Wright pickup repeats Benson formula for O's

November 13, 2006|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun reporter

The philosophy that made the Orioles so agreeable about trading for Kris Benson last year was embraced again over the weekend.

If you can get a starting pitcher for a reliever, do it.

Looking to upgrade their rotation and act aggressively in the process, the Orioles obtained Jaret Wright from the New York Yankees for Chris Britton - a deal that became official once the commissioner's office approved it yesterday.

The Yankees will assume $4 million of Wright's contract, leaving the Orioles responsible for the remaining $3 million, which they considered a bargain for a starter who is 68-57 in 10 seasons.

"We thought we were definitely getting value," said Jim Duquette, vice president of baseball operations. "And with this marketplace and starting pitching at a premium, to get a guy of Jaret's ability for $3 million, that's a pretty valuable piece to have."

But where will they put him?

"Somewhere in the back end of the rotation," Duquette said. "He's a guy who has the potential to be better than that, but coming off the fact that [the Yankees] really limited him to five innings, or just below six, you have to slot him in that area. But he has the ability to be better than that."

Wright was 11-7 with a 4.49 ERA in 30 games with the Yankees, who scored two runs or fewer while he was in the game in 12 of his 27 starts. He totaled 140 1/3 innings and never pitched beyond the seventh.

"I asked him about that, and his feeling was, because early in the season he kind of got off to a slow start with them, he never really gained their confidence to allow him to go later in games," said Duquette, who will join executive vice president Mike Flanagan today in Naples, Fla., for the general managers meetings.

"It was almost automatic that if he put runners on in the sixth, he came out. He didn't really get a chance to prove that he could get them out. That's going to be the difference here. We're going to let him go six or even more. He's definitely capable of doing that."

Wright, who turns 31 in December, signed a three-year contract with the Yankees after going 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA for the Atlanta Braves in 2004. Wright will be reunited with former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, the deciding factor in the Orioles' decision to trade for him.

"Jaret was excited at the prospect of being reunited with Leo, and Leo had the same feelings," Duquette said. "He was instrumental in giving us information that sealed the deal for us."

Mazzone said Wright doesn't have to go back very far to become the pitcher he was in Atlanta.

"I thought he pitched pretty well for New York," said Mazzone, who left a message on Wright's cell phone yesterday after learning that the trade was completed.

"He's got good stuff and he's a tremendous competitor. He's a pitcher with character. He loves the game, he's been around it a long time and he's got intangibles. He'll fight you tooth and nail. He's great in the clubhouse. He's a class act. Everybody loves him."

Mazzone also noted Wright has pitched in a lot of important games, beginning in his rookie season in 1997, when the Cleveland Indians reached the World Series. Wright has made 16 postseason appearances, most recently in Game 4 of this year's American League Division Series.

"He's a battler. He'll knock you down in a heartbeat," Mazzone said.

"This just adds another quality pitcher [to] a rotation that I think shapes up to be pretty good."

The Orioles are convinced that Wright, who went 7-2 down the stretch for the Yankees, is healthy after experiencing problems with his shoulder. "We did our due diligence on the medical," Duquette said.

Wright also brings the appeal of being a free agent after the 2007 season, so the Orioles aren't making a long-term commitment to him. He'll allow them to perhaps bring along one of their young starters more slowly. Wright also can pitch in relief, "or we can take one of our other starters and trade them and try to upgrade ourselves offensively," Duquette said.

Britton, an eighth-round pick in the 2001 draft, was 0-2 with a 3.35 ERA and one save in 52 games as a rookie after being promoted from Double-A Bowie. He posted a 2.20 ERA in 28 games before the All-Star break, and a 5.14 ERA in 24 appearances after it.

The Orioles are certain they can find another middle reliever to take Britton's place, either from inside the organization or through free agency. And they couldn't resist the chance to get a starting pitcher in return.

"This is something we wanted to do early, be aggressive," Duquette said. "We've been saying we want to be aggressive, and now, to be able to do that helps us go forward with some of the other things we're trying to do."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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