Just Pay the Man

January 28, 2010 | Thyrl Nelson

It’s time for the O’s to step up to the plate and pay Jeremy Guthrie before they have to sit across from him in arbitration and try to reach into his pocket again.

Having made a couple of prudent if not barn burning free agent acquisitions over the off-season, win or lose, the O’s appear poised to score some runs. And maybe hindsight will show us that they actually made the best of a bad free agent crop at their need positions. And in bringing in veteran stopgaps, the team may not only have bolstered their lineup for the short term, but could also be strengthening the foundation for the future by bringing in veteran influences for their already robust stable of budding young hitters.


From a pitching perspective too, it would seem that at least philosophically the plan would be the same. Rumors however of Kevin Millwood’s apparent discontent at being traded to the O’s – not hard to believe – could be giving rise to concerns around the warehouse as to whether mentally he’ll be the type of influence on their young pitching staff that they had envisioned. If nothing else, the O’s apparent lack of interest in Erik Bedard – a much needed lefty starter – may be all the proof we need that providing a harmonious and productive clubhouse may be priority number one for the O’s. All of that though, makes the Orioles decision, so far at least, to go to the arbitration table with Jeremy Guthrie that much more perplexing and concerning.


Let’s face facts, and state the obvious, wins have been really tough for the Orioles to come by over the last decade or so. Their struggles on the field are well documented, but for the O’s, it doesn’t end there. From being relegated to second class status by the Ravens to having another baseball team parked in their own back yard, to steroid scandals, failed free agent bids, even bigger failed free agent acquisitions, the rise of the Red Sox, and all of the bad PR in between, success stories have been hard for the Orioles to come by. By all accounts though Jeremy Guthrie is an Orioles success story.


For his part, Guthrie should be having the time of his life right now. A once failed first round draft pick with the Indians, Guthrie was probably resigned to putting his Stanford education to use before the Orioles took a flyer on him, as he never managed to post 20 innings in a season or to register an ERA below 6.00 in parts of 3 seasons with the Indians.


Guthrie pitched 175 innings to a 3.70 ERA in his first season in Baltimore, and backed it up with 190 innings at an ERA of 3.63. At 17-17 lifetime for a sub .500 team, Guthrie had seemingly answered his critics. And then he found out that he had new critics, as the Orioles took him to task.


For his spirited efforts, on a club severely lacking in spirit, the O’s rewarded Guthrie with a reduced salary from $770,000 in 2008 to $650,000 in 2009. Think Guthrie didn’t take it personally? He responded with a point and a half higher ERA, and saw his WHIP go from a steady 1.23 to 1.42 in 2009. Whether he’d ever care to admit it or not, it would seem Guthrie’s feelings were hurt, his confidence shaken, and as a result, his production suffered.


It’s no secret that the Orioles won’t compete this season, not in the standings anyway. We do expect them to be competitive though, on the field, as if every game, every inning, every pitch does matter. How quickly they become truly competitive will depend on it. If the O’s expect Guthrie to be the type of leader that they’ll need in a formative clubhouse looking to take the next step, then they should reward him as such.


A vote of confidence for Guthrie now would probably go a long way toward burying any hard feelings remaining from last year’s dirty deal. Sitting across the arbitration table and espousing on the reasons why they shouldn’t pay him would likely add to them instead. Remember Charles Johnson?


If nothing else, Guthrie has proven he’s good to eat innings; you can likely pencil him in for 180+ conservatively this season. Why not use this opportunity to get another year out of him at a possible discount, before he goes out and puts up numbers like he did in the 2 seasons before last. It’s not like these young guys are beating the door down to claim his spot just yet. Two years and $5.5 – $5.75 million could be a big win for both sides. More importantly, it could avoid a touchy situation that could almost certainly have an effect on more guys in that clubhouse than just Guthrie.