Orioles Trade Jeremy Guthrie For…Huh?

This is a trade that just doesn’t make sense to me:

The Rockies and Orioles are nearing an agreement that would send starter Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado, most likely for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. (MLB Trade Rumors)

Let me preface this by saying that I like Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Hammel more than most people probably do. After watching Guthrie pitch in the AL East for the past five seasons, I’ll be glad to see him go. Despite his underwhelming strikeout numbers and flyball tendencies, there are some nights where he pumps his fastball up around 95 MPH (with good movement) and can shred through opposing lineups. My eyes are overly optimistic on Guthrie, though, as the reality is that he’s a 32-year-old starter that doesn’t generate many whiffs and is only around a +2 win pitcher. He’s no ace, but he’s still a valuable pitcher to have.

The same can be said about Jason Hammel. Since being traded to the Rockies prior to the ’09 season, he has racked up +9 wins over three seasons. He comes with his share of question marks — his strikeout rate plummeted in 2011, and his ERA has always outpaced his peripherals due to a high BABIP — but considering he will be 29 years old this season, he has the potential to be better than Guthrie. His 4.37 career SIERA is better than anything Guthrie has posted over the past five years, so you can argue that the Orioles are getting an excellent buy-low starter in this deal. Whether Hammel lives up to that potential…well, we’ll see.

But here’s what I don’t understand: what do the Orioles and Rockies get out of this trade?

Yes, the Orioles have a weak starting rotation, but considering their place on the win curve, shouldn’t they be stocking up on prospects instead of acquiring a $5 million starter with only two seasons of team control left? My only thought is they are high on Hammel and believe he can rebound (despite making the transition to the AL East), and plan to extend him or flip him for even more than they could have received for Guthrie. You don’t find +4 win pitchers every day, so if Hammel can perform at that level and the Orioles lock him up for cheap…okay, I can get behind that.

The problem is that the Rockies obviously don’t believe in Hammel. They are trading him away for an aging fly ball pitcher with middling strikeout numbers — in other words, not the sort of pitcher you’d expect to succeed in Coors Field. Guthrie is due somewhere around $7.25-$10.25 million in arbitration this season, and he’ll be a free agent afterwards. Despite these facts, the Rockies are sending two players* to the Orioles in return for one year of Guthrie. The only way this deal makes sense for them if they don’t believe Hammel will ever become more than a fourth or fifth starter.

*Matt Lindstrom is more than just a throw-in piece; he was worth nearly +1 win in relief last season and has an affordable team option for 2013. He may be a bit old and poor trackrecord, but he’s a fine player to acquire if you’re a team looking to solidify your bullpen. But again, I’m not sure what sort of long-term value he holds for the Orioles.

The Orioles are betting on a long shot, while the Rockies are taking on a starter that will potentially offer a small upgrade to their rotation (while bringing along his share of question marks). Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get it.

Piper was the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library.

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10 years ago

You are wrong about what Guthrie was due to make in arbitration. The O’s submitted $7.25M and Guthrie submitted $10.25M.

He was not due to make between 5 and 6.5 million.

10 years ago
Reply to  Greg

Guthrie settled for $8.2M. And Hammel+Lindstrom cost $8.35M.

The real difference is the fact that Guthrie is a free agent at the end of the year, while Hammel and Lindstrom are under control for another season. And as Slowinski pointed out, Hammel has a bit more upside.

Sure, in context, this doesn’t make sense for the Orioles because they need to completely rebuild. But Hammel+Lindstrom > Guthrie. So I don’t understand why they’re getting trashed for this deal. They’re no worse off (in terms of talent or finances) than they were yesterday.

10 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

They’re worse off if you factor in opportunity cost, which you absolutely should do if you’re talking about a last-place team with one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

10 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

AK, I get that. They can no longer trade Guthrie. But there’s theoretically nothing preventing the Orioles from turning around and flipping Hammel+Lindstrom for an equal prospect haul.

The move is puzzling because its a lateral move for a rebuilding team, and they’re not actually planning on flipping Hammel+Lindstrom. But if, at this moment, the Orioles front office were to suddenly become competent, I think they’d be just as well off as they were yesterday.

10 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

The Orioles have been losing for 13 years. It’s Duquette’s intention to build a team that can post a winning season, because it’s going to take a while to turn around the system. That’s all the fans want–someone who is serious about winning games, so they have something to watch while waiting for a farm system turn around.

I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive. I don’t believe in losing games to “rebuild.”