NOTE (3:39 P.M.): To answer a question below about why the Reds won’t include Jay Bruce in the deal, that’s simple. The Reds play in the NL and figure they don’t need to make a dramatic, impact pitching move to make the playoffs. The M’s are in the AL, where there has been substantial improvement by many teams hoping to make the playoffs. In Seattle’s case, holding on to top prospects in hope of a playoff run by 2010 might not be enough, when you consider how a fellow wild-card contender, like the Tigers, just added Miguel Cabrera, who might be the best player in baseball two years down the road. Remember, even if the M’s do try to build a team based around top young talent, the Angels are stacked and the A’s rebuilding. Seattle could still be in a third-place battle come 2010 even if the team hangs on to Adam Jones, Jeff Clement, etc. So, they figure a dramatic pitching upgrade is in order. Unlike the Reds, who feel they can hang on to their best prospects and still improve enough to get to the post-season.
Here we go again, back into the Erik Bedard sweepstakes. Although, as we told you at Christmas time, the Mariners have never really been out of the Bedard talks with the Baltimore Orioles. Forget all that talk by O’s president Andy MacPhail about how Bedard will be his opening day starter. It’s called posturing. Same with M’s GM Bill Bavasi insisting he won’t part with Brandon Morrow. Then again, Bavasi just might succeed in hanging on to Morrow according to this report from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Rosenthal is a former Orioles beat writer with the Baltimore Sun and is as plugged-in to the happenings of that franchise as anyone.
Many of you fear the idea of the Mariners parting with outfielder Adam Jones. Well, the thing is, the inclusion of Jones in the package is the only reason the M’s have a shot at Bedard in the first place.
Seattle’s main competition for Bedard remains the Cincinnati Reds. But they are refusing to give up prized young outfielder Jay Bruce in the deal. Add Bruce to the package and Seattle’s shot at Bedard is pretty much toast. For me, if Seattle can hang on to Morrow while landing Bedard for Jones and other prospects, then Bavasi will have done his job very well this winter. I mean, judging by some of the returns being garnered by teams around baseball for starting pitchers or impact players, the asking price seems to be two top prospects. Jones is one top prospect and it would be assumed that a live arm like Morrow’s would command most of the interest as choice No. 2.
For those of you who feel Jones is not worth Bedard straight-up, well, all I can say is the realities of the baseball marketplace don’t agree with you. The opportunity to land a top-of-the-rotation starter, one who is under club control for another two or more seasons, does not come around all that often.
I can remember back to 2000, when a desperate Blue Jays squad shipped shortstop prospect Michael Young and a minor league pitcher off to Texas for journeyman starter Esteban Loaiza. Blue Jays GM Gord Ash knew at the time just how good Young was going to be. But his team, on the fringes of contention, needed a mid-season pitching aquisition and Ash took his shot. Loaiza was an average starter at best for those two years the Jays — who failed to make the playoffs in 2000 — had him while Young went on to become a star with the Rangers. The minor league arm in the deal went nowhere.
Now, this is not the same situation as present-day with Bedard. But it goes to show you the lenghts, even back then, that GMs will go to in order to acquire major league ready pitching. I mean, Bedard is no Loaiza. If he stays healthy, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game.
Here is how he compares to another top starter recently traded, Dan Haren of the Diamondbacks, over the past two years.
Bedard: 146 (2007); 121 (2006)
Haren: 137 (2007); 108 (2006)
Strikeouts per 9 innings
Bedard: 10.93 (2007); 7.84 (2006)
Haren: 7.76 (2007); 7.10 (2006)
Bedard: 3.88 (2007); 2.48 (2006)
Haren: 3.49 (2007); 3.91 (2006)
As you can see, Bedard pretty much edges Haren across the board. Where Haren has the edge is in durability. Bedard, as has been noted here before, has never thrown 200 innings in a season. This is the only real area of concern for Mariners fans and it’s a big one. Last season, an oblique strain is what helped do Bedard in and those types of injuries do happen to pitchers with a little too violent a throwing motion. If Bedard did throw 200 innings on a regular basis, chances are he’d be a 20-game winner by now and a lot pricier than he is.
