Orioles Trade Jeremy Guthrie For Hammel, Lindstrom

I thought the Orioles should have been trying to trade Jeremy Guthrie (during the deadline last year, if possible), given his age and proximity to free agency, but I never thought the team would do it given that Guthrie – though not exactly an Ace by any stretch of the imagination – is the only pitcher on the club they could count on to be productive (ie, he’s their ace). But I guess Dan Duquette felt comfortable enough with the thirty or so #4/5 starters on the depth chart to move Guthrie, who’ll be going to Colorado in return for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. This seems like not at all the type of return the Orioles should have been looking for (though that’s not the same thing as saying they didn’t get enough back).

Honestly, Guthrie isn’t worth a King’s ransom on the trade market. He’s going into his last year of arbitration, and was going to be paid $8-10 M*, which cuts into his value. As a good but not great pitcher – he’s been between 2.1 and 2.6 fWAR in four of the past five seasons – his production is worth something in the neighborhood of $12.5 M for the season (sure there’s aging and injury risk to consider, but Guthrie also posted his best strike-out rate since 2008 last year (still only 5.6 K/9) and has shown a relatively consistent ability to beat his peripherals – I’m not uncomfortable calling him a 2.5 win pitcher for the purposes of this exercise). It is interesting that the Rockies have added yet another flyball pitcher to their staff – we’ll see how that works out.

* It’s possible that the arbitration issue – the Orioles filed at $7.25 M and Guthrie at $10.25 M, and it looked like there might not be any sort of agreement – may have played into the move. Guthrie actually settled with the Rockies for $8.25 M already.

Jason Hammel is a 29 year-old right-handed (mostly) starter, who will be a free agent after the 2013 season. He was very good for the Rockies in 2009 and 2010, striking out around 7 batters per nine and walking just over 2, but things fell off last year (5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9). He’s been able to get some groundballs though, which is nice (45% career). Hammel has actually been sort of an anti-Guthrie, with a career BABIP allowed of .314 and a 4.99 ERA but a 4.38 FIP and 4.27 xFIP. By comparison, the starter the O’s traded away is at 4.19/4.68/4.61. It’s entirely possible that Hammel and Guthrie are similarly good pitcher, with the ERA favoring Guthrie while the “advanced” stats favor Hammel (tERA says Guthrie 4.82, Hammel: 5.09 while SIERA says Guthrie: 4.60, Hammel: 4.37, for what it’s worth). If the Hammel of old shows up in 2012, there’s a good chance the Orioles will have actually upgraded their rotation.

Hammel is a four-pitch pitcher, who leans heavily on his ~93 mph fastball and compliments it with a slider, curve, and a change.  The heater looks like it gets a bit of extra sink, which makes sense with the groundballs. The breaking-balls also seem to have pretty good movement, though they’re not big-time strike-out pitches. The whiff rates on his offerings:

Year Fastball Slider Curve Change Overall
2009 12.70% 23.40% 46.80% 31.90% 21.50%
2010 11.70% 27.30% 29.70% 18.60% 17.50%
2011 10.40% 27.60% 26.20% 26.10% 16.80%

Given those numbers, it might be fair to say that Hammel should have struck out more than 5 batters per nine last year, but also should have struck out fewer than 7 per nine the year before. I guess we’ll see next season.

After two years at 3.9 fWAR followed by one at 1 fWAR, calling Hammel a two win or so pitcher doesn’t seem too unreasonable. He’s set to make $4.75 M in 2012, and with decline, salary inflation, arbitration rates, and all that factored in, should give the O’s around $6-7 M in surplus value over the next two years.

Matt Lindstrom is a soon to be 32 year-old right-handed reliever. For a dude who throws 96-97 mph (that’s average fastball velocity), he doesn’t generate a lot of strike-outs (just 7.2 K/9). He does get some groundballs though (47% career) and isn’t too too wild (3.4 BB/9). While he’ll miss some bats with his four-seamer and his curve (but not an ungodly amount), his sinker tends to meet the bat and that’s partially why his punch-out numbers aren’t so impressive. Career 3.81 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 4.03 xFIP (solid if unspectacular numbers).

Lindstrom is already under contract, making $3.6 M in 2012 with a $4 M option for 2013. That seems pretty fair for a guy who’s averaged about 0.7 fWAR for his career, so there’s probably not much surplus value (if any) to be had here. It does mean that Kevin Gregg has another pitcher to beat to get back to the 9th inning though, which I imagine will make some fans happy.

So the trade looks like a mild win for the Orioles on paper – they pick up a year of team control on a (maybe) relatively equivalent starter (with some upside?) and add an interesting arm to their pen. Much like with the Koji Uehara trade though, I don’t understand the point. Maybe it makes the team better in the short run by a couple wins if things work out well, but it leaves things in the same shape they were post 2013, which is where the organization should be looking anyway. They can finish in 5th place with Guthrie, with Hammel/Lindstrom, or with neither. Trading Jeremy Guthrie was a good idea, but I don’t particularly like the execution – a potential opportunity to add depth to a shallow farm system was wasted*.

* So, it seems like Dan Duquette may have tried to do this and was unable:

“We didn’t have any offers of young prospects for Jeremy,”  Duquette told reporters”.

If that’s the case, then I guess I’m more OK with the deal – as I said, it’s not a bad return, with at least some upside. Could the O’s have gotten actual prospects last year though? Who knows (and that obviously isn’t on Duquette). Maybe they could have gotten something at the deadline this year, I guess, but it’s not unreasonable not to want to take that chance (and end up with nothing). Non-zero chance that Hammel and/or Lindstrom has a solid year and can be traded for something.