Starting pitching continues to be a challenge for Orioles

Japan's Tsuyoshi Wada, left, was one of Baltimore GM Dan Duquette's biggest offseason acquisitions. (AP photo)

Laying new groundwork for any project can be incredibly difficult. The task in front of Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette is probably the equivalent of digging the Empire State building’s foundation with a spoon. With no big moves made on the free-agent market, offseason efforts have concentrated on restructuring a dismal scouting and player development system.

Besides restructuring the Orioles scouts, Duquette reached into the international pool and grabbed two Asian pitching prospects. Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada and Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yan Chen both signed this offseason. Wada was actually mentioned in some free-agent lists, falling in the top 30 pitchers available. Baltimore is familiar with Asian flavor on the pitching staff after having success with Japanese setup man/closer Koji Uehara. Unfortunately, we traded Koji to Texas, something I found very disappointing.

I was looking through a 2012 fantasy baseball magazine, and the Orioles don’t have a starting pitcher in the top 80; yes, you heard right: top 80. Former Baltimore “ace” Jeremy Guthrie is now with the Colorado Rockies thanks to a trade that brought starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. The good part about the trade is Hammel should be able to replace Guthrie’s mediocrity and eat close to as many innings, while Lindstrom is useful as another power arm in the overworked bullpen.

We have approximately a dozen or so fourth and fifth starters to build a rotation out of. Why not add a pitcher capable of being a number one or two? Ever hear of Roy Oswalt, Double D? It’s not too late; he’d probably take a one-year deal. Of course Zach Britton and Brian Matusz will be returning to spring training, hopefully prepared to earn their respective three and four spots in the rotation. Jake Arrieta is healed after his elbow surgery and should be 100 percent. I think Arrieta is a capable number-three starter and could improve from there. With the addition of Wada and Chen, and newly signed Armando “almost perfect game” Galarraga, hopefully the young pitchers returning will feel the heat of competition and not think just showing up gives them a spot in the rotation.

With continued free-agent mediocrity, O’s fans are left with hanging their hats on long-term team development at the hands of Duquette. Every time I turned on Baltimore sports radio during the offseason, the talking heads spouted “we need Prince Fielder.” Anything that keeps Mark Reynolds at third can’t be a good idea. Moving him to first permanently and picking up a capable player to work the hot corner would be far more productive. I guess there was no third baseman on the Asian market, or second baseman for that matter. Brian Roberts couldn’t get clearance from doctors recently to attend the Orioles annual Fanfest. If he can’t go to Fanfest in January, how’s he going to hit a 90 mph fastball in April?

If I seem to be picking on Duquette’s international signings, it’s because he recently had to apologize for signing a 17-year-old South Korean pitcher. Duquette apparently didn’t follow protocol and signed the high schooler before his graduation year. I guess America should be grateful it wasn’t North Korea.

In all seriousness, a dozen fourth and fifth starters don’t equal a number one. Call me old fashioned, but I’m concerned about getting batters out. I’m concerned about going into spring training with record-setting errors at third base and no second baseman at all. We avoided arbitration by signing back-up second baseman Robert Andino. Should I be excited? I understand this will be a long process and Duquette has his work cut out for him, but we only have one legitimate starting infielder in J.J. Hardy.

With all the great things Duquette’s doing behind the scenes, the outside picture of his first season will appear to be continued Orioles mediocrity and fan disinterest. This season isn’t going to test his skills as general manager as much as it will test his will to live.

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