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June 9, 2009 at 8:42 AM

Why Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard should qualify for Type A free-agency

Many of you have been asking about my statement yesterday that Erik Bedard should qualify for Type A free-agency and net the Mariners a pair of draft picks if he leaves as a free-agent by year’s-end. First off, while his situation appears similar to that of Adrian Beltre, another Mariners player right on the cusp between Type A and Type B free-agency, there is a big difference.
Bedard is having a much better season this year than Beltre is.
Another thing worth noting is that, because baseball’s financial landscape has changed, Type A free-agency might actually mean more in Bedard’s case than in Beltre’s. To receive the draft picks, teams must first offer arbitration to a player. If that player accepts, the team would have to work out a one-year deal.
Beltre earns $12 million this season and would likely win at least that much in arbitration (teams can’t offer a paycut of more than 20 percent and arbitrators, who pick one of two proposed figures, usually don’t side with salary reduction). Bedard earns $8 million.
In today’s changed marketplace, the M’s could likely stomach an improving Bedard at one more year for, say, $10 million, than a declining Beltre at $12 million-plus. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Here’s what Bedard has to do to maintain Type A status:
Exactly what he’s done to this point.
Remember, the Elias Sports Bureau, which ranks the players, does so on a revolving two-year scale. So, Bedard will be judged based on how he did in 2008 and 2009. When the rankings came out last November, and he was judged on 2007 and 2008, Bedard came in 16th out of 17 pitchers who qualified for Type A status.
Now, that’s not entirely comfortable. But it also included a 2008 season in which Bedard was sidelined for the year by July 4.
That 2008 season will be included again this time around, so a better 2009 is obviously in order. A 2009 similar to what Bedard did in 2007.
Here is what Elias ranks starting pitchers on:
Total games (full points for games started, half-points for relief outings), innings pitched, wins, winning percentage, ERA and strikeouts. AL starting pitchers are ranked in each category according to how well they score against their fellow AL starters. Points are added up at the end, and the top 20 percent get Type A status and net two high end draft picks (usually a first-rounder and supplemetal round pick) for teams if they leave, while the next 20 percent gets Type B status and only one supplementary round pick.
Back in 2007, Bedard appeared in 28 games (he’s now on pace for 31), threw 182 innings (now on pace for 185), won 13 games (currently headed for 14), had an ERA of 3.17 (now on pace for 2.47), had a winning percentage of .722 (now on-pace for .700) and 221 strikeouts (now on-pace for 185).
So, he’s ahead of 2007 in four of the categories, slightly behind in two. Overall, it’s roughly the same pace with a bit of wiggle room in case things head south. Don’t forget, he didn’t make it through August of that 2007 season. So, even if Bedard is now only a six-inning pitcher instead of a seven-inning guy, he can still make his numbers if he lasts the year.
Who does he have to worry about?
Not so much guys like Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Scott Kazmir, James Shields and A.J. Burnett. They were already comfortably ahead of him on the Type A chart and — barring a season-ending injury to one of them right now — Bedard has zero chance of catching up, if you look at the link to the Elias rankings from last November.
It’s more the guys passing him from behind that he has to worry about. But remember, as long as Bedard finishes with roughly the same numbers as two years ago, it would take a breakout season by one of the traliers to leap up and pass him.
Of those trailers, Zack Greinke is possible, given his fast start for the Royals.
But then again, Cliff Lee, who finished two slots ahead of Bedard last year, is bound to take a tumble with the relatively poor showing this season compared to last year’s Cy Young winning campaign. Mike Mussina, a guy five slots ahead of Bedard on the list, has since retired and won’t be a factor. Also, Fausto Carmona, four slots up on Bedard last year, has now been relegated to Class AAA by the Indians.
In other words, while some might catch Bedard, there are a bunch of guys just ahead of him that he’s likely to catch and pass.
No, the real concern here isn’t Bedard tumbling out of the top 20 percent if he stays on the mound. The only thing the Mariners truly have to worry about is Bedard getting hurt the way he did last year. If he bows out on July 4, it will be nearly impossible for him to keep Type A status.
That said, July 4 is less than a month away. So far, with a minor hiccup or two, Bedard has been relatively healthy. A key to monitoring this is his pitch count, roughly 10 per outing more than he threw last year. He’s also striking out nearly a batter more over nine innings.
Sure, his health will always be a concern, given how he failed to complete the past two seasons.
But here’s the catch: in both those years, Bedard claimed he could have pitched through his aches and pains if something was at-stake.
Well, there is now something at-stake. There is the team’s standing, for now, at five games out of the division lead and climbing (slowly, but climbing). It’s looking like the only way the Mariners hang on to Bedard is if they still have something to play for come July. And having something to play for has been known to keep pitchers on the mound. And then, for added incentive, there is also Bedard’s pending free-agency. This is his contract year. He’s not going to beg off to the sidelines for some shoulder irritation in August if he’s got free-agent suitors watching his every start and adjusting contract proposals accordingly.
Besides, he had his shoulder surgery already. His arm should, in theory, be stronger now than it was a year ago when he claimed he could still pitch in a pennant race if he had to.
Taking all that into account, there is an excellent chance Bedard qualifies for Type A free-agency next November. It doesn’t matter where he ranks at present-time, because that ranking is skewed by an incomplete 2008. As long as Bedard stays on the mound, he should be fine. Rarely will things be a slam dunk like they were with Raul Ibanez. But in this case, as long as Bedard makes it to the mound, goes six innings and does what he’s been doing, he will make that elite cut. He might even increase his projected wins and winning percentage now that the Mariners are scoring a few more runs.
Photo Credit: AP



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