Orioles Bolster Rotation With Benson

By Jim Callis
January 21, 2006

The Orioles had their share of pitching problems in 2005, as both their staff as a whole (4.56) and their starters as a group (4.82) ranked 23rd in the majors in ERA. They took a step to address that flaw on Saturday, acquiring Kris Benson from the Mets for Jorge Julio and John Maine.

A 31-year-old righthander, Benson never has lived up to his status as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft. But he is a solid big league starter who went 10-8, 4.13 in 28 starts a year ago, when he spent April on the disabled list with a strained right pectoral muscle. He had a 95-49 K-BB ratio in 174 innings, while opponents batted .253 with 24 homers off him. Benson has good stuff, including a low-90s fastball, two effective breaking balls in a curveball and a slider, and a decent changeup. He also throws strikes, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t been as good as that package might indicate. Nevertheless, Benson should pitch toward the front of Baltimore’s rotation. He’ll make $7.5 million in 2006 and 2007, and will receive the same salary or a $500,000 buyout in 2008. In 165 career starts, he owns a 57-61, 4.25 record.

Adding Julio, a 26-year-old righthander, to their bullpen may allow the Mets to use Aaron Heilman as a starter. Baltimore’s closer until B.J. Ryan supplanted him, Julio went 3-5, 5.90 in 67 outings in 2006. He had a 58-24 K-BB ratio and a .269 opponent average in 72 innings while allowing a whopping 14 homers. He has legitimate power stuff, with a mid- to high-90s fastball and a high-80s slider, but gets into trouble because he doesn’t locate his pitches well. Eligible for arbitration, he’s expected to command a salary of roughly $2.5 million. He has a career mark of 11-24, 4.20 with 83 saves in 281 games.

Maine, a 24-year-old righthander, could challenge for a spot in the back of New York’s rotation. A sixth-round pick out of UNC Charlotte in 2002, he saw his first extensive time in the majors in 2005, going 2-3, 6.30 in 10 games (eight starts). He had a 24-24 K-BB ratio in 40 innings as opponents hit .248 with eight homers off him. His best attribute is his command of his 90-91 mph fastball, and he also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. He got into trouble in the big leagues when he tried to be too fine with his pitches. He went 6-11, 4.56 in 23 starts at Triple-A Ottawa last year and has a career 30-24, 3.24 record in 86 minor league games (83 starts).