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January 9, 2008 at 8:28 AM

More on Jones-Bedard debate

Now we’re talking. That was a quality off-season thread and debate yesterday, so obviously this whole Adam Jones-Erik Bedard debate is pushing some buttons out there in the blogosphere. One thing I’ll clear up right away is that, yes, Mike Cameron is indeed out for 25 games and not 10. Serves me right for not checking. I still think it could be worthwhile to sign him, figuring the team can survive the first 3 1/2 weeks. But back to our topic of conversation. Believe me, all of you who want to keep Jones and forget Bedard, I hear where you’re coming from. If you’ll indulge me just one more story from Toronto Blue Jays days, this whole thing reminds me of a conversation some of us media guys had with GM J.P. Ricciardi down on the SkyDome field back in September 2003. We were debating the merits of Vernon Wells vs. Carlos Delgado as an MVP candidate (A-Rod wound up edging Delgado that year) and Ricciardi asked us whether we’d trade Wells straight-up in a deal for Mark Prior (who had yet to go through his injury phase). He went around the group, one-by-one, and my answer was “no”. I figured Wells played Gold Glove caliber defense and would be the cornerstone of the team’s offense for years to come once Delgado eventually left as a free-agent. Ricciardi disagreed with me and said a pitcher like Prior didn’t come around too often.
Well, turns out I was right. But not for the reasons behind my argument. Prior wound up blowing out his arm once too often and is now officially a reclammation project. Wells is now one of the best center fielders in baseball and indeed the cornerstone of Toronto’s offense. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Ricciardi’s thinking that day. Especially since his team, still needing that Prior-type of live arm to go along with Roy Halladay, remains mired in third-place in the AL East going into Year No. 7 of his tenure. In fact, if Ricciardi were to put the same question to me today that he did more than four years ago on that field, I’d be siding with him — and that doesn’t happen all too often. Yes, some of you make compelling arguments for a Jones-Bedard debate that has no easy answers. Some of your arguments are less compelling. In the end, I still make a Jones + top prospect + other prospect trade for Bedard and I’ll tell you why.

You are not going to get one of the best pitchers in baseball for nothing. Many of you want to fleece the Orioles and that’s simply not going to happen with a veteran president like Andy MacPhail in charge of Baltimore. One of you mentioned the Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell-Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez swap between Boston and Florida a few years back. Value for value. It helped Boston win a World Series and sets Florida up for years to come. Are the Mariners positioned to win a World Series after this deal? They have to make the playoffs first. Once in, they would have the rotation of a strong playoff team. But they have to make the playoffs first, as I said. And their chances would be infinitely better of doing that with Bedard than without him.
But the point is, this has to be a trade where both sides win. Forget any fantasy-like proposals of Wladimir Balentien, Jeremy Reed and other secondary Seattle parts. It ain’t happening. The O’s want Jones because of his value. Yes, he has value. I don’t think for a moment he will be a bust. I fully expect to see him patrolling center field in Baltimore, hitting 30+ homers and driving in 100 runs, for years to come.
But like Ricciardi in 2003 with Wells, I’d still deal Jones and the other guys, even for two years of Bedard. Let’s examine now, why some of you would not, based on what I’ve read here the past 24 hours:
1. Jones gives you more dollar-for-dollar value than Bedard over the next six years, even if Bedard were to sign an extension.
This is true. No way to argue around it. But is it an important point? Not as important as some of you seem to think. If we were talking about the Cleveland Indians or Oakland A’s, it would be extremely important. In Seattle, though, ownership has shown a willingness to spend the big bucks. That’s an important factor that gets ignored in these debates. There is no trophy out there for the team that gets the most dollar-value out of its wins. All that matters in the end is winning, no matter how it’s done. There was an uproar two years ago over the Jarrod Washburn contract and how it would hamper the M’s financially down the road.
Didn’t happen. The team has since signed Ichiro to a five-year extension, bid almost $100 million for Barry Zito and just gave Carlos Silva a $48-million package. So, the money is being spent. If cash became an issue, you could always deal Washburn’s remaining two contract years after acquiring Bedard. But it’s not an issue right now, nor should it be in years to come. I agree that trading Jones would require the team to spend more on a corner outfielder the next several seasons (unless Balentien stepped up in a big way), but so be it. The Mariners have their middle infielders locked up under cost-contained contracts for several years and will likely have a cheap catching tandem in place going forward. Their bullpen is much cheaper now than what other teams spend, as is the front-end of the starting rotation — even with Bedard. So, unless the M’s start slashing payroll, the Jones money argument is a red herring best saved for the Cleveland Indians or other teams trying to win on-the-cheap. Just like the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, the Mariners do not appear to be trying to win the cheap way. Nor should they be, with their Safeco Field cash cow and new FSN television deal. As I said, in the end, there is no trophy for the team saving itself the most money.
