February 2012

A few tidbits…

*As the Orioles prepare for their 20th season at Camden Yards, the club has launched a new website to highlight some of the ballpark’s most memorable events.  The website, http://www.CamdenYards20.com, has a bunch of cool stuff planned for the season and you can read the full story on that here.

*Pitcher Brad Bergesen had his arbitration hearing today, and the results of what the court decided should be known by tomorrow. The club offered Bergesen $800,000 and his agent countered with $1.2 million. The independent arbitrators will pick one of those figures.

*Outfield prospect L.J. Hoes announced on his Twitter page earlier today that he will be in Major League Spring Training. Fellow Double-A Bowie outfielder Xavier Avery also got an invite, and they will be joined by top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, who as a member of the 40-man roster gets an automatic invite.

*I’ve also gotten a few questions since Jeremy Guthrie was traded about whether the Orioles would consider retiring his uniform number, which was Mike Flanagan’s #46. There aren’t any plans for that to happen, but the organization could decide to just not reassign that number for a while, which is what they’ve done with jersey numbers 7 (Cal Ripken, Sr) and 44 (Elrod Hendricks). Presently only the organization’s Hall of Fame players have had their uniform numbers officially retired.

Both new Orioles Jason Hammel (who, oddly enough wore #46 in Colorado) and Matt Lindstrom have not yet been assigned uniform numbers.

Wrapping up the Guthrie trade

Lots of links yesterday, so here’s a quick recap in case you missed anything…

*The full story on the Orioles trade of Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado, in exchange for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, can be found here.

*Guthrie took the time to do a farewell phone interview with me and made sure to single out the fans and city of Baltimore. You can find those quotes here. More quotes from executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, along with Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, can be found here.

*I got a lot of questions about what to think of the trade from an Orioles’ standpoint and, while I don’t think they got much better, I also don’t think they got much worse.  It was more of a lateral move, and I went into more detail explaining some of the reasoning for it here.

*For a national perspective, FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal says the Orioles waited too long to trade Guthrie, while Dan Knobler at CBS Sports looks into how much Guthrie can help the Rockies.

Thoughts on the Guthrie trade

I’ve gotten a lot of questions on the Jeremy Guthrie trade today, and whether it was worth acquiring Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom or not. I’m not going to tell you what to think, or change the minds of people who are happy, mad or indifferent, but here’s my two cents…

*If what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said on today’s conference call is true, that the Orioles weren’t offered top prospects for Guthrie, it changes how I feel about the return a little bit for the better.  Like a lot of people, I was initially mystified, particularly given the rotation’s uncertainty beyond Guthrie. Why trade away the only guy you know can give you innings?

I think for Duquette, the possibility of paying Guthrie more than $10 million if they lost in arbitration was something he didn’t want to do and something that could really cripple Guthrie’s trade value moving forward in the 2012 season.

Hammel and Lindstrom don’t have eye-popping numbers but 1) neither does Guthrie and 2) they pitch half their games at the incredibly hitter-friendly, high altitude Coors Field.  And before I get a slew of emails, I’m not saying the AL East is a picnic, either.

Yes, there were a lot of teams interested in Guthrie, but if you aren’t going to get prospects you have to try to get the best available talent to help your team. And what do the Orioles need? Pitching, pitching, pitching. (And that free agent market is pretty much picked over at this point.)

*Seems  a big factor in the deal was that Guthrie was a free agent after 2012, while the Orioles can hang on to both Hammel and Lindstrom for 2013. So it was a 2-for-1 swap that also gives them some options in the future. Are they the best options imaginable? No.

But Duquette is taking a “strength in numbers” approach with the pitching staff this season, and it will  be interesting to see how it works out. Trading away Guthrie removes the crutch of having a guy who can save the bullpen every five days. Hammel has pitched at least 170 innings the last three seasons, so he’s no Guthrie, but he can be relied on to at least get fairly deep into games.