Here’s where he and Haren stack up innings-wise:
Bedard: 182 (2007); 196 1/3 (2006)
Haren: 222 2/3 (2007); 223 (2006)
Not surprisingly, Haren has the lead in the area of “quality starts” — meaning at least six innings pitched and three earned runs or less allowed.
Quality starts of 6+ innings
Bedard: 22 (2007); 20 (2006)
Haren: 26 (2007); 20 (2006)
Quality starts of 7+ innings
Bedard: 14 (2007); 12 (2006)
Haren: 15 (2007); 15 (2006)
However, take those quality starts and look at them as a percentage of all the starts made by a pitcher in that particular season, and you’ve got:
Quality starts of 6+ innings/total starts made
Bedard: 79% (2007); 61% (2006)
Haren: 76% (2007); 59 % (2006)
Quality starts of 7+ innings/starts made
Bedard: 50% (2007); 36% (2006)
Haren: 44% (2007); 44% (2006)
Things evened out in a hurry, didn’t they? Bedard actually gets more “quality starts” and longer ones than Haren on the occasions he does take the mound. The trick here, naturally, is for Bedard to take the mound. The Mariners are banking that he can. This is their gamble. If he can make 33 or 34 starts per season, Bedard has all the trappings of a rotation ace.
Bedard, at age 28, is 18 months older than Haren. But Bedard is also a lefthander, which would usually make him the more coveted of the two if all else was equal.
Point of this exercise? The price for Haren was Arizona giving up prized outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and lefty starter Brett Anderson. Oakland also got lefty pitchers Dana Eveland and Greg Smith. Gonzalez is the high-ceiling prospect in the deal, a center fielder who, like Adam Jones, has a good enough arm to play in right field. He is the same age as Jones, 21, but has only 10 games of Class AAA experience under his belt and a tendency to not be as disciplined at the plate.
Still, plate discipline can be worked on. The bottom line is that Gonzalez has raw power and youth on his side and is a coveted outfield prospect like Jones. But in addition to that, the A’s also scored three lefty arms, two of which can help them in the majors right now. Anderson played only his first season of pro ball last year and is projected as a future star. Eveland and Smith both enjoyed low ERAs in the minors and could join the Oakland rotation this spring.
So, the idea that Adam Jones straight-up for Bedard is a bad deal is lunacy. That would be a steal for the Mariners given market conditions. In today’s game, the cost of starting pitching has gone through the proverbial roof two years running. Landing a pitcher who could be one of the best in the game is going to cost several prospects. But it will make the Mariners a better team. It means that all five of the pitchers in the rotation will have boasted average or above average ERAs last season. It means that the back end of Seattle’s rotation will be among the best in baseball while the front end — if Felix Hernandez progresses — could be among the best as well.
Does one deal fix everything? No, it does not. The Mariners would still need some outfield solutions. Bavasi told me last month that Wladimir Balentien was a direction the team could go in at right field, but not necessarily the direction it wants to go. Who else, then? Let’s see, there’s free agent Mike Cameron, who will be suspended the first 10 games of next year for amphetamines use. Put him in center and move Ichiro back to right field. Would the team take on a guy who just got caught with amphetamines, especially given the recent Shane Monahan allegations? I’m not sure it would.
You know what? The Orioles recently picked up outfielder Luke Scott from Houston in the Miguel Tejada trade. Scott turns 30 in June and I’m not sure where he fits in a rebuilding effort by Baltimore. But if the O’s keep holding out for Brandon Morrow or some bigger minor league names, why not try to get Scott thrown into the deal? Just a thought. Not saying it’s going to happen.
Thing is, there are some solutions out there for the next year or so. After that, when the big free agent crop of next winter hits the market, the Mariners can go about finding more permanent solutions if they aren’t happy with the ones seen next season. Easier to do that than to spend next winter bidding for a top starter with the rest of baseball. Hey, the M’s can still go after those top starters next winter as well, since adding Bedard doesn’t break the financial bank. They could even try to lock Bedard up long-term. Money does not seem to be the big issue with this team — it’s drawing the big names here in the first place.
Right now, they have a shot at drawing a big name in Bedard without him having to sign-off on it. That’s big. And the price of Jones? That’s the going rate.