We keep hearing about the Orioles' desire to add another starting pitcher to the rotation in 2011. Am I the only one scratching my head over this?
The Orioles already have on their big league roster Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman. It is expected that at some point in 2011 Zach Britton will be ready to make his major league debut. That's one proven veteran, one blossoming star, one solid middle-to-back end of the rotation guy, and two promising youngsters. If the Orioles sign Carl Pavano or trade for Joe Blanton or something like that, which of these guys do you bump back down to AAA? And what good will it ultimately do the Orioles?
Even if there were an argument for adding another "proven" starting pitcher, with both the Rangers and Yankees missing out on Cliff Lee, the price on viable starting pitchers has probably just gone through the roof. What it would cost the Orioles in money, draft picks, and prospects has to be taken into consideration. But also to be taken into consideration is the development time it would cost whichever pitcher has to start the season in AAA so that this veteran innings eater can "stabilize" the rotation.
Tillman has nothing left to prove in AAA. If he can have sustained success in the majors is still to be seen, but sending him back to Norfolk won't help him. I personally questioned Arrieta's readiness at the time of his major league promotion, but after a somewhat disastrous start to his major league career, Arrieta began to progress nicely at the end of last season. Do either of these fellows belong in the minors? I don't think so. And Bergesen, who spent his fair share of time on the Baltimore-Norfolk Express in 2010, has shown that he is who he is. He will not benefit from time in AAA either.
(Obviously Guthrie and Matusz aren't going anywhere)
The Orioles have on their 40-man roster Rick VandenHurk, who made 22 starts at AAA last year. They have Troy Patton, who made 25, and Brandon Erbe, who made 15. They also have Jason Berken who spent 2010 in the bullpen but who made 24 major league starts in 2009. Any of those players can fill in should one of the O's starters go down with injury. Will they be fantastic? Probably not. But they won't impede the progression of any of the talented youngsters on the staff.
The Orioles have spent the off-season so far preparing for the short-term future, and I'm fine with that. As someone who watches every single game I appreciate J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds. But when it comes to pitching they need to look past the benefits of a single year, because the young pitching will be what takes this team into contention or what keeps them in the basement. The Orioles need to give them every opportunity to improve, and they need to expose these pitchers to the best competition so they can weed out any that won't be able to contribute to the O's long term success.