In an offseason that has been defined by a flurry of under-the-radar personnel additions, new Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette made his boldest move to date Monday, sending dependable veteran starter Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies for right-handed pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
It was a curious decision considering the Orioles had baseball's highest ERA and fewest number of quality starts in 2011 and have now dealt away last year's leader in innings pitched, starts, strikeouts and starter's ERA.
But Duquette said he believes Hammel can absorb Guthrie's projected innings and Lindstrom gives the Orioles another power arm in the bullpen — plus the new duo can be under team control through 2013 while Guthrie is an impending free agent.
"We explored the market for Jeremy knowing he would be a free agent at the end of the season," Duquette said. "We thought this was the best deal to help our team, because we got pitching back that can help our ballclub this year and can help our ballclub in the future."
During Monday's teleconference with the Baltimore media, Duquette said he talked to several teams about Guthrie and did not receive any offers that included legitimate prospects. Ultimately, he felt the Rockies' offer of veteran pitching was the best available.
One industry source said the Orioles also could have obtained 26-year-old infielder/outfielder Eric Young Jr. in the trade, but the speedy Young is widely considered a reserve major leaguer with a limited bat and defensive liabilities.
Therefore, Duquette, who has already added 11 players to the 40-man roster since taking over in November, passed. Duquette would not comment on whether the club had any interest in Young since he is still employed by another team.
Monday's trade ends Guthrie's five-season tenure with the Orioles — one in which he started three Opening Days, twice led the league in losses and often pitched with little or no run support. Each of the past three seasons he had logged at least 200 innings and had made 30 or more starts in four straight years, compiling a 47-65 record and a 4.12 ERA with the Orioles.
Claimed off the waiver wire from the Cleveland Indians in 2007, the 32-year-old right-hander quickly became the staff's most reliable pitcher and a fan favorite for his community involvement and his accessibility, particularly through his Twitter account.
"I think, obviously, the first thoughts that go through your head are the five great years I've been in Baltimore and the great teammates that I won't have an opportunity to play with this year," Guthrie said about the trade. "It's a city I have grown to love and fans I truly appreciate, and fans I have enjoyed interacting with and playing in front of for the past five seasons. That was my first thought: Baltimore and everything there. That's a huge chunk of my life."
He now will be playing in the major-league city closest to his Utah home and for an organization that has made the playoffs twice in the last five seasons.
"That's the most exciting part for me. That's the silver lining in leaving a city and team I truly love," he said. "It gives me a chance to go somewhere where you have a chance to compete this year and I hope to be an important part of that. Hopefully, I will be a part of meaningful games throughout the season. It's an opportunity I am really grateful for."
However, Guthrie will be pitching his home games in the thin-air of Denver, which could be difficult for someone who has given up 23 or more homers per year season in each of his full seasons in the majors.
"It's a challenge, but anywhere you pitch is a challenge. Camden Yards certainly can be tough, when you consider all the great players that come through," Guthrie said. "I have to be down in the strike zone, but that's what I need to do regardless of where I am pitching."
In contrast, Hammel and Lindstrom will be escaping Coors Field but will be entering the brutal American League East.
"Obviously, I am familiar with the AL East. Having not been there for the last few years, the names have changed a little bit," said Hammel, who spent 2006 to 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays. "But no matter what league or division you are playing in, the game doesn't change. It all comes down to execution."
Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA in 32 games, 27 starts, for the Rockies in 2011. He lost his spot in the rotation in mid-August and was moved to the bullpen before making two quality starts in September. He still threw 170 or more innings for the third straight season, though his strikeouts dropped dramatically and his walks increased in 2011.
"Basically, I hit a rough patch last year where I was in a pretty bad place and worked out of it," he said. "So I'm very confident that is behind me now."
Lindstrom, 31, has been in the majors for five seasons, pitching in 312 games as a reliever. He is 12-15 with a 3.81 ERA and 45 saves in 59 opportunities, including a career-best 23 saves with the Houston Astros in 2010. Last year, he was 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA and two saves in 63 games.
Armed with a 96-97 mph fastball, Lindstrom likely will join Jim Johnson and Lindstrom's former Florida Marlins' teammate Kevin Gregg as an Orioles' late-inning reliever. Duquette didn't rule out that Lindstrom could pick up some save opportunities in Baltimore.
"I definitely look forward to the opportunity in getting up there and helping to close games down, whether it be in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning," Lindstrom said. "I have the same mind-frame and approach every time I go out there."
Lindstrom will make $3.6 million in 2012 with a $4 million option for 2013 that includes a $200,000 buyout. Hammel is slated to make $4.75 million in 2012 and is arbitration eligible in 2013, so combined the two will cost about as much in 2012 as Guthrie, who settled his arbitration case by agreeing to an $8.2 million, one-year deal with the Rockies.
Guthrie's arbitration hearing with the Orioles was set for Monday morning — he was asking for $10.25 million and the club had countered with $7.25 million — but was canceled.
To make room for the extra pitcher, the Orioles designated lefty specialist Clay Rapada (2-0, 6.06 ERA in 32 games) for assignment.
Baltimore Sun staff writer Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.
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