Major shakeup in rotation for O's
Benson downed by shoulder injury; Trachsel to sign
FORT LAUDERDALE -- The Orioles lost one arm and gained another Monday, just two days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to their Spring Training complex.
Veteran starter Kris Benson has suffered a shoulder injury that could terminate his season before it starts, and a published report states that Baltimore has agreed to terms with free agent Steve Trachsel as his replacement. Baltimore executive Mike Flanagan confirmed the injury, but he declined comment on the Trachsel development.
"Surgery is not a foregone conclusion," he said of Benson's injury, which was diagnosed by one doctor as a partially torn rotator cuff. "What is a foregone conclusion is that he's not going to be ready for Opening Day. If it's not surgery, it would likely be some sort of rehab program that obviously at this point would set him back at least months."
Benson apparently injured his rotator cuff while conducting offseason throwing exercises, and that news was first reported in a story by FOXSports.com on Monday afternoon. A subsequent MRI exam showed the damage to the rotator cuff, and surgery to repair the joint generally takes around eight to 12 months to completely recover.
Flanagan, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, said Benson would seek another opinion.
"I'd say around two weeks ago he let us know that his shoulder was stiff and tight," said Flanagan, who won 167 games during his pitching career. "It seemed to persist through his offseason throwing exercises, so we brought him in to meet with our team doctors. He had a second opinion, and now he's going to have a third opinion."
Gregg Clifton, Benson's agent, didn't immediately return a call for comment, but he did make a statement to the Associated Press earlier on Monday. Clifton confirmed the injury to the AP and said Benson would like to begin the strenuous rehabilitation process as soon as possible.
"No one can accurately predict the duration of recovery. I'm not a doctor," Clifton told the AP reporter. "It's not what I think or what Kris thinks. It's what the doctors think."
According to one report, the Orioles may have been busy in the hours after the Benson bombshell. The Baltimore Sun reported that the team has reached agreement on a one-year deal with Trachsel, who went 15-8 with a 4.97 ERA last year with the Mets. Trachsel is 134-143 for his career, but he is just 8-15 as an American League pitcher.
"I have not seen that report," said Flanagan. "And at this point, I don't have anything to add to it."
The Sun report went on to say that Trachsel could take a physical examination as early as Tuesday. If the deal is completed, Trachsel would fill the void left behind by Benson's absence. Alternatively, recent waiver claim Jeremy Guthrie and top pitching prospect Hayden Penn would vie to fill the empty slot in the rotation.
"We'd certainly look at our own personnel," Flanagan said, "probably starting with Hayden Penn and working at the other ends of the organization."
Benson went 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA last season and was expected to lessen the strain on two of Baltimore's young starters -- lefty Adam Loewen and power right-hander Daniel Cabrera. The other rotation slots are filled by southpaw ace Erik Bedard and veteran Jaret Wright, who has had his own injury woes over the last few years.
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Wright has had two surgeries on his throwing shoulder and has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season. In fact, he's only thrown more than 140 innings twice in the last six years. Only one of Baltimore's other starters -- Bedard -- has ever thrown more than 160 innings, and he's only done it once in his career.
Baltimore recently underlined its shortage of experienced pitchers by trading Rodrigo Lopez to Colorado. Lopez, who started on Opening Day three times in the last five years for the Orioles, was dealt because he didn't seem to have a rotation slot. His absence, combined with Benson's injury, sent Baltimore into scramble mode.
Guthrie, a former first-round draft pick, recently was claimed from the Cleveland organization. The right-hander doesn't have any options left, and he will be forced to make the big-league roster out of Spring Training or be exposed to the waiver process all over again. Guthrie went 9-5 with a 3.14 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo last season.
Even if Baltimore signs Trachsel, Penn may get a look as the team's long man. The 22-year-old missed time last season after undergoing an appendectomy, and he was hit hard in a six-start September audition. Penn put up a 7-4 record and a 2.26 ERA for Triple-A Ottawa, though, and may not have much more to prove in the Minor Leagues.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.