O's rotation infused with Millwood's savvy
Veteran right-hander brings years of experience to the table
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a fitting assignment, a generational favor asked and answered.
Kevin Millwood, who grew up in one of the most accomplished rotations in recent history, will get a chance to teach some lessons to a highly touted group of young arms. Millwood, who learned from Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in Atlanta, will be able to apply that knowledge to Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and the rest of Baltimore's stable of prized pitchers.
That was the upshot of Wednesday's trade, a transaction that sent Millwood and cash considerations from Texas to Baltimore in exchange for veteran reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named. Millwood, a veteran of 13 Major League seasons, will immediately become O's rotation anchor and de facto mentor to the team's best hopes of contention moving forward.
"I think it's a lot of fun," said Millwood, who owns a career record of 155-121. "It's nice to be able to fix some of the things that I've learned in the past, to try to hand it down to some of the younger guys. It makes it all worthwhile when guys start to do what you tell them and it works out for them."
Millwood speaks from personal experience. The right-hander surfaced midway through Atlanta's stupefying run of 14 consecutive division titles and had to break into a rotation that also included All-Star Denny Neagle. And after experiencing success with the Braves over six seasons, he's proven that he can take his act to a new team and a new league without much drop-off.
Now, at 34 years old (soon to be 35 on Christmas Eve), Millwood finds himself playing the role of wizened veteran. The right-hander stepped into that role for Texas over the past four seasons to great effect and will get a chance to start all over again in Baltimore. And from manager Dave Trembley's perspective, there really couldn't be a better fit at this stage of his team's development.
"What it does is it puts the other guys behind him in positions where I think they're going to have greater opportunities to succeed," said Trembley. "It helps the team, but it helps our individual guys developing down the road maybe a little bit quicker. I think also it helps [Jeremy] Guthrie get in a situation where I think you're going to see [him] return to the way he pitched in 2008."
And if that's the case, it couldn't come at a better time. The Orioles spent the 2009 season allowing several rookies to learn on the job, a campaign that resulted in some individual growth but some continued adversity as a team. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, thinks the Orioles are ready to make a move and that Millwood can help them do it.
"I'm happy with the level of talent that is in the organization now," said MacPhail. "Some of it was already in the organization, just at the lower levels, like a Nolan Reimold. But being able to sign [Matt] Wieters and [Jake] Arrieta from that first Draft, and we added Tillman, we added [Adam] Jones, we added [Felix] Pie. Now, we have Millwood. [Brad] Bergesen was already there. I'm very happy with the amount of talent that we have in the organization, whether it was there before or it has come after.
"I'm very pleased with that. I'm not as pleased that our wins haven't really moved much at all. We've had some very significant individual success, some of these young kids: the Reimolds, the Wieters, the Bergesens, the Matuszes, the Tillmans. ... We want to surround these kids with some quality Major League players that can help them learn what it is to win in the American League East. That's why we are so happy to have Kevin Millwood to join the organization."
And if MacPhail has his way, Millwood will be just the first domino in a winter of self-improvement. The executive said that Millwood's acquisition wouldn't preclude the team from acquiring another starter, and in fact, he said it would make it more likely that the Orioles could roll the dice on a high-risk, high-reward proposition like Erik Bedard or Ben Sheets.
MacPhail came to the Winter Meetings with four tasks in mind, and he still needs to find two corner infielders and a late-inning reliever. But by adding Millwood, he's immediately plugged the hole that he originally considered the most difficult fix. And though Millwood is only signed for one more season, the O's have Arrieta and Zach Britton moving briskly through his farm system.
"I came into these Meetings thinking we had a better chance to fill one of the corner-infield spots out of here, but it worked out 180 degrees from the way I thought it would," MacPhail said. "But each market is a little bit different, and we were pleased to be able to knock that off. In our conversations with Dave and the rest of our guys, our first priority was trying to get that 200-inning guy to take some of the weight off our kids and get the right guy in terms of helping our kids make the adjustments to the Major League. Everything we heard about Millwood could not have been a better fit for that role."
MacPhail said that he still hasn't made any finite offers to potential free agents, and he also said that he hasn't gotten around to meeting with super agent Scott Boras. MacPhail, speaking frankly, said that he'd be surprised if the Orioles did anything else at the Winter Meetings. But having said that, he underlined that he was thrilled at the way things have turned out.
"I needed to have this Millwood thing play out, and know about whether it was going to get done or not get done and what the financial impact was going to be," he said. "I wanted to get that resolved before we ever get to that level. We have already spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out the next order of things, which isn't as easy as one might think."
Baltimore's bullpen should have no shortage of candidates to replace Ray, who struggled in his return from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. The Orioles may have solidified the job status of Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate with the move, but on a bigger level, they've helped MacPhail find the answer to a question he's struggled with for his entire baseball life.
When asked what he would consider progress for his team -- a question he often sidesteps or refuses to consider -- MacPhail spoke briskly in the wake of the Millwood trade.
"I've finally got an answer to this question. It's taken me 30 years," he said. "You'll know when you see it and so will our fans. They are pretty savvy. It's not a number, but you'll know it when you see it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.