2. The Mariners would have Bedard for only two years and then be in the exact same position, minus Jones, after 2009.
Once again, hard to refute that logic on its face. But once again, there are several elements I feel are being overplayed by proponents of this argument, while equally important factors are ignored. First of all, two years can be an eternity in baseball. Two years ago, the Mariners were a 69-win team. The Chicago White Sox were defending World Series champions. A lot can happen in two years that can change the outlook of a franchise. Here is what we do know. Acquiring Bedard would automatically give the Mariners one of the best one-two pitching punches in the AL in 2008 and 2009 — at least in theory. Yes, the team would lose some defense without Jones, but how much exactly? Depends on who is replacing him. I’ll agree with those of you who say that letting Jose Guillen go, if the plan was to trade Jones all along, was a mistake. It certainly complicates things. But not irreparably. The team could always tread water until next winter and sign a big free agent outfielder. Balentien could step up this year. A surprise signing, or trade, could mitigate the Jones departure. We don’t know yet. But if a corner outfield defensive downgrade for one year is the biggest obstacle towards acquiring one of the better starters in the game for the next two seasons, I’m not swayed.
Bringing on Bedard, who has averaged just under 200 innings pitched the last two years, gives the M’s realistic hope of having four starters throw 200 innings or more. How many teams in baseball did that last season? Try none. But Bedard should do it if he stays healthy, Felix Hernandez is on-track to doing it if he stays healthy, Silva did it last year and Miguel Batista fell just seven innings shy last season after doing it in 2006. Even if only two or three of those guys hit 200 innings, it would be an enormous boost for the M’s. The Angels, as good as they pitched last season, had only one 200-inning guy in John Lackey. The Indians had two, in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, and a third, Paul Byrd, who pitched 192 innings. So, an innings-eating staff in Seattle takes heat off the bullpen, potentially making it better. Just adding Bedard and Silva alone gives the Mariners two guys with as many or more seven-inning outings as the team leader in that department, Hernandez, had last season. To measure the impact in simply how many more “wins” Bedard alone would bring the squad is wrong. You have to look at the total rotation upgrades and how they would impact the bullpen as a whole and then figure how many more wins would be added.
And again, this could only be for two years. But is that necessarily a bad thing? If Hernandez did not improve beyond where he is now, it would be terrible. But all I’ve heard since arriving in Seattle is how Hernandez is the ace-in-waiting. If that’s the case, he would be just about ready to take over the reins, with four full seasons behind him and a partial fifth, come 2010. Four years is about what it takes for a starting pitcher to start reaching true potential. If Hernandez is the ace, the team might not even need to keep Bedard. It could spend lesser money on a No. 2 starter to round out the rotation. Or, it could extend Bedard. But what if Bedard comes to Seattle and is merely OK? At that point, having him only two years would beat the heck out of having him locked into a five-year deal. We’ll assume the M’s are banking on him continuing to improve and being their ace. If that’s the case, the M’s are guaranteed a strong top of the rotation for at least the next two years and then well beyond that if Hernandez, as expected, becomes the ace after 2009. Is that a bad thing? Why would you wait two more years, to see what happens with the prospects, when an opportunity is presenting itself right now?
3. Even with Bedard, the Mariners have no chance at winning the AL West the next two years.
Many of you know that I pegged the Angels as division favorites a year ago and continue to do so. That said, the Angels are not a juggernaut. Not yet. Had they managed to acquire Miguel Cabrera, well, their offense would be so fearsome that I’d pretty much have to throw up my hands and concede them the title. And while I think their offense will improve with the addition of Torii Hunter, the door has been left open just enough for another team to step on through. The M’s are the only team in the division that will be capable of doing that in 2008. And even though I believe they were more of an 82-win team last year than an 88-win team, the fact remains that adding a staff ace in Bedard — and an innings-eater in Silva — to the rotation of a .500 team does have the ability to make Seattle a division contender. As I said, you must view the rotation upgrades as a whole and the impact on the bullpen as a whole. The Angels, for all of their pitching, showed cracks in their bullpen throughout the second half of last season. They were vulnerable offensively for prolonged periods all through the season. As much as I love Kelvim Escobar, he has always been vulnerable to injury. Last year was largely healthy for him, but he still had a sore arm late in the season that cost him any shot at a Cy Young Award. Lose him for any amount of time and all bets are off. The head-to-head record between the Angels and Mariners, at 14-5 in favor of L.A., is almost certain to improve. All of that said, I still make the Angels division favorites in 2008. Who wouldn’t? But the gap is not so insurmountable that you write-off the year and give them the title. Not with Bedard in Seattle’s rotation. Not with Cabrera now playing in Detroit. Teams have to give their fans hope. And even if they are not division favorites, the M’s would close the gap just enough to ensure that hope, with a break or two, is not pie-in-the-sky for the next two years. And what about the wild-card? With Oakland rebuilding and the Rangers stuck in neutral, the chance is there to pick up plenty of extra wins in the 38 games the M’s will play against those squads — as opposed to the AL East and Central teams that will beat up on each other once again. Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. But the argument against it is not strong enough that you can bypass the next two years if you’re the Mariners.
4. The team would be better off keeping prospects, splurging on next year’s free-agent class, and taking a real run at the AL West title in 2010 and beyond.
