Saturday, September 20, 2008

Orioles should consider bringing Mussina back

Unquestionably, the Orioles will have plenty of pitching concerns heading into the offseason.

Now, there are two ways of looking at the team's pitching dilemma. One, the O's have plenty of pitchers on the mend who should be fine heading into the 2009 season. A list of Oriole pitchers who are rehabbing or are shut down for the season includes Jeremy Guthrie (right shoulder), Matt Albers (partially torn labrum), Danys Baez (right elbow surgery), Daniel Cabrera (right elbow), Jim Hoey (right shoulder surgery), Jim Johnson (right shoulder), Troy Patton (left labrum surgery), Chris Ray (right elbow surgery), and Dennis Sarfate (right distal clavicle fracture). Hayden Penn's name can also be thrown in that list because he's almost always injured. George Sherrill recently returned from the disabled list and seems to be fine. Without a doubt, that's an impressive list, and most of them hope to be ready for the start of next season.

The Orioles, though, are never that lucky, so the second view is that the Orioles need to sign a few free agent starting pitchers. The last time the O's made a major move for free agent pitchers was in 2006 when the team signed Scott Williamson, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, and Baez. Needless to say, the signings didn't (and haven't: Walker -- 5.97 ERA) exactly panned out.

A list of 2009 free agent starting pitchers can be seen here (scroll down a bit). In no particular order, the top names on the list of many teams will probably be: A.J. Burnett (if he opts out), Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, Kyle Lohse, Mike Mussina, Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Ben Sheets. Some other intriguing but aging pitchers are: Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, and John Smoltz.

I have only heard one of the names above, Burnett, mentioned as being a possibility for the O's, and that appears to be because his wife is from the Baltimore area. Now, Burnett is having a good season (18-10, 4.19 ERA, 214 Ks, 1.35 WHIP, 206.1 innings pitched), but he's been injury prone throughout his career and would also ask for lots of money and a long-term deal. The O's would surely like to add a pitcher as talented as Sabathia or Sheets, but both will command huge contracts after this season.

That seems to leave one solution: sign one or two veteran starters to one or two year deals. Arguably, the two smartest and most dependable free agent options for the Orioles are Lowe and Mussina. Lowe's numbers this season -- 14-11, 3.40 ERA, 138 Ks, 1.14 WHIP -- have gone under the radar a bit, especially with the Dodgers where everyone has gone crazy over the presence of Manny Ramirez in that lineup. Lowe, 35, has had a pretty solid career and would certainly fill a large hole in the O's starting rotation. He is making $10 million this season, so the O's may not want to pay that much. He also probably wouldn't have the same kind of success in the AL East that he is having in the NL West, but he's better than most of the options the O's have right now.

Mussina will turn 40 in December, and he's had a solid season (18-9, 3.57 ERA, 141 Ks, 29 BB) for an underachieving Yankees team. Even if the O's signed Mussina for just one season, he'd provide a veteran presence for many of the younger pitchers and would eat a lot of innings since he avoids injuries. He also doesn't walk many hitters at all, while the O's lead both the AL and NL in walks allowed with 655 (so far). Signing Mussina would also bring him back to Baltimore where he was so dominant for 10 seasons. But two potential problems may arise if the O's are interested in Mussina: 1) He made $11 million this season, and the Orioles probably wouldn't pay that to Mussina for one or two seasons, and the Yankees or someone else might. 2) Mussina may not be interested in coming to a team coming off of a losing season; he still hasn't won a World Series yet.

In the end, the Orioles may decide to just go with their current roster and hope for the best. They will also have to figure out whether or not they want to bring back Daniel Cabrera; they probably won't if it costs more than $5 million.

But I know that I'm not the only one who doesn't want to see another makeshift rotation that includes any combination of Brian Burres, Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz, Chris Waters, and Cabrera with Guthrie.

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