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Sunday, January 18, 2009
Baltimore nabs one-time top prospect Pie


The Cubs' loss is the Orioles' gain … and now, potentially, the O's have themselves a young outfield that might stick together for quite a long time.

Not that Felix Pie is any great shake as a major leaguer, let alone a fantasy option, right now. But he could be something given time -- and a chance to play -- and Baltimore will certainly present him a stronger opportunity than Chicago did. As such, the Cubs, knowing Pie is out of options this season, shipped him to the Orioles on Sunday in exchange for left-handed starter Garret Olson and right-handed reliever Henry Williamson.

Pie presumably takes over in left field for the Orioles, with Luke Scott shifting to designated hitter and Aubrey Huff to first base. That gives Baltimore an outfield of Pie, Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis, who is reported by the Washington Post to be nearing a six-year contract extension with the team, in right … assuming, of course, that Pie proves himself worthy of regular duty come spring training.

He'll get his chance, for sure. Since he's out of options, Pie would need to clear waivers in order to be demoted to the minors, meaning his chances at breaking camp with the team are near 100 percent. His chances at winning a starting job? Pretty darned good.

As such, look for Pie to bat perhaps 400-plus times, plenty for him to flash his double-digit home run power and 20-plus steals speed. A batting average risk -- strikeout-prone as he has been in his brief career to date -- Pie actually might not be disastrous in the category in 2009, as he'll perhaps be spelled by Ryan Freel or Luis Montanez against left-handers to ease him in. In the best-case scenario, think Coco Crisp in one of his better seasons. But in order to treat Pie as much of a fantasy draft pick, especially in mixed formats, he'd need a solid spring to warrant our attention in the late rounds.

None of Jones, Markakis, Scott or Huff should suffer in terms of playing time as a result of the Pie addition, fortunately. For one thing, Markakis, Scott and Huff are left-handed, like Pie, and better hitters. They'll get their at-bats, so no need to downgrade them. Freel is most affected, as he'll only start against left-handers, not that he was an especially attractive fantasy pick even in AL-only formats.

Olson, the more significant of the two pitchers headed to Chicago, becomes rotation depth for the Cubs. Unfortunately for him, he's not much more skilled than Sean Marshall, the leading candidate for the No. 5 starter role heading into spring training. Olson will get a chance to win that job when camps open, but it's more likely he'll spend much of his season in the minors. He's a soft-tosser with limited matchups appeal at his best.

One interesting twist: With Milton Bradley now a Cub, Pie might have stood to be next in line for at-bats when Bradley inevitably misses some time. Pie's projected fifth outfielder role for the Cubs now probably belongs to one-time Devil Rays prospect Joey Gathright.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.