This is not, ideally speaking, how an offseason for a professional baseball team would go.
Ideally speaking, a professional baseball team wouldn't leak to its beat reporters that it has signed a player to a contract, allow that news to be widely reported and then put out an official statement that that the player failed the team's physical. Ideally speaking, they wouldn't do it twice in two months. Ideally speaking, this wouldn't then directly impact the ability of that professional baseball team to give a soon-to-be-37-year-old back-of-the-rotation starter around $20 million in guaranteed money to pitch for the next two years -- even though ideally speaking, the team shouldn't even be talking to the guy in the first place, because if there's one thing that team doesn't need more of, it's back-of-the-rotation starters.
Following this pair of national press nightmares, ideally speaking, a team's next notable move wouldn't be to sign a professional pitcher from the country from which it was outright banned two years ago, and then proudly announce that he had passed his physical with flying colors -- even though he was forced from the Kia Tigers' (KBO) starting rotation to the bullpen in 2013 due to a nasty shoulder injury.
And then ideally speaking -- ideally speaking -- that professional baseball team would not try to fix it all in one fell swoop a couple days after pitchers and catchers reported by giving up a draft pick that it should have had every intention of keeping, in order to sign a pitcher now entering his fourth calendar year removed from his most recent season of elite performance.
This is about Ubaldo Jimenez, but in a sense, it really isn't. Jimenez, who just signed the longest and most lucrative contract the Orioles have ever given to a free-agent pitcher, has thrown 547.2 innings of 4.45 ERA baseball since the beginning of the 2011 season. He is Baltimore's presumptive staff ace. That's a statement of considerable weight not only because Jimenez has been unable to maintain his mechanics or pitch velocity for any real extended period of time since the end of that 2010 season, but also because of what it says about the guys pitching on the other four days. Jimenez could have been a worthwhile addition to any number of starting rotations across baseball if not for the draft pick tender attached to him -- but not to the top of those rotations.
In Baltimore, the top five starters going into camp are looking like Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez. Kevin Gausman waits eternally in the wings -- you may remember him as the polished, all-world starting pitching prospect the Orioles drafted out of LSU in 2012, and then converted into a major league reliever halfway through the 2013 season for reasons that have been often talked about but never explained. He was the presumptive fifth member of the rotation until Monday night, and going into the 2014 season he has more upside than every one of the other five pitchers named in this paragraph combined.
But the problem isn't Kevin Gausman, and it isn't Ubaldo Jimenez, and it's not even specifically the first-round draft pick that the Orioles surrendered -- there can be very good reasons to surrender draft picks. It's fairly clear that the problem is the process surrounding the rotation itself. The question is, why can't the Orioles fix it? After all, they seemed to be able to fix the part of the team that didn't involve throwing baseballs just fine, on their way to a wild-card berth in 2012 and back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since widespread cellphone usage.
"Peter Angelos" is a popular answer, but it's not a particularly precise one. His name alone is not a sufficient explanation for why this team does the things it does, the way it does them. Angelos has owned the Baltimore Orioles since the early 1990s, and has presided over all manner of disappointing, baffling and sometimes tragic incidents. But answering the question "why haven't the Baltimore Orioles been a successful franchise in decades" with "Peter Angelos" is akin to answering the question "why do things fall down" with "gravity." Angelos's management of the team isn't an explanation or an excuse -- it's an entire system of physics. It's the way modern Orioles fans comprehend the universe.
And like physics, the broad principles are pretty simple: First, Baltimore as an organization hasn't proven capable of drafting or developing major-league caliber starting pitching on a consistent basis in going on two decades, if not longer. Second, incoming executives are not given full control over their own staffing. Third, starting pitching is the single most expensive market commodity in the sport of baseball, and the Orioles can't or won't pay for it. They can't make it, they won't buy it and they refuse to clean house. Those are the bedrock rules.
That's why a team that wants to contend in the AL East would go from Bronson Arroyo to A.J. Burnett to Ubaldo Jimenez as its targets for Opening Day starter. It's why the biggest-name starter they'd be attached to before that was Scott Feldman, and why none of the guys that will actually begin April in that team's rotation began their professional careers there as well.
It's why a team scouting department might obsess over pitchers from an underdeveloped part of the Asian professional market in the hope that they can buy diamonds for pennies, and why at times they might cut corners that end up derailing careers.
It's why Jimenez has already had the specter of his 2010 season in Colorado draped on him to justify this great win-now move and a "monumental and historic" event for the Baltimore franchise, as opposed to the signing of a middle-of-the-rotation starter for a bit cheaper than he otherwise would have been, but whom the Orioles still had to give more years than they would have liked.
Ideally speaking, all of this wouldn't be an issue for a team sitting on one of the more one-sided cable deals in professional sports. But this is physics, not ideals. The Orioles could no more have fixed that rotation than you or I could fly.