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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 28, 2010 at 8:31 AM

Healthy Bedard would be a possible trade chip for Mariners (plus minor-league report)

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(Erik Bedard pitches in a game last season. Photo by Associated Press).

Here is today’s Mariners’ minor-league report.

The Mariners may have a coveted left-handed arm to dangle at the trade deadline – and I’m not talking about Cliff Lee

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Oh, I fully expect Lee to be traded, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s well before July 31, despite word that the M’s are still waiting to see if they can get back in the race. Not even the addition of Albert Pujols would likely be enough to overcome a 15-game deficit (14 back in the wild card, with eight teams to pass), and certainly Russ Branyan, as dangerous as he can be at times, is not going to spark an historic comeback. The Mariners are done in 2010, and keeping Lee is simply not in the cards. At least not the cards I’m seeing.

But in this case, the lefty I’m talking about Erik Bedard, who could be a very appealing target for contenders looking to amp up their pitching for the stretch drive.

That’s dependent, of course, on Bedard’s health holding up, no guarantee for someone coming off labrum surgery last Aug. 14. I’ve written extensively on the trials and tribulations facing pitchers coming back from this particular operation. It’s not easy.

But the current signs are encouraging. After experiencing one setback a few weeks ago, Bedard is back on track, and has had two starts against Rookie League competition in Arizona. Both have gone well — he’s reportedly throwing pain-free with impressive stuff. Bedard was up to 68 pitches and hitting 93 mph on Saturday. The bigger test will come Thursday, when he starts for Tacoma and will be stretched out even farther. If that goes well, Bedard will come up to the Mariners and join their rotation on July 6, starting against the Royals.

That would leave Bedard the possbility of five starts before the July 31 non-waiver deadline — plenty of opportunity to showcase him for teams that would love to have a lefty the cailber of a healthy Bedard. And a healthy Bedard is most definitely close to a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Yes, the Mariners could use one of those — especially with Lee likely gone — but Bedard, like Lee, is a potential free agent after the season. While he is being paid a base of just $1.5 million this year, the club has an $8 million option for next year, with a $250,000 buyout. If the club exercises the option, Bedard can elect to void the option, forfeit the buyout, and become a free agent. In other words, they could have him back, albeit at a high cost, or they could watch him walk even if they desire him back. It’s a crapshoot — particularly with someone who hasn’t had a season without a trip to the disabled list since 2006 — his only year with at least 30 starts.

The Mariners have already lost at least one chance to trade Bedard at the deadline. They were believed to have been ready to actively shopping him in 2008, when their seaon fell apart amid high expectations — much like this one. But Bedard was shut down for good on July 4 with shoulder problems, ending that possibility. He had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 26.

Last year, his final year before free agency, would have been a logical time to deal Bedard, but again he got hurt. Bedard was on the DL from June 17-July 7 with shoulder inflammation, then came back to make four more starts, the last one on July 25. He went on the DL to stay July 26, having the surgery shortly thereafter.

In the best-case scenario this season, of course, Bedard would have ridden in to boost the Mariners’ rotation for a stretch drive of their own. That’s the way it was drawn up in the offseason. But the Mariners’ season has gone badly off course, and now they need to look to the future, the Branyan trade notwitstanding.

If Bedard feels a sense of loyalty and obligation to the Mariners, as he indicated when he re-signed with them, he could always sign back again next year and give a fourth try at having a full season in Seattle.

For now, however, he can best help the Mariners with the prospects he could lure in return for a deadline deal.

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