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The One Who Got Away

Orioles Express Regret in Trading Bautista to Royals

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005; Page D08

BALTIMORE, May 5 -- In organizational meetings shortly after the 2003 season, Baltimore Orioles scouts were praised for their work in helping to acquire pitcher Denny Bautista from the Florida Marlins for outfielder Jeff Conine.

The deal was considered somewhat of a steal for Baltimore, though Conine did help the Marlins reach and eventually win the World Series. In Bautista, the Orioles finally had a legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospect. Baltimore's minor league system was full of pitchers who had been highly regarded but had flamed out due to injury or simply had not pitched well. Bautista was a budding star.

Denny Bautista was the Orioles' top pitching prospect but was dealt to Kansas City in June. (Chris Carlson -- AP)

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"He was our number one pitching prospect and he hadn't even touched a ball," said one source close to the Orioles who asked not to be identified.

That Bautista, 24, is starting Friday for the Kansas City Royals against Baltimore is a sore subject for many inside the Orioles organization. His trade last year to the Royals for Jason Grimsley -- a 37-year journeyman reliever who is expected to miss the entire season after elbow surgery -- continues to be scrutinized.

Bautista's two-game stint in the majors with the Orioles, in which he was pounded for a combined eight runs in two innings, led many in the organization, according to sources, to sour on the pitcher.

"It was a mistake," said one team insider, who requested anonymity. "But teams make mistakes. It was one of those mistakes you make out of good intentions. There was an element of panic to the trade. They panicked. Bautista had more market value than what they got for him."

The Orioles were 14 games out of first place when they announced the trade on June 21. The Royals and Orioles had negotiated almost six weeks -- an unusual length of time. Baltimore was intent on acquiring Grimsley, who had tested well in a psychological exam the Orioles use to judge a player's makeup.

The Royals kept insisting on Bautista while Baltimore wanted to send one of its lesser pitching prospects, such as Class AAA pitcher John Maine. The Orioles finally relented.

"We wanted to do something for last year's team to upgrade the bullpen and you make some sacrifices for the future," Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said. "You make a commitment to the players that are on the team right then."

Beattie denies he received pressure from anyone to make the trade.

"There are way too many rumors about that situation that aren't true," Beattie said.

In some ways Bautista was a victim of Daniel Cabrera's success. Cabrera and Bautista were linked almost from the moment the 2004 season began. Both started in Class AA Bowie. Both had also scored well on the psychological tests.

"Bautista's stuff is better than Danny's," the source close to the team said. "You see Daniel pitch, but Denny is better. He had better stuff than anyone in the system. The top pitcher in the organization was Bautista."

On April 26 of last year, the Orioles' front office sent out a memo listing their top two Latin pitching prospects as being Cabrera and Bautista, even though their stats weren't particularly impressive. Bautista had walked 10 in 13 1/3 innings and Cabrera 11 in 14 innings. Cabrera improved on his stats in Bowie and when the Orioles needed a pitcher for the major league staff, Cabrera was summoned first on May 11.

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