Heath Bintliff: Should the O’s have traded Jeremy Guthrie?

As the Orioles move forward into 2012, one thing they definitely need to take a hard look at is shedding veteran players and getting younger, yet again. After all, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and even Matt Wieters are veteran players at this point, and with J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds under contract, the team could use some young talent. And one way to get some of that talent is to trade useful vets for promising kids.

The front office has already made one move in that direction, trading 36-year old reliever Koji Uehara for right-hander Tommy Hunter (24) and firstbaseman Chris Davis (25). Time will tell if this move will pan out but trading a guy on the wrong side of 35 for a couple of players in their 20’s is the right idea.

But have the Orioles missed the boat on trading one of their more consistent veterans in Jeremy Guthrie?

After the 2010 season, Guthrie had spent four seasons with the Orioles posting an ERA+ of 109 (just better than league average) and for the last three seasons had averaged 200 innings pitched per season. Guthrie may not be an ace or even a No. 2 or No. 3 starter on a good team, but rounding out the back of a rotation, a better-than-average innings eater like Guthrie could be a nice addition to a contender. He could have netted two or three good players in return before the season - not top prospects, but young talent in a system that could really use it. The Orioles had plenty of young arms to choose from in spring training and could have dealt him then.

(OK, as it turned out Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman imploded, Jake Arrieta got hurt and Justin Duchscherer never pitched at all. So I suppose it was nice to have Guthrie around. Although I’m not sure the season could have gone much worse anyway.)

After taking the loss to Atlanta on July 1, he was still turning in a classic Jeremy Guthrie season. He had a 3.93 ERA and had thrown 110 innings. He was an attractive piece for several contending teams, especially in the National League, where, away from the potent lineups of the American League East, he was bound to fare even better. But a deal was never reached and Guthrie’s ERA has crept up ever since. A 4.45 ERA does make him the most attractive of trade chips heading into the 2012 offseason.

Guthrie will become a free agent after the 2012 season. He will also, subpar year notwithstanding, become more expensive next season. I would guess that he will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million. These facts make him less attractive still to potential trade partners.

So what happens? Do the O’s keep him until the end of 2012 and then offer arbitration, hoping for some compensation when he signs with another team? Or will he accept arbitration and stick the club with another big salary? What if he has another down year? Will the team even offer him arbitration? Can they still get any value at any time for him?

The toughest rivals in the AL East are willing to part with players too soon rather than too late. (The Rays traded away Matt Garza last offseason, for example.) It’s something the O’s need to do and needed to do with Guthrie. Now it may be too late.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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