*It’s pretty clear to me that the Orioles’ message to the young arms is to step up and win a job. There won’t be any handouts and the hope has to be that Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton respond with great springs.  Tommy Hunter should be able to contribute innings, he was last year despite a nagging groin injury, and I’d pencil him in as a pretty solid chance of getting a rotation spot. If you have Hunter and Hammel and two of those three young guys step up with Wei-Yin Chen, it’s not a terrible Opening Day rotation. But, again, it depends on the development of those young arms and how all this competition shakes out.

Guthrie wasn’t a part of the organization’s future, so now it’s sink or swim for some of these other young guys. If you don’t see development by some of the young arms, Duquette’s going to have to decide what direction this club is heading.

*I  do like the Lindstrom addition because it creates options for manager Buck Showalter late in the game. How many times last year did you see Jim Johnson pitching three days in a row? Because he was basically the only reliable late-inning arm. Johnson, with Lindstrom, should help things, and I’m also curious to get a longer look at Pedro Strop.

This move could also mean, for Kevin Gregg’s critics, that Showalter could use Johnson in a closer role and Lindstrom in a setup one if Gregg can’t rebound from a tough 2011. Or vice versa.  But the good thing is, there is depth at the closer spot.

*For those bemoaning this being a money deal, stop. Yes, the Orioles didn’t want to pay over $10 million to Guthrie in arbitration. But when you factor in the $8.2 million he settled on in Colorado, and the Orioles taking on Hammels and Lindstrom’s salaries, it’s about even.  This seemed to be more about moving Guthrie before arbitration and getting players back under team control.

*Is it too early to judge the trade? Of course. And I can’t say I’m an immediate fan of it. But if Hammel can prove to be a dependable arm and hit that 175 IP mark, than the Orioles essentially gained a late-inning arm in Lindstrom, who also have closing experience.

Someone needs to step up in that rotation this year and take on Guthrie’s workload.  I don’t think it’s Hammel –who will cushion some of that blow — but it has to be done if the Orioles are going to have any shot of being competitive. They’ve easily got 8 or 9 rotation candidates; can they find 5 viable ones?

*On a more personal note, I wish Jeremy Guthrie all the best in Colorado. He was one of the most outgoing Orioles and could be one of the best quotes in that clubhouse if you got him on a subject he liked. I know he truly enjoyed interacting with fans here in Baltimore as well.

It’s not always easy to stand at your locker after taking loss after loss, but Guthrie still did it, even on days when he never deserved a defeat.  His work ethic and attention to conditioning should also be commended as well as his vocal support for helping to save our planet.  Good luck, Jeremy.

O’s remain interested in Manny

The Orioles have had “exploratory talks” with free agent slugger Manny Ramirez’s agent, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette confirmed on Monday’s conference call.

Duquette– fresh off a trade with the Rockies that netted Baltimore pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom — confirmed the O’s long rumored interest in Ramirez and that the team had watched him workout.

“We are still considering the composition of this club, and some of the challenges of integrating a player like Manny into our ballclub and market,” said Duquette, who had Ramirez as a player in Boston.

Ramirez, who retired briefly last season, will face a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy should he sign a new contract and play in 2012. While he would come at a cheaper cost than another designated hitter type on the market, such as Johnny Damon, Ramirez also comes with significant drawbacks. In addition to the suspension, Ramirez typically brings a media circus, and it’s unclear how his antics, which spawned the phrase “Manny being Manny,” would play out under manager Buck Showalter’s watch.

Ramirez is rumored to have interest from at least two other clubs, Toronto and Oakland, and he would almost certainly have to sign a Minor League deal given his suspension. The Orioles, who are still seeking to upgrade their bullpen before Spring Training, remain interested in adding a veteran bat –like Ramirez – as well.

O’s swap Guthrie to Rox for Hammel and Lindstrom

On the day they were scheduled to go to arbitration with their ace the Orioles instead pulled off a trade, sending veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies on Monday in exchange for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.

