Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom Makes Sense

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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.



Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.


Why Would Anyone Want To Be The Orioles GM?

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The problems are familiar and circular.

One recognizable and respected name after another has taken a job with the Baltimore Orioles and been mitigated by ownership meddling and circumstance.

Even with Buck Showalter in place, nothing much has changed; the enthusiasm and excitement from having a manager of his stature quickly receded into the abyss, drowned by vicious competition and a lack of talent.

Why doesn’t Showalter simply take over as GM?

It’d be much easier for everyone.

The club could hire someone to do the grunt work that no one ever realizes is going on with the rock star status that certain general managers enjoy nowadays; Showalter could pick the players and run the entire show doing things the way he wants.

The names that are coming in for interviews are young, impressive and irrelevant; the only benefit they’ll have is to be able to toss their hands in the air and say, “what could I do?” when things go wrong as they did for Pat Gillick, Frank Wren and Andy MacPhail.

In addition to that, the new “boss” won’t have any final say-so with Showalter as the guy in charge. That’s not an advantageous position for a GM to be in whether he’s onboard with it or not.

It’s a resume-builder to say, “I’ve been a GM before”. They can’t win on or off the field and if the Orioles somehow find a way into contention within the new GM’s tenure, the credit will largely go to Showalter.

The Orioles situation is a continuing saga of inertia.

They can hit, but have very little pitching and not much on the horizon in the high minors.

Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jim Johnson, Alfredo Simon—all have talent; but in that division, the Orioles can’t compete unless they bring in some legitimate arms, but that leads them back onto that failed cycle of overpaying for veterans, seeing them come to Baltimore and fade, repeating the process all over again. If they want to get a “name” free agent like C.J. Wilson or CC Sabathia, they have to drastically overpay and even then they’re not guaranteed to be anything other than a bargaining chip for another club to match or beat their offer.

At this point, until they’re showing marked improvement, why would any free agent with options want to go to Baltimore? The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox have vast talent that the Orioles don’t; and mark my words: the Blue Jays are going to shock baseball in 2012.

Where does that leave the Orioles?

Where they’ve been for the past 13 seasons—on the treadmill. Going nowhere.