01/21/06 7:39 PM ET
O's ship Julio, Maine to Mets for Benson
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
That trade helped end a pursuit that started in November and seemed all but dead at several points. Jim Duquette, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations, said Benson was one of the team's priorities from the moment he became available.
"The holdup, I'd say, was the second piece of the deal. We exchanged what I'd categorize as several names," he said. "That was the holdup and had been for quite some time."
Duquette went on to call Benson a top of the rotation type talent, and he's in unique position to know. In his last job as an executive with the Mets, Duquette orchestrated a trade for Benson and signed him to a three-year deal worth $22.5 million last winter. That contract was derided in some analytical circles, but Duquette thinks it's been validated over time.
"We thought the contract, at the time, was a fair one. I remember getting criticized for it," he said. "It may even be a bargain, with the way he pitched last year. We think it's a valuable contract."
Benson, the first overall pick in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft, went 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA last year. That was his first winning season since 2002, and for his career, the right-hander is 57-61 with a 4.25 mark. Perhaps because of his lofty draft status, Benson has always been noted for potential rather than performance.
The Orioles think that may be beginning to change, and more to the point, they think they can help him do it. At 31 years old, Benson is Baltimore's oldest starter, and he brings the rotation's average age up to 28. With help from new pitching coach Leo Mazzone and new catcher Ramon Hernandez, he may be ready to turn the proverbial corner.
"I've seen the track record that Leo's had, living in Atlanta," said Benson. "He has a track record for keeping pitchers healthy. ... There are some philosophies I haven't tapped into. Hopefully, they'll do me a lot of good."
"Kris is certainly the right age. We think there's a lot of upside left," said Mike Flanagan, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations. "We see him fitting in nicely with our rotation."
The Orioles have two starters -- Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera -- with just two years' experience in the big leagues. Another, Bruce Chen, has pitched for seven teams since 2000. Benson and Rodrigo Lopez are the sure things, established pitchers that lend the starting staff some dependability.
"I'm definitely excited. It's something I was striving to do years ago," said Benson, speaking about serving as the staff ace. "I'm happy with the opportunity I have with the Orioles. I'm going to make the most of it."
The main piece in this transaction, from New York's end, was the acquistion of Julio. The power reliever broke into Baltimore's bullpen as a 22-year-old and earned the closer's job the next season. He spent three mercurial years as Baltimore's relief ace -- notching 83 saves over that span -- but lost his job to B.J. Ryan in 2005.
Julio had a rough season last year, notching a 3-5 record and a career-high 5.90 ERA. The right-hander has finished 189 of the 281 games he's pitched in, and he's notched an 11-24 record with a 4.20 ERA over the life of his career. The Mets are likely looking at him in a setup role, pitching the eighth in front of new closer Billy Wagner.
Maine, the other arm in the deal, shot through Baltimore's Minor League system before encountering some stiff resistance in the Major Leagues. The former sixth-round draft pick has a 24-13 record with a 2.75 ERA in the Minors, but in the big leagues, he's just 2-4 with a 6.60 mark. He was expected to battle for Baltimore's fifth starting slot in Spring Training.
Benson, meanwhile, is moving into one of the toughest divisions in baseball. He said that Interleague Play has helped reduce some of the mystery involved in switching leagues, but he's well aware that it won't be easy. Benson described himself as an analytical pitcher and said he'll look for as much scouting information as he can before every start.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge. I sat back this winter and watched a lot of transactions made by Toronto. And Boston's always going to put a good team out there," he said. "The Yankees are the Yankees and the Red Sox are the Red Sox. ... If you make your pitches, you can get anybody out."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.