The move — while not entirely surprising given how Guthrie’s name has had a steady presence in trade rumors the past two seasons — still comes as a shock given the timing and leaves the Orioles’ rotation with a considerable hole to fill.

“The Rockies have been one of those teams that has consistently had interest, and I guess that’s the silver lining in the big change,” said Guthrie, last year’s Opening Day starter who has posted three consecutive 200-inning seasons in Baltimore. “I get a chance to go to a city and play for a team that’s ready to win now and ready to go after it and doing everything in their power to do that.”

The Orioles are trying to reverse a trend of 14 consecutive losing seasons, a goal of over .500 that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has gone on record to say he believes is attainable in 2012. The addition of Hammel and Lindstrom gives the Orioles a starter to essentially replace Guthrie’s innings –Hammel has logged at least 170 innings the past three seasons – as well as a late-inning power arm in Lindstrom, who will presumably slide somewhere into the backend of the bullpen.

Duquette stressed the fact that both Hammel, who is still under team control, and Lindstrom, who has an option in his contract, will help the club this season and in 2013. Guthrie, who avoided arbitration by immediately agreeing to a one-year salary of $8.2 million with the Rockies, will be a free agent at season’s end.

“What I really like about both Jason and Matt is they have a walk-strikeout ratios approaching 1 to 3,” said Duquette, who refuted any reports that the Orioles were going to get top prospects from Colorado instead. “With the addition of these two pitchers and also [Wei-yin] Chen and [Tsuyoshi]Wada, you will see that we are adding to the pitching staff with pitchers that have good command and quality stuff.”

Hammel, 29, is 34-45 with a career 4.99 ERA in 169 games (115 starts) over six Major League seasons with Tampa Bay and Colorado. The right-hander figures to be a frontrunner for one of the Orioles’ five rotation spots with the competition including Chen, Wada, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and Dana Eveland, among others.

“The baseball doesn’t change for me,” said Hammel, who is coming off a 7-13 season in which he posted a 4.76 ERA in 32 games (27 starts). “It’s obviously just a different venue. I was able to learn some things about myself and really take some steps in the pitching mental part of the game at the end of the season last year. And I’m excited to go into the rotation with the Orioles and see if I can help out the team any way that I can.”

Lindstrom went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA and two saves in 63 games for Colorado last season and is 12-15 with a 3.81 ERA and 45 saves in parts of five Major League seasons. His acquisition gives the Orioles’ another power arm and helps upgrade a bullpen that pitched more innings than any other team in the Majors last season.

In assessing the wealth of depth added to the pitching staff this offseason, Duquette said had a three-part goal: to get more options for starting pitchers at the big-league level, to get bullpen arms with better stuff and to ensure there was a group of reinforcements at Triple-A.

“I don’t know how it’s going to shake out,” Duquette said. “The pitchers we signed from the Japanese League do have options, some of the younger players do have options….we’ll try to do the right thing at Spring Training to give us the team with the strongest chance of winning.

I think overall we rushed some players to the big leagues in the past and that was reflected by some of their struggles in the big leagues…A 5-point ERA isn’t good enough to be a competitive big league pitcher & we’ve got numerous pitchers on the roster in that area.”

Guthrie, who went 9-17 with a 4.33 ERA last year, wasn’t one of them although the 32-year-old did lead the American League in losses.  Claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians, Guthrie will end his Baltimore career 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA and, he says, nothing but positive memories.

“Baltimore is where I consider my Major League career starting,” he said. “It’s where I was an everyday player, I made my first Opening Day start there. … I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to take advantage of the opportunity and when I look back on the five years, everything is positive. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to, I didn’t pitch as well as I’d like to, but I can say in the five years I was there, no one was ever doing giving less than all they had.”

An active fixture in the community and avid fan of social media –where he frequently uses Twitter to connect with fans – Guthrie will be missed as one of the most outgoing personalities in the Orioles’ clubhouse.

