Mailbag: Why no Hot Stove deals yet?

Mailbag: Why no Hot Stove deals for O's?

What's taking Baltimore executive Andy MacPhail so long to get started with making some moves? Is he one of those GM types who waits and waits, and then when he's finally ready to deal, no one else is, or the players he wanted are gone?
-- Tim, Glen Allen, Va.

What's the rush? MacPhail certainly isn't alone among baseball executives in moving deliberately this winter, and there's little or no reason he should make a deal just to make a deal. The offseason has just begun, and teams are still circling each other in an effort to find the best trade fit.

At this point in the winter, trades begin as embryonic ideas hatched in multiple conversations with other decision-makers. Those ideas are impacted by what else is available on the market, and it takes each executive time to form his list of appealing options and then start working from the top down.

Even if MacPhail wanted to make a deal as quickly as possible, he'd still have to wait for another team to flesh out its offseason strategy. MacPhail may have veteran players burning a hole in his pocket, but he's not the only executive who wants to make a trade and he's not the one setting the market.

Free agency will begin to pick up a bit over the next few weeks, and most teams will use early December's Winter Meetings as a chance to set their trade itinerary. That's where MacPhail will cast his line, and that's where the machinations will begin to make or break next year's edition of the Baltimore Orioles.

What happened to Hayden Penn? He was once the most talked about pitching prospect the O's had, and now not a word about him.
-- Ray H., Marriottsville, Md.

There have been plenty of words spilled on Penn's progress, a slow-going affair that has been impacted by two injuries and operations. The right-hander had an appendectomy that interrupted his 2006 season, and in 2007, he was stalled by a surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.

Penn was healthy at season's end, but the Orioles elected not to call him up in September. They did that despite a massive shortage of arms in the big leagues, and Penn went to the Arizona Fall League to get some extra work in. His numbers there -- most notably a 6.45 ERA -- were disappointing.

Despite all of those detours, Penn is still just 23 years old. His name has been on the map seemingly forever because he blew through the lower levels of the organization and made his big league debut before his 21st birthday. He's just the third Baltimore pitcher in the last 40 years to accomplish that.

Penn will have an outside shot at a rotation slot this spring, but he'll have to fend off a challenge from fellow prospect Garrett Olson. Baltimore will let both youngsters compete for the fifth starting job, but more likely, the pair will begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk and serve as the first contingency plan.

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I've been watching Matt Wieters out in the Hawaii Winter League (one of the perks of being stationed out here), and he looks like a man among boys. Do you think the Orioles will promote him quickly or treat him with kid gloves?
-- Steve K., Columbia, Md.

Wieters has been rumored as a fast-riser since he was in college, and the fifth overall pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft did nothing to dispel that notion with his run in Hawaii. The catcher batted .283 with a .364 on-base percentage in his first exposure to professional arms, setting the stage for his first promotion.

The Orioles will likely decide between Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie for their top prospect's first assignment, and Baltimore would like to see him thrive at Bowie before the year is done. Wieters is regarded as talented enough to make his big league debut at some point in the 2009 season.

That's an awfully fast timetable for any rookie -- even a first-round pick -- and the Orioles will build in some room to allow for a few setbacks. Incumbent catcher Ramon Hernandez is under contract through 2009, and Baltimore also holds an option for the 2010 season just in case he's still the best option.

Hernandez will see his name bandied about in trade rumors this winter, and if he gets dealt, that only confirms the fast track for Wieters. Baltimore will watch their prized prospect very carefully, and if he performs well at Bowie, he could be a very short while away from a promotion to the parent club.

Did you vote for the Rookie of the Year this year? And are you surprised Jeremy Guthrie didn't get any votes?
-- Tyler W., Baltimore

Voting for year-end awards is the exclusive domain of the Baseball Writers Association of America, a group that comprises mostly newspaper and magazine reporters and excludes virtually all Internet sportswriters. The exception to that rule is the Comeback Player of the Year Award, voted on by MLB.com reporters.

Both the Baltimore Sun and Associated Press have policies that prohibit their writers from voting on awards in an effort to maintain strict objectivity. That leaves writers from the Washington Times, USA Today and The Sporting News -- among other publications -- to vote for the chapter's awards.

Guthrie's lack of support was indeed surprising, and it may owe to his inactivity down the stretch. The right-hander was bothered by an oblique ailment for much of September and won just one of his final 10 starts. Guthrie closed the year with a 5.03 ERA after the All-Star break, which hurt him in the balloting.

The 28-year-old's age may also have stopped him from getting some votes, but it seems to be an anomaly that he didn't get any support at all. Thirteen American League starters had a better ERA than Guthrie, and you could make quite a case to land him in the top three or four among rookie balloting.

Then again, if you don't work for a newspaper or magazine, that case won't result in a vote.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.