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Oldies But Goodies Wouldn't Be So Bad

January 13, 2009

By Craig HeistĀ 

Jeremy Guthrie threw 190 innings for the Orioles last season.
(Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
As the Orioles enter the New Year looking for pitching help in the starting rotation, they may have solved part of the problem by agreeing to terms with free agent right-handed pitcher Koji Uehara from Japan.

On the surface, this looks like a good deal for a club that is starved for starting pitching.

Uehara pitched for the Yomiuri Giants and while doing so won the Sawamura Award, the equivalent of the Cy Young Award. He has been a top-notch starter and has also pitched as a closer.

Add him to a rotation that includes Jeremy Guthrie and newly-acquired left-hander Mark Hendrickson, and it appears the Birds are off to a decent start. Still, it is hardly a reliable one for a team that has seen the balance of power in the American League East shift back to the Yankees, with the Red Sox and Tampa Bay ready to cause havoc.

While the Orioles are hopeful some of their younger pitchers will mature and make significant contributions at the major league level, they have to make an effort to bring in free agent hurlers with veteran experience.

There is still plenty of time before spring training starts and even more time before the start of the regular season. It is clear the Orioles do have a decent number of young pitchers, but they cannot go into 2009 relying on them to win games for this club.

Do we really need to see Radhames Liz go 6-6 while walking 51 batters in 84 innings? How about Garrett Olson, with his 9-10 mark and his ERA of 6.65? Then there is always Brian Burres, who went 7-10 with a 6.04 ERA. Chris Waters appeared to be one of the guys who showed some promise, but you can only tell so much after 11 starts and a 3-5 record.

The Birds have some highly touted arms on the way -- guys like top draft choice Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, who was acquired in the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle, and highly-regarded prospect Jake Arrieta. You could also throw the likes of right-hander Brad Bergeson and left-hander Troy Patton, who missed 2008 after surgery to repair a torn labrum, into that mix as well. Those pitchers need to stay where they are, developing in the minor leagues until they are ready to help the big club as opposed to being forced here before they are ready.

There are several pitchers on the market who could certainly fit into the Orioles' budget. One that comes to mind right off the bat is Paul Byrd.

Byrd went 11-12 last year between the Indians and Red Sox. His ERA was 4.60 and he threw 180 innings. His strike out to walk ratio was 82-to-34.

After Guthrie, who threw 190 innings for the Orioles, the next closest was Daniel Cabrera, who threw 180 and is now with the Washintgon Nationals. Olson and Burres hurled 132.2 and 129.2 respectively. After that, no one else was close.


Byrd might not be a top of the rotation guy, but for a team that is trying to rebuild with young pitchers who aren't quite ready yet, stability is not a bad thing to have. Byrd throws strikes and can eat innings. One of the reasons this entire staff is in the tank by August is because the bullpen is overworked with starters not being able to get past the fifth inning, and then because of injuries, guys are throwing at the major league level who have no business being there.

And say what you want, but it does make a difference when a guy like Byrd is in the clubhouse and the younger guys get a chance to see how he goes about his business. Heck, even Livan Hernandez might be a decent fit here for a short time.

Andy Pettitte and Derek Lowe are interesting thoughts, but neither probably wants to come to Baltimore. After all, Pettitte turned down $10 million for one year from the Yankees.

The Orioles need to fix the pitching staff before the season starts, and having a few heady veterans around would help accomplish that until the youth movement is ready. How they get there is up to them. Make a trade or spend some money and get into the free agent market a bit.

If the O's can get a veteran pitcher or two, pitching coach Rick Kranitz might just come into his office not shaking his head so much.

Issue 133: January 2009