On Meetings Day 3, an arms race
Veteran starters Millwood, Wolf on move; Pettitte re-signs
It's a universal baseball truth every bit as valid in the frigid days of December as it is in the sunny optimism of April or the crisp tension of October:
Pitching wins, and better pitching is what any team wants and needs.
And so it was that arms were exchanged, signed and generally right in the middle of it all on Day 3 of the 2010 Winter Meetings, the final full day of the annual confab of deals and murmurs.
Wednesday's arm action included trades of a front-line starter and a late-innings flamethrower, along with one team's signing of a pair of veterans, the return of a pinstriped legend and the imminent signing of a fragile talent.
It also included the official stamp put upon that three-team, seven-player trade -- five of those players being, you guessed it, pitchers.
Front and center on the day when pitchers took the ball: right-hander Kevin Millwood.
He'll be making the switch from the Rangers to the Orioles in exchange for right-handed reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named, with cash also going to Baltimore to help offset Millwood's $12 million salary in 2010, the last year of a five-year deal he signed with Texas in December 2005.
For the Orioles, bringing in a pitcher of Millwood's caliber, even if it's for only one year, means getting a lot of quality innings. But it also means getting a 34-year-old pitcher who can show some of the young Birds in Baltimore -- like second-year right-hander Chris Tillman and rookie left-hander Brian Matusz -- how to be a horse in the rotation, year in and year out. Heck, the O's think he can help second-year catcher Matt Wieters, too.
"We were looking for a veteran starter who we feel has good makeup, the role that he did for the Rangers last year," said Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations. "He took a talented young staff and took some of the weight and burden off the rest of the starters by taking his starts. And he has, from what I understand, a well-deserved reputation in the game for being the type of guy who will help some of our young starters as they start their Major League careers."
The Rangers, meanwhile, will use that money saved to sign Rich Harden to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million with an $11.5 million option for 2011, a deal that is pending a physical. Harden was 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 26 starts with the Cubs this past season, and has a frustrating blend of tremendous talent and an injury list as long as that special right arm.
"It's safe to say we wouldn't have made this trade in a vacuum," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We're not saving money for the bottom line, we're saving money to improve the club in other areas. There are a lot intertwining pieces."
And late Wednesday, word spread that the Red Sox and Rangers had reached a preliminary agreement on a deal that would send veteran Mike Lowell to Texas for Minor League catcher Max Ramirez.
Although for once it wasn't all about the Yankees, they weren't shut out, of course, finalizing the deal with the D-backs and Tigers that gets them center fielder Curtis Granderson, and signing lefty Andy Pettitte back for another run at the World Series, at $11.75 million for 2010.
While Millwood and Pettitte are a couple of good veteran starters, another veteran whose 2009 season could be considered a notch above both was rewarded with a three-year deal. Randy Wolf signed with the Brewers after a career-resuscitating season with the Dodgers.
Wolf went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA (Millwood 3.67, Pettitte 4.12) in 214 1/3 innings pitched (Millwood 198 2/3, Pettitte 194 2/3) while striking out 160 (Millwood 123, Pettitte 148) with a WHIP of 1.10 (Millwood 1.34, Pettitte 1.38).
After having to wait until February to sign for 2009, having three years plus an option for a fourth with $29.75 million guaranteed is pretty solid payback for his strong work for the Dodgers.
"It was a crazy offseason last year, especially with me," Wolf told XM Sirius Radio. "It made it really easy the way the Brewers came in very aggressive and made it really clear they wanted me there. So I kind of knew things were going to happen with them."
The Brewers also signed veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million, bolstering their bullpen while intensifying the need for National League Central rival Houston to shore up its bullpen issues.
So that's what the Astros did -- they went out and got hard-throwing right-hander Matt Lindstrom from the Marlins for a pair of Minor Leaguers and a player to be named later. The 29-year-old Lindstrom pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and converted 15 of 17 save opportunities, but was slowed with some elbow soreness.
With closer Jose Valverde having declined arbitration and Hawkins now gone, Lindstrom is the late-innings gateway to victories for the Astros.
"Right now [Lindstrom] is the most experienced closer we have on the staff, and that could be the case Opening Day, and if it is, we're fine with that," Astros GM Ed Wade said.
And if Lindstrom weren't enough, Houston reached a three-year agreement with right-hander Brandon Lyon, according to a baseball source.
If that wasn't enough arms news on Wednesday, there was an update on Aroldis Chapman, the 21-year-old Cuban defector who is one of the most talked-about pitchers on the market. He's going to be putting on a showcase of his left-handed stuff for scouts in a special session next week in Houston. The Red Sox, Angels and Yankees have confirmed they will be there to watch his 100-mph fastball, and the Orioles, Tigers, Phillies and Royals are said to have Chapman on their radar screens as well.
And lest we forget, the biggest name dangling in the wind at these Winter Meetings is also a pitcher: Toronto's Roy Halladay, who seems a little less likely to be moved before these proceedings officially conclude Thursday.
"I wouldn't expect to have anything done," Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said. "Again, things can change so fast."
The Yankees and Red Sox are said to be on the prowl, but Major League sources have indicated to MLB.com that the Angels and Phillies might actually be leading the pack of Halladay's suitors. The Angels have reportedly offered lefty Joe Saunders, shortstop Erick Aybar and Minor League center fielder Peter Bourjos, according to the Toronto Sun. The Dodgers and Rays are also said to be interested.
With one more night to discuss arms and bats face to face, the movers and shakers in Indianapolis have the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday before screeching their tires to get out of town.
Once they've all left the Winter Meetings behind, you can rest assured pitching will continue to make the wheels of baseball's winter turn.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.