Monday, January 19, 2009

O's trade Olson for slice of Pie

The Orioles traded LHP Garrett Olson to the Chicago Cubs for OF Felix Pie over the weekend in a move that had me scratching my head.

The Olson/Pie deal had been a long-gestating one, which at one time involved the San Diego Padres as part of a three-way deal that would have sent Olson to the Padres and Jake Peavy to the Cubs give or take a few more players involved somehow.

But yesterday the O’s and Cubs hooked up the deal alone, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cubs send Olson to San Diego like originally planned.

Olson was a promising LHP when he joined the O’s last season. His career MiL ERA of 2.96 translated to a mid-rotation guy in the majors who relied on craftiness to get batters out. And while Olson had some success early on after being called up from AAA Norfolk, as the season progressed, Olson regressed and ended the 2008 campaign with a dreadful 6.65 ERA. And that was enough for GM Andy MacPhail.

The O’s get Felix Pie, only 24, who like Olson, was a once-promising MiL player who has never succeeded in his short stints in the majors. In 260 AB’s, Pie has amassed 3 HR, 30 RBI and an OPS of .615. But in the minors, Pie was one of the Cubs’ best OF prospects, with a career-MiL .823 OPS.

Pie may also remind people of another highly-rated prospect the O’s acquired in a trade in Adam Jones. And MacPhail, who was once GM of the Cubs, sees enough in Pie to think that Pie can find that promise he had in the minors as an everyday player.

And this where I start the head-scratching. Pie is a highly-touted prospect, but the O’s also have their share of OF prospects in the minors, starting with Nolan Reimold, who is coming off his best season as a player. In 2008, Reimold totaled 25 HR, 84 RBI and an .868 OPS. Reimold will be 25 in 2009, so if he is ever going to get a shot, now is the chance.

In addition to Reimold, the O’s also have Luis Montanez, who was going for the Eastern Division’s Triple Crown before being called up and having some moderate success for the O’s in 112 AB’s.

So by acquiring Pie, it makes Reimold and Montanez’s once-bright futures as Orioles that much more uncertain.

However, with Pie the O’s OF is set for the next five years, assuming that Pie and Jones keep improving (Nick Markakis is close to an extension with the O's). Pie also allows the O’s flexibility with Luke Scott, who can move into the full-time DH position and keep Aubrey Huff at 1B.

It also allows the O’s to aggressively shop Scott for pitching.

And speaking of pitching, losing Olson further weakens the O’s starting rotation. And while Olson was never a sure thing, he was expected to improve from his miserable 2008 season to become a #4 pitcher. As it stands, anyone beyond Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are big question marks, and even Uehara, who will be making his debut in the MLB, is far from a sure thing.

Radhames Liz looks to assume his rotation spot in 2009, but his 6.72 ERA in 2008 doesn’t inspire confidence. And while newly signed swing-man Mark Hendrickson looks to be a starter by default with Olson gone, a handful of younger pitching prospects could force their way into the rotation by pitching well in spring training.

But MacPhail will probably play it safe, as he should, and sign or trade for at least one more starter. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him land two. Safety in numbers isn’t a bad thing in Baltimore, especially after the rotation’s inability to go deep into games wore out the bullpen by the All Star Break.

So while the Olson for Pie deal isn’t a major one, it does represents some positives. First and foremost, it represents MacPhail’s desire to fill the O’s roster with as much young talent as possible. And while Garrett Olson was still viewed as young talent, MacPhail valued Pie higher and made his move.

Nothing wrong with that.

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