“This was my favorite team that I had ever played on, the one we were going to Spring Training with,” Guthrie said. “I’m going to miss that group of guys. I think they are going to do big things and it’s going to hurt when you’re not a part of it. I have no doubt that they are going to be better than last year.”

To make room on the Orioles’ 40-man roster for both Hammel and Lindstrom, the team designated left-handed reliever Clay Rapada for assignment.

O’Dowd & Duquette on the trade, Manny, etc.

I’l have a full version of the Orioles’-Rockies’ trade up later on Orioles.com. (You can read the nuts and bolts here), but wanted to pass along a few thoughts from the decision-makers of both organizations…

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette

[on the move]

“We think this is a good thing to help our team and help our club win because we are essentially replacing Jeremy’s innings in the rotation with Jason Hammel’s, and we think the addition of Matt Lindstrom, who has got a power fastball, strengthens our bullpen overall.

It gives the Orioles an option beyond 2012. Based on Jason’s service time, he’d be eligible to come back with our ballclub for 2013, and also Matt Lindstrom has an option in his contract for the team to exercise in 2013.” (Guthrie will be a free agent at the end of 2012.)

[on the timing of the trade with Guthrie's arbitration hearing set for today before he agreed to a one-year deal with Colorado]

“I can’t really speculate on that. I don’t think settling on an arb figure was an option unless we went to a hearing, the way this was settled I thought this was good for both parties.”

[Hammels assured a spot in camp?]

“I’m looking at Jason being able to give us some dependable innings, and of course that will ultimately be decided by Buck [Showalter] and the coaching staff. But certainly Jason gives us experience as a solid Major League starter.

What I really like about both Jason and Matt is they have a walk-strikeout ratios approaching 1 to 3. …with the addition of these two pitchers and also [Wei-yin] Chen and [Tsuyoshi]Wada, you will see that we are adding to the pitching staff with pitchers that have good command and quality stuff, as evidenced by the low walks and high strikeouts.”

[on the Lindstrom addition]

“I like a power arm at the end of the game, and we have a couple for Buck in Jim Johnson and Matt Lindstrom. I like the manager having that strength in the bullpen, so if we have a lead we can lock down the lead late in the game.

I am encouraged by adding Matt Lindstrom because of his capabilities to convert on saves. He has the experience as both a closing pitcher, getting the last three outs, and also as a setup man pitching the seventh and eighth inning and I just think that strengthens our ballclub.”

[Duquette declined to say the team was considering any other players in the trade, but he did shoot down the possibility of the team ever getting top prospects for Guthrie.]

“We are trying to build a team by strengthening our pitching and I believe we’ve done that by the pitchers we added…I think our roster composition is stronger now because we’ve been adding. This is the first major trade, but again I believe we’ve added a starter back and gotten a dependable bullpen arm. Our goal is to strengthen our pitching staff and make us a little more competitive.”

[On the possibility of reacquiring former Orioles reliever Koji Uehara from Texas]

“We would still like to strengthen our bullpen between now and Spring Training.”

[On the Manny Ramirez rumors, Duquette said the team has had "exploratory talks"]

“We are still considering the composition of this club, and some of the challenges of integrating a player like Manny into our ballclub and market.”

Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd

[on his search for a veteran at the top of the rotation] The right kind of guy, the list was pretty small. We had interest in Jeremy for a while.

“We gave up two players that were part of this season and moving forward for us, but you have to trade something to get something. [Guthrie] pitched in a tough division. We know he’s an outstanding competitor as well as a great athlete. We think the change of leagues will help him.”

[on if it was important to have someone like Guthrie who gives you innings given the youth around him?]

“Absolutely, that was part of the thought process.”

Guthrie speaks

I just got off the phone with Jeremy Guthrie, who was traded this morning to the Colorado Rockies. (More on that here.)

I’ll have an updated story up shortly, but here’s a blog with Guthrie’s quotes and reaction to the news.

