The Baltimore Orioles should have traded right-hander Jeremy Guthrie at the non-waiver deadline last season, or even before. His value was higher when he was further away from free agency, under greater club control.
Instead, the Orioles made a deal that is all too typical of them. They waited too long to move Guthrie and received too little in return. They need prospects, genuine prospects, and they did not get one in the deal that they completed with the Colorado Rockies on Monday.
Guthrie for right-handed starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom makes sense in a vacuum. The combined salaries of Hammel and Lindstrom in 2012 will be in the range of Guthrie’s. And the Orioles will trumpet that they acquired a combined four years of control for one.
Problem is, Hammel, 29, and Lindstrom, 31, will not be part of the Orioles’ next contending team. They likely will not even help the Orioles advance toward contention. They are mediocre veterans — Lindstrom may be a little better than that — while Guthrie, 32, is a pitcher who had actual value.
The word “had” is applicable not because of Guthrie’s performance — he pitched gallantly as a No. 1 starter in the American League East, averaging nearly 200 innings and compiling an ERA-plus of 106 during the past five seasons. But the formula for trades is always the same: The higher a player’s salary, the closer he is to free agency, the less a team gets in return.
New Orioles general manager Dan Duquette inherited the situation. His predecessor, Andy MacPhail, was the executive who steadfastly held on to Guthrie. Perhaps Duquette could have made a better deal earlier in the off-eason, involving a greater number of suitors. But, heck, the Orioles didn’t hire Duquette until Nov. 6.
So, welcome to another episode of, “As the Orioles churn.”
Hammel, who has a career ERA-plus of 92, will fit somewhere in the O's rotation, but don’t expect anything close to Guthrie. Lindstrom has been traded three straight offseasons, acquiring the reputation of a reliever who is not entirely trustworthy.
Guthrie, on the other hand, will be the Rockies’ No. 1 starter. That enables the Rockies to ask less of their 25-and-under rotation candidates: right-handers Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio and Alex White; lefty Drew Pomeranz; etc.
The Rockies believe Guthrie will benefit from pitching for a better club and benefit from joining an organization that doesn’t change pitching coaches seemingly every year. Their bullpen, bolstered by the additions of several youngsters in offseason trades, should be deep enough to withstand the loss of Lindstrom.
And guess what?
If the Rockies fail to contend, they can flip Guthrie at the deadline. The Toronto Blue Jays would be one team with interest, sources said. The Jays might not contend, either, but could acquire Guthrie with the idea of signing him long term.
Guthrie might be the best starting pitcher available in July. His value would spike even though he would be only two months from free agency. And here’s the final dagger from the Orioles’ perspective:
The Rockies probably could make a better deal for him than the O’s just did.
— Ken Rosenthal