Making Sense of the Guthrie Trade

One of the nice things about being an O’s fan while Andy MacPhail was in charge of baseball operations was that I didn’t need to worry about the team making damaging or boneheaded trades.  MacPhail was far too conservative to ever let that happen.  When he made a trade, you could rest assure that the risk was minimal and that the players the team received in return had more potential value to the O’s than the players they gave up.  In an organization where it sometimes seems like everything that could go wrong does go wrong, it was comforting to know that at least all trades that were made would make sense.  Since Dan Duquette has come on the scene, that comfort level has disappeared. It was announced today that Jeremy Guthrie has been traded to the Rockies for starting pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom.  The trade is a bit of a head-scratcher.  It would be wrong to call this a potentially “damaging” trade.  Guthrie had one year of team control left and was getting expensive.  He is a solid starting pitcher, but far from irreplaceable.  Trading Guthrie for another mediocre starting pitcher in Hammel isn’t going to hurt the team, but it is hard to see how it will help it either.

I try to look at trades and really all player acquisitions from the team’s perspective.  Obviously, Dan Duquette did not make this decision by throwing darts at a board.  There was surely some logic behind the move.  I think we can safely assume the following:

1.       Duquette felt that the Orioles were best served by getting some return for Guthrie now rather than letting him walk as a free agent at the end of the season.  With the new CBA rules that state a team cannot receive compensation for a player that they have had for less than a full season, Guthrie’s trade value at the 2012 trading deadline most likely was not going to be significantly higher than it is now.

2.        He was looking to improve the Major League club roster in trading Guthrie.

3.       Duquette feels that the Orioles got increased value by trading one year of Guthrie for 4 years of Lindstrom/Hammel (two years apiece).  In addition, the O’s got a starter in Hammel that in all likelihood will perform as well as Guthrie plus they got an okay reliever to boot.   Essentially Guthrie and Hammel were a straight swap talent wise, so the O’s “came out ahead” by receiving Lindstrom as well.

I think point #2 is what most fans, myself included, are having trouble with.   The 2012 Orioles aren’t likely to perform significantly better with Guthrie/Hammel throwing once every five days than they are if they hand that spot in the rotation to one of the pitchers likely to start the season either at AAA Norfolk or in the bullpen (Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergeson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Dana Eveland).   Given that, it seems that the O’s would have been better served by swapping Guthrie for a prospect or two that were more likely to contribute to the team’s future successes, even if the 2012 Orioles were slightly worse as a result.

Dan Duquette, in trading Guthrie, made a move that at worse will probably have no negative effect on the 2012 Orioles or the future of the organization.  At best, he might have made a trade that will help the 2012 and 2013 Orioles improve marginally.  However, what is certain is that this trade did nothing to help the team’s long-term future.  That is where the dissatisfaction with this trade lies.  Fans certainly have every right to believe that Duquette might have been wiser in looking to the team’s future, rather than just 2012, when trading Jeremy Guthrie.

Having said all of that, I am not going to lose too much sleep over it.  The trade is not damaging to the Orioles.  It is a bit perplexing perhaps and even frustrating, but at the end of the day, the organization is no worse for wear.  I have a hard time getting too worked up over a trade where the end result is likely to be a wash.

Jeremy Guthrie was a pleasure to watch pitch and a lot of fun to follow.  Here’s hoping that he can make the best of his opportunity in the always difficult pitching environment in Colorado.