The deal that put right-hander Kris Benson in the Orioles' rotation yesterday has been in the works since November, but if Miguel Tejada wants to think that it was completed to brighten up his winter of discontent, that's just fine with Mike Flanagan.
"It is something that we've been pursuing for a while," Flanagan said during a conference call yesterday. "The timing wasn't pre-planned, but we'll take the timing of it."
And that timing could not have been better, the deal coming just a couple of days after Flanagan and new vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette returned from a three-day trip to the Dominican Republic that included four hours of bonding with the offseason headline machine who is their superstar shortstop.
There were no ultimatums accepted or promises made during the time Flanagan and Duquette spent with Tejada in his hometown of Bani, but what better way to reinforce their common desire to build a winning team than for the Orioles to announce a significant pitching deal so soon after the trip?
The trade, which sent hard-throwing reliever Jorge Julio and pitching prospect John Maine to the New York Mets, isn't going to turn the Orioles into an instant contender in the rock-hard American League East. It might not even get them out of fourth place. But it was hugely important nonetheless, because it addressed Tejada's concerns and the lingering doubt among Orioles fans that this front office was capable of making a major trade.
Duquette and Flanagan insist, however, that the fortuitous timing was entirely coincidental and that the Tejada controversy had no effect on their sense of urgency to improve the club this winter.
"No, it really didn't," Duquette said. "The effect it had was only that we reluctantly considered trading Miggy. It didn't affect our philosophy going forward. We were looking to get a veteran pitcher, get more athletic and add speed and defense.
"Nothing that Miguel said, in our opinion, changed the way we functioned as a group to better the ballclub."
I don't know if I entirely buy that. It is consistent with the things that both Flanagan and Duquette said in November and December, but there's nothing like your best player talking about a "change of scenery" to get everybody in the front office on the same page.
Tejada repeatedly has tried to cast his disgruntlement as a call to action from the Orioles' clubhouse, where he is the unquestioned leader. The front office has appeared much more decisive in the wake of his initial complaint, but that also could be explained by the developing chemistry of the new front office hierarchy.
The Orioles did not succeed in adding the kind of star-quality players that fans expected after owner Peter Angelos promised big changes at the outset of the offseason, but they have added a pair of solid competitors in Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar as well as a speedy center fielder (Corey Patterson), a hard-throwing reliever (LaTroy Hawkins) and now a veteran starting pitcher.
Maybe Benson isn't the No. 1 starter everyone was hoping for -- he has been something of an underachiever since he was the top draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996 -- but he is a veteran guy with some upside who adds depth and experience to the young Orioles rotation.
I'm guessing that 15-game winner Rodrigo Lopez will be the Opening Day starter, but Benson is capable of pitching at or near the front of the rotation and may have arrived in Baltimore at a turning point in his career.
He averaged 207 innings in his first two major league seasons, but missed the 2001 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction. He rebuilt his career slowly, pitching just 235 innings in his first two seasons after the surgery, but has averaged more than six innings per start over the past two years.
Benson's numbers have not been spectacular, but he said yesterday that he is looking forward to the opportunity to get a new perspective from Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone, whose reputation for getting the most out of talented pitchers has been without equal during the juiced-ball (and juiced-batter) era.
No, it's not an earth-shattering deal, but Benson has some game and he also has the most provocative wife in baseball, which should add an extra measure of intrigue to his first season in Charm City.
Model, Web master and former stripper Anna Benson sent out a news release yesterday trumpeting her excitement about the impending move to Baltimore and her intention to "christen" the parking lot at Camden Yards, one of the few ballparks where her husband has never played.
If you need me to tell you what that means, you probably don't want to know.