Sort of a continuation of previous themes. First off, there’s nothing in a Bedard acquisition that, financially, would prevent the Mariners from trying to make a free-agent splurge next winter. Especially with the contracts of Richie Sexson and Raul Ibanez coming off the books. They can try. But will they be successful in their free-agent hunt? Those of you who advocate shopping for an ace pitcher next winter apparently have short memories. How many potential “aces” or good pitchers has Bill Bavasi been able to land via this route? Carl Pavano? Jason Schmidt? Ted Lilly? Barry Zito? Hiroki Kuroda? Didn’t even bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka. Johan Santana wanted no part of Seattle in any trade scenario he had to approve. Chances are, if the M’s bid on free-agents next winter, they would be more likely to bring home more Miguel Batista/Carlos Silva, mid-to-back-of-the-rotation types.
Bedard would be a rare exception to recent Seattle pitching ventures, mainly because he has zero say in the matter. So yes, this opportunity to significantly upgrade the rotation, before Hernandez becomes the ace, may be limited to this one time only. It should be far easier to land a No. 2 starter to join Hernandez in two years than it will be to find an ace next winter. Hey, maybe Hernandez becomes an ace this year. If so, then yeah, the team would be set up nicely come the 2008 off-season. But are you willing to bank on that happening so soon? I’m not sure. Even if it did, having two aces in Bedard and Hernandez for 2009 would just be gravy, wouldn’t it? Again, I’m not seeing the downside here.
As far as contending for the post-season with a Jones-led offense in 2010, after blowing off 2008 and 2009, well, there are no guarantees that would happen. Let’s say the Angels keep on getting better, and have a Jered Weaver-led staff at that point. Or still have Lackey and Escobar at the top of their game? What if Billy Beane works more magic in Oakland and has another contender primed and ready? All I know is, the rest of the division won’t be sitting still while the Mariners try to get better. It is now 2008, not 2010. Many of you were ready to write off 2007 by not dealing away Jones for mid-season pitching help. How many years are you willing to write-off in order to have the best theoretical shot at winning? At least three, by my count. 2007, 2008 and 2009. Come 2010, even if Hernandez is an ace and has a capable No. 2 starter behind him with Jones patrolling the outfield, no one will be conceding Seattle anything.
Everyone praised Beane for his rebuilding plan when he began dumping his Big Three starting pitchers after the 2004 season. Well, guess what? That “rebuilding plan” is already toast. Dan Haren, the prize of the Mark Mulder trade, has already been dealt elsewhere for more rebuilding. For all of his much-deserved praise, which I will be the first to give him, Beane has won just one division title the last four seasons. Now that he’s written off 2008, and probably 2009, he will have just one division title in five years come next winter and one in six once he’s ready to contend again. That, by the way, is exactly where the Mariners were at the start of last year — one title in their previous six seasons.
Nothing is guaranteed. Do I want to write-off 2008 and 2009 in the hopes a Seattle rebuilding effort will produce fruit come 2010? Not if I can help it. Not if ownership has shown the willingness to spend money to improve the team right now, while working in youngsters like Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, Sean Green, and possibly Brandon Morrow, for the future.
As I wrote last week, the Cleveland Indians are often cited as a model for rebuilding. But their “plan” saw them go from 3.3 million fans in attendance earlier this decade to just 2.2 million this past season — a year in which they missed qualifying for the World Series by just one game. Is that a business plan other teams necessarily want to emulate?
On a lesser note, not necessarily a decisive factor, but one worth keeping in mind because it’s still somewhat relevant, Jones may not be able to optimize his value in Seattle because of Ichiro. Jones hitting 25-30 home runs as a center fielder would put him in elite company. As a right fielder, he’d be good, but have plenty of others around him in the game capable of doing that. Ichiro is this team’s center fielder and brings value to that position defensively. Again, Jones would have value in right field, but it would still not be as optimal as having him play center. You could move Ichiro to right field and put Jones in center, but then you lose offensive power in right. Playing Jones in left field and acquiring another right fielder could be the answer, but again, it’s still not the same as having Jones in center.
Please, before all of you write in jumping all over that last point while ignoring the rest of what’s been written, it’s only a minor point. It’s not what is swaying me. But it has to be noted: Jones may become a great center fielder in Baltimore. But with Ichiro here for several years to come, Jones will likely never be a great center fielder in Seattle. Only a great right fielder or left fielder. So, in framing the debate, it has to be viewed this way.
In closing, I’d just like to say that there is more than one way for a team to win. A look at what’s happened in baseball over the years shows that it is easier to build a winner if you start with a strong pitching rotation and bullpen and work your way outward. I find it puzzling that so many of you seem 100 percent convinced that this team should not try to take a step forward right now. It’s a very conservative mindset. Not necessarily the wrong one, but pretty conservative given how rebuilding plans, prospects and projections don’t always pan out. I watched J.P. Ricciardi’s “Five Year Plan” in Toronto head through six years without improvement — even with some great young outfielders in Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. And I am simply not willing to write-off the next two years in hopes that the Mariners find all the right pieces down the road. Not when they have a serious upgrade opportunity staring them in the face.



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