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Starting pitching

I received an email yesterday from Merritt Johnson that got me thinking. Something I thought Flanagan and Beattie really struck out on in the offseason was attempting to acquire a short-term, inexpensive veteran starter. From the mail:

Having suffered through the last 7-8 years (and really my whole life except 1996-7), I am excited that the O's are showing some promise. However, I am desperately worried about the lack of a veteran starting pitcher (no, I do not count Sir Headcase Ponson) and management's lack of desire to get one.

I really think we should have gone after Al Leiter this offseason, he's a proven leader with good enough stuff to be our #1, until one of the young guys matures. Now, there doesn't seem to be any quality vets out there. I am fairly sure that we would get slaughtered in a five playoff game series right now, because we have no dependable "shut-down" starter or even a guy who has pitched well in the playoffs.

Despite all of this, Beattie and Flanagan seem more concerned with getting an outfielder or a first baseman. Certainly we could use both, but shouldn't they be more worried about pitching? This team reminds me an awful lot of those late 90s Rangers teams that could hit a ton, but always got swept by the Yankees in the Division Series. Anyway, do you see a pitcher on the horizon that they could pick-up for Gibbons/Julio? I know that most veteran pitchers aren't exposed until after the All-Star break, but I don't know if the O's will still be in first place by then, so I like to think about these things now while the going is good.

Gibbons and Julio are certainly the guys I think we can afford to trade. We could also afford to lose Palmeiro or Surhoff, but let's just go ahead and count that as impossible, because it won't happen. Both Gibbons and Julio have some blind success in their careers (one year Gibbons drove in 100 while not being all that good, Julio saved games for three years and wasn't all that good for two of them). A team looking for a lefty bat or a closer-type to shore up their pen could definitely be interested in one of these guys.

The problem right now in acquiring a starter is that the only guys in the rotation that haven't been very good are Ponson, who falls into the Palmeiro/Surhoff area unless we can trade him to some poor team and likely pay a big chunk of his salary anyway (which I'd support), and Cabrera, who, well, could probably use the time at Triple-A to hone his craft anyway.

Figuring it's Cabrera that gets the boot from the rotation, there will be guys available. Kevin Millwood is someone I thought we should have gone after in the offseason just as a rental in the middle of the rotation, and he's pitched fairly well thus far for Cleveland with horrible run support. If the Indians continue to struggle, Millwood would likely be available, but I don't know that we have the parts the Indians would want. What would they do with Gibbons, for instance? And do they need Julio at all with Wickman, Betancourt, Riske, etc.?

Roger Clemens' name is already being thrown about in terms of moving, as the Astros, like the Indians, aren't hitting. Clemens would likely only go to the Yankees, and maybe, maybe the Red Sox if they had a need for him. I can't imagine Roger as an Oriole.

Of course, it all depends on what teams collapse and fall out of their division races. Livan Hernandez always springs to mind for me, but I have my doubts the Nats would send their ace to Baltimore. I'm not sure Baltimore's going to be in the position to pick up a shutdown, ace-type starter at any point in this season, or at least not in the position to out-do other teams looking for the same available guy(s).

And while the pitching thus far has been surprising and really pretty damn good, I have the same concerns about crunch time and - forbidden p-word - playoffs. Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen and Erik Bedard are our best starters. If we went to a three-man rotation for a five-game series, I have to guess right now that those would be our guys. More likely we'd go to a four-man and include Ponson. We are paying him like he deserves that position, after all.

If they could get a cheap rental on a guy like Millwood, I think it would be a good idea. Millwood's contract is only for this season, and if he didn't help, so be it. If he did, that's great, there's no pressure to bring him back next season. More likely than not, they would have to include at least John Maine in the deal, which I don't think would be an absurd asking price. I have no doubt the Orioles wouldn't trade Hayden Penn in a deal for a guy like Millwood, so I don't worry about that.

I know some of you might be thinking, "We don't need pitching, the pitching's been fine," but the truth is that outside of Lopez, none of these guys have anything like a major league track record. I like Chen and Bedard as much as anyone (I probably like Chen more than anyone on earth except Bruce's family and - if he has a dog - perhaps his dog), but if Baltimore wants to win this season, there will have to be moves made. That's the life of a contender and usually the life of a pretender, too. And with the way we've started this season, and the more excitement that gets generated with every win, the more likely the Orioles are to throw down and try to compete this year.

I think it's something we're going to have to accept. All the "rebuilding" is kind of over in a way. This is a veteran team with money and what they perceive to be a new threat in the Nationals. Everything is breaking their way thus far this season (the Yankees are way underachieving, Boston is struggling with injuries). And they don't have the youth for a youth movement, as there are only a few serious prospects in the system.

As long as they hold on to Penn, Fiorentino and Markakis, I don't see a real issue with the team running its operations similar to the way other competing teams do, mostly through free agency with the occasional homegrown product from the farm system.

Like it or not, that might be the only way in our division to ever stop being a stepping stone. Sure, you can do what Tampa Bay is doing and hope that one of these years everything collapses around you, but as much as I like a lot of the D-Rays young players, that year is probably never going to come. They play a waiting game because it's the only real option they seem to have. We have more than that.

Anyway, what do you guys think?