[on being a trade candidate for a while]

There were times throughout the year that rumors swirled a lot heavier than other times, certainly at the end of July and in the offseason. But once numbers for a contract are submitted and you are planning on going to a hearing, that’s what the focus was. The trade was very surprising, especially the timing of it.”

[on his time in Baltimore]

“I think those who watched me play know I’m extremely grateful. Baltimore is where I consider my major league career starting. It’s where I was an everyday player,  I made my first Opening Day start there.

I think about guys like Dave Hollins, who was a scout for the Orioles and saw me in Triple-A, and [former Orioles manager] Dave Trembley, those were two really important people along with Jim Duquette and [Mike Flanagan], who gave me a chance. I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to take advantage of the opportunity and when I look back on the five years, everything is positive. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to, I didn’t pitch as well as I’d like to, but I can say in the five years I was there no one was ever doing giving less than all they had.

And for that I look back 100 percent positive, my time here was a huge chunk of mine and my familys life. It’s a huge part of our lives. I know I’ll miss the fans tremendously, [and am] lucky enough through social media you can still stay in touch with fans.”

[on going to the Rockies, who have had interest in him for a while]

“The Rockies have been one of those teams that has consistently had interest, and I guess that’s the silver lining in the big change. I get a chance to go to a city and play for a team that’s ready to win now and ready to go after it and doing everything in their power to do that. I’m excited to pitch meaningful games all season, right from the start.”

[on not going to arbitration with the Rockies and working out a one-year deal]

I told [my agent], ‘Whatever, let’s just work out a deal. Let’s get it done.’ I don’t think anybody at that point was prepared to get a hearing.  We can move forward now without any distractions.”

[on missing his Orioles teammates]

“This was my favorite team that I had ever played on, the one we were going into spring training with. I enjoyed last year as much as I could ever enjoy a season, even though we struggled.  Guys like JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds, and the lasting friendships we had already developed with guys like Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz…We had a great group of guys, we have a lot of fun on the field, and I looked forward to being on the field and going to work every day.

I thought Adam Jones last year became one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen on a baseball team. I’m going to miss that group of guys, I think they are going to do big things and it’s going to hurt when you’re not a part of it. I have no doubt that they are going to be better than last year.

That’s one of the most difficult parts of it all, is the teammates, because I’ve enjoyed playing with them all so much.”

Orioles send Guthrie to Rockies

The Orioles dealt their top starter on Monday morning, sending veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies in what is believed to be a trade for for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.

The deal which was first reported by the Baltimore Sun, was confirmed to MLB.com by a baseball source, and didn’t take long to reach Guthrie. The outgoing pitcher took to his Twitter page to say, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Baltimore anymore.” Just found out I was traded to [the] Rockies.”

The 32-year-old Guthrie was last year’s Opening Day starter and has posted three consecutive 200-inning seasons. He went 9-17 last year with a 4.33 ERA, leading the American League in losses, and ends his Baltimore career 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA. Guthrie will be a free agent after the 2012 season.  Since the Orioles’ 40-man roster was at capacity, the team also designated left-handed reliever Clay Rapada for assignment to make room for the new additions.

Hammel, who was drafted and started his big league career with the Rays, is coming off a 2011 season in which he went 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA in 32 games (27 starts.) He will join an already-crowded rotation competition in Baltimore that includes Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Dana Eveland, Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada among others.

Lindstrom went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA and two saves in 63 games for Colorado last season and will give the Orioles another late-inning arm for the bullpen.  In parts of five Major League seasons, Lindstrom is 12-15 with a 3.81 ERA and 45 saves.

The Orioles were set to go to arbitration with Guthrie on Monday –he was asking for more than $10 million– but as a sign of good faith the right-hander agreed to a one-year deal with Colorado immediately after being dealt.

