Last offseason, we traded away our best pitcher and best pitcher for a boatload of prospects to help us down the road. Should we take that even further this winter?
Supposedly, under Andy Mac's master plan, we're supposed to show signs of a pulse in '09 and contend for real in 2010. Let's examine the likelihood of this. What's the supposed strength of our franchise? Our pitching prospects in AA and A. Do we really think they're going to be keeping their ERAs under 4 in 2010? Our rotation is an outright catastrophe right now. Do we really think that Chris Tillman, at age 22, will be lights out in 2010, that two pitchers in A ball (Arrieta and Erbe, who will also be just 22) will successfully jump two more leagues by then, that Hernandez will cut down on the walks enough by then to be successful?
It's not unfathomable, and yes, there are pitchers (Lincecum, Hamels, Liriano, etc) who come into the bigs and perform well from a young age without growing pains. But there are also a lot of guys like Bedard who take years to develop once they've reached the show, sort of like how Adam Jones is doing. There's also no guarantee that Wieters will come in and rake right away. We can't have Jeremy Guthrie and 4 pitchers under 24 in our rotation in 2010 and expect to win, even if we had A-Rod and Hanley Ramirez on the left side of our infield.
That said, given that our minor league strength may very well not be able to help us contend (not be .500, but be able to win in October) within a year or two, you could make a strong argument that we should continue the rebuilding. I'm not the first to advocate this, but there's one name people don't often bring up in trade scenarios: Jeremy Guthrie.
I love Guthrie, and trading a starter of his caliber is always a dicey proposition. But there's a good chance his '07 and '08 seasons will compare favorably to Bedard's in 06 and 07, which netted us a massive return. He doesn't have the strikeouts, but he's far more durable (and he's also not a pansy) and farther from FA. If we could get back an Adam Jones-type player or slightly less (in the infield, preferably) and a Chris Tillman-type pitching prospect, with one or two Sherill/Butler/Mickolio types, I'd strongly consider making that deal.
Obviously, if you do this, you must trade Roberts and Huff too. Emphasize position players (in the infield, especially) and pitchers in the deals. This pushes back the contending calendar another year or two, but that may be the best way to go, especially considering that you can't half-ass anything in the AL East. Otherwise, we're hoping that by 2010, Wieters and Jones are flat-out mashing the ball, Huff's current year isn't a fluke, and Roberts, who can't seem to finish off a season strong, will still be playing well into his 30s--and then there's the pitching problem. That's a lot of hoping.
I'm not married to this way of thinking. A pitcher like Guthrie is just the kind of player we want coming back in deals. A potential line-up of Roberts-Jones-Markakis-Teixeira-Wieters (if he hits like a 5)-Huff-Scott makes me swoon...if Matusz is as polished as they say (and we sign him), maybe he can indeed help very soon...and maybe Arrieta or Hernandez strike out guys and control the walks from day one and Bergesen becomes our version of Chien-Ming Wang.
But let's not forget that our best pitcher could help us augment an already promising stash of young players who could form the nucleus of a very good team in a few years.