By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette can move pretty fast when he wants to. That is exactly what he did a year ago. After beginning his first MLB job since 2002, Duquette made two moves that seemed to come from nowhere: the signings of left-handed pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. Chen had a solid, 12-win regular season, and was especially consistent in keeping his team in games. Wada pitched poorly during spring training, which proved to be a prelude to his needing Tommy John surgery in early May. And now the jury is out.
But the rapidity and decisiveness of those two moves set in motion a plan of attack. Duquette -- unlike his predecessor, Andy MacPhail -- was going to enlarge the pool of options for manager Buck Showalter, in case his young starting staff couldn't cut the mustard again.
Now, unlike when Duquette took office, the team he has on paper is looking up. And one of the most promising areas is the potential depth in starting-pitching options. But Duquette is nobody's fool. The teams that make it deep into the postseason have not just a depth of starting candidates, but 1-2 guys that are No. 1-type starters.
The early signs are that by the time I finish penning this piece, a couple of more pitchers may change uniforms for the year ahead. There are a load of free agents, some good, some not so good. Duquette would probably want, in a perfect world, the same names that about 8-12 other teams want: Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse and Hideki Kuroda, to name a few.
Those names are the cream at the top, and there is no shortage of the usual suspects with big checkbooks in the hunt to sign the obvious. Then there are a number of clever, eclectic choices, such as a Joe Saunders followed by a bunch of guys like the Erik Bedards of the world, where it is more like, "No, thanks."
So, if the Orioles aren't going to sign any of the big names to long-term deals, how can they accomplish what they need to do without giving up literally an arm and a leg?
Let me digress, because something has been in my craw for a couple of weeks now, and the story I am about to tell is helping me gain some clarity. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that even though the Red Sox and David Ortiz seem to be moving toward a two-year extension for between $26 million and $28 million, the Texas Rangers are showing some interest in Big Papi.
Too often in sports, when it comes to free agency, or those on the verge of free agency, certain players are deemed hands-off material. By hands off, I merely mean that when said players have had a long-standing relationship with a given team, the competition assumes, "He'll never leave such-and-such team."
That leads me to the arm on the market I think is most attractive for the Orioles. And the key here is taking a proactive approach on a certain pitcher who it's assumed will either sign with his current team (New York Yankees) or retire. I am talking about Andy Pettitte.
Yes, the venerable left-hander is 40 years of age. He missed all of the 2011 season, before his shocking 2012 comeback, announced in mid-March. The time off, like aging, made this fine wine of a pitcher even better.
Pettitte pitched only 75.1 innings, because he didn't make a start until May 13. He missed almost three months from a broken fibula, but still came back and pitched effectively late during the regular season and into the playoffs.
Pettitte is lingering in the twilight of his career. His last year may be 2013. And true, maybe he will either pitch for New York or nobody. But his 2.87 ERA was his lowest since 2005, where in Houston, he posted a 2.39 ERA, usually facing teams without designated hitters. In point of fact, the 2.87 ERA this past season was his lowest AL ERA since 1997, when he posted a 2.88 ERA. Pettitte's WHIP for 2012 was 1.14, which was lower than any season during his career, save for that 2005 season in Houston, where he posted a 1.03 mark.
Pettitte may pitch at times as if he isn't human, but he is human, and despite his love for pinstripes, he has for some reason always played second fiddle, albeit an expensive second fiddle, in the Bronx. There always seems a reason for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to take care of others and offer Pettitte take-it-or-leave-it dollars.
During the 12 starts he made last season, he was arguably their best starter. The Yankees need him more than ever, and as their expensive, aging team begins to crumble, they will probably pay big bucks for one of the big names, such as Lohse or Sanchez. Then again, maybe they'll trade for a Josh Johnson. They'll probably re-sign Kuroda for $12 million or $13 million.
Then, and only then, would Cashman look Pettitte in the eyes and offer him less than he is worth again.
If I were Duquette, and my manager was Pettitte's first big league manager, in 1995, I'd have Showalter call up Pettitte and talk some hardball. I'd offer Pettitte a contract would exceed the $6 million that Saunders made combined from Arizona and Baltimore in 2012, and throw in an option for a second year, which would give Pettitte pause before he accepted a contract under market value. If nothing else, the O's can force a chief competitor to pay Pettitte what he is truly worth. Failing that, Duquette could move slower than a year ago, but come away with someone of far greater value.
Posted Nov. 2, 2012