12/09/09 10:05 PM EST
Millwood set to anchor Orioles' rotation
Veteran brings leadership, experience to young Baltimore staff
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Kevin Millwood took his veteran pitching act to a new team on Wednesday, when the Orioles acquired him from the Rangers in exchange for Chris Ray and a player to be named later. Texas also sent cash considerations to Baltimore, and Millwood will immediately step in at the top of his new club's rotation.
And for Millwood, it's business as usual. The Rangers counted on the 34-year-old to set a positive example and take some of the pressure off their contingent of pitching prospects, a job the Orioles hope he can reprise in Baltimore. Millwood, paired with Jeremy Guthrie, will match up against the toughest opponents and allow the younger arms to slot in behind them.
"He's going to be the anchor of the staff," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley of his team's newest player. "He'll be a guy that comes here with a proven track record, a lot of experience, a guy that we'll be able to count on every fifth day. Our younger guys will be able to learn from him, but I think our younger guys will now be in a position where they'll be able to succeed more."
Perhaps most importantly, the Orioles were able to land a known quantity without taking a significant risk. Texas gave Baltimore approximately $3 million in the trade, and paired with the loss of Ray's salary, it means the Orioles will pay around $8 million for a pitcher who has thrown 200 innings five times and made at least 29 starts 10 times in 13 seasons.
Millwood is only under contract for the 2010 season, and the Orioles can try to extend him at some point or let him walk away. That's a nearly perfect scenario for a team bursting at the seams with highly touted pitching prospects, but Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, said that the short-term nature of the contract can cut both ways.
"There are some positive aspects of that and there are some negative aspects of that," said MacPhail. "You could conceivably end up with Draft choices based on the season he had last year. And also you would have the benefit of whatever money rolls off the next year. I'm always a big believer in giving yourself some flexibility every year. Sometimes it's money that performed at a high level for you and it's problematic replacing it, and sometimes it's money that didn't perform at a high level for you and you're glad that you can go back into the market and try to do something different with it. ... Our first goal, talking to Dave and our guys, was to try to surround that young pitching staff with a veteran guy who could really take the weight and burden off the next guy. We think he'll have a positive impact, not just on the days he goes out there, but the days the other kids go out there."
Perhaps most importantly, Millwood brings postseason experience and a knowledge of American League hitters to a team that sorely needs it. MacPhail said that catcher Matt Wieters could learn from Millwood's work ethic just the same as Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman can, and Trembley succinctly noted that Millwood's steady presence should take pressure off Guthrie.
And that's only the intangibles. Millwood brings plenty of on-field value. The veteran starred in the National League with Atlanta, and he led the AL in ERA (2.86) for Cleveland in 2005 and managed to finish eighth with a 3.67 mark last season. Millwood has seen all sorts of situations and won't be intimidated by moving to a new team and a new situation.
"Actually, I don't really know many people on the Orioles team right now," Millwood said in a conference call. "I know them from playing against them, but I don't know that we've ever sat down and had a conversation. I know there's quite a few guys there that are really good players, and they're only to get better. They'll be exciting to play with."
Millwood also shouldn't be bothered by moving to a team in a tough division and an adverse ballpark. The 34-year-old cut his teeth pitching in a great Atlanta rotation and worked to a 48-46 record with a 4.57 ERA for Texas, which plays in one of the league's best hitting environments. In other words, moving to Camden Yards and competing against the Yankees shouldn't be a stretch.
"I don't think anybody thought Texas was a very good place to pitch. It turned out to be all right," Millwood said. "I think anybody that's a competitor likes to pitch against the best teams. The Yankees and Red Sox are always up there every year."
MacPhail said that he didn't have Millwood on his mind when he arrived at the Winter Meetings, but after a few conversations with Texas, he began to see it as a realistic option. MacPhail and Jon Daniels, his Texas counterpart, went back and forth over the first few days of the Winter Meetings as they tried to settle on the potential return and the cash involved.
Ray, who missed the 2008 season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, turned out to be a name that both teams could stomach. The former closer was wild last season in his return from rehabilitation and struggled at times finding his release point and his comfort zone, but MacPhail said it wasn't easy to give up on a potential relief ace.
"He's shown he can close when healthy, and that was an issue we debated," said MacPhail. "To get something, you've got to give something up. ... That's what makes it equitable. But right now in our view, the starting pitcher was more valuable to us in 2010 than right-handed relievers with good arms. We feel like we can replace that easier than finding a guy who can pitch 200 innings."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.