“Jeremy is excited to join the Rockies and I see this as a positive result for all parties,” Guthrie’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, co-head of CAA Baseball said in an email. “Negotiations with the Orioles were steady yet slow and an arbitration hearing seemed possible and even likely. Once informed of the trade, Jeremy decided to make a showing of good faith and agreed to a deal within the Rockies’ payroll structure, since he felt it important that his relationship with his new team get off on the right foot. Jeremy is excited about a fresh start with a new organization and a contending team close to home.”

 

Robinson, inbox, early projections & a Giants win

*To celebrate Black History Month, MLB.com has put together a month-long series detailing some of baseball’s greatest figures as a way to pay tribute and offer fresh perspective on the game’s most pivotal moments. And for the Baltimore Orioles, 1966′s trade for African-American outfielder Frank Robinson was a move that paid dividends practically before the ink had a chance to dry.

Robinson won the Triple Crown his first year in Baltimore, leading the American League with a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs. He remains the only minority player in history to win the Triple Crown in batting, and his gutsy style — both on and off the field — helped lead the organization to its first World Series title.

Robinson’s teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who is currently an Orioles broadcaster, shared some special moments and insight from that groundbreaking season. Read more on that here.

*Lots of good questions from this week’s inbox, which you can read on Orioles.com. I’m hoping to do at least one more before heading down to Florida, so keep them coming by using the submission form in the story or emailing brittany.ghiroli@mlb.com with “inbox” in the headline. Please include your first name and hometown.

*In case you missed it, I gave my take on the Manny Ramirez rumors last night. The Orioles also signed Jeff Larish to a Minor League deal (he won’t get a big league camp invite) and they also had a few small  notes which can be found here.

*Antsy for Spring Training? The Orioles had Packing Day last week, loading up the truck at Camden Yards to take down to Sarasota. There’s a video with some behind-the-scenes footage up on Orioles.com here.

*Too early for early-season projections? Maybe not.  At this point in the season, the Orioles roster is pretty much set and that makes it a great time to sit down and start figuring out who will factor in where come Opening Day.

I’m shooting to look at each position in depth, either on the blog or Orioles.com, to help preview things and get the conversation ball rolling. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said several times this winter that he thinks the team can be over .500 this year. Is that realistic? What has to happen to make that feasible? A lot of things would have to go right for the Orioles, that’s for sure.

*And finally, my Super Bowl prediction since the Detroit Lions came up short. I’m from New England (Connecticut) so this is tough, but I can’t root for a Michigan alum like Tom Brady.  Giants prevail (again!) late in the fourth quarter, and the same New York fanbase that has called for Tom Coughlin’s head most of the season vote to give the guy a statue instead.

Speaking of Coughlin, I encourage you to read this piece from Amy K. Nelson on the Giants coach and his selfless letter to a fan. I typically don’t link to other stories outside of baseball on here, but this was a good read by a good friend and excellent writer.

To Manny or not to Manny?

I figured it’d be best to answer the large amounts of questions I got on Twitter regarding the Orioles and Manny Ramirez in a quick blog post.  Are the Orioles in on Manny? Well, they have some interest, especially given that they’d like to add a veteran bat before Spring Training and the free agency pool has all but dried up.

Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com reported earlier today that Ramirez is deciding between the O’s, Athletics and Blue Jays.

But how serious is the Orioles interest in Manny? I don’t know, and it’s tough for anyone to say accurately at this point.  Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette –who had Ramirez while GM in Boston– hasn’t ruled out the scenario all offseason, which is why I’m hesitant to do so now.

To recap, Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB drug policy should he sign a new contract and play in 2012. He would come at a cheaper cost than an older DH on the market, such as Johnny Damon, but he also comes with significant drawbacks. In addition to the suspension, Ramirez typically brings a media circus, and I’m not sure how that would play out with manager Buck Showalter.  And then there’s the question of performance: how much does Manny have left in the tank? The Orioles saw firsthand last year with Vladimir Guerrero that a veteran past his prime isn’t exactly the exciting cleanup hitter they need.

With just about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, all signs point to Ramirez making a decision soon. So, stay tuned.

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