the concept of overpaying for a closer or having someone who has the capability of starting as the closer is a self-defeating endeavor.
Which is it?
Here’s the hard truth: the Orioles will be lucky to avoid losing 100 games this year in that division, so anything they can do to get multiple players for someone who was a short-term Oriole to begin with is a smart move.
The Rockies are contenders in the NL West and they’ve accumulated a stable of starting pitchers to choose from. Guthrie, in the short term, will help them more than Hammel or Lindstrom would have.
The Orioles traded an okay pitcher for two other okay pitchers that could set the stage for other maneuvers. The Rockies got an innings-eating starter who’ll be motivated to pitch well in his free agent year.
It’s nothing to ridicule and is a positive move for both sides.