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July 1, 2009 at 8:26 AM

Can the Mariners still contend after trading Erik Bedard?

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July is finally upon us, which means the countdown to the trade deadline has begun. As of today, the Mariners are still only 3 1/2 games out of the AL West lead, sitting behind a struggling second-place Texas team and a first-place Angels squad that keeps finding ways to win despite a slew of obstacles in their path.
The Mariners must make a decision on whether to trade pitcher Erik Bedard by month’s end. If they don’t deal him, they risk losing him for a second-tier draft pick should he leave as a free-agent because his latest injury layoff has placed his Type A status in severe trouble.
There is a line of thinking out there that the Mariners could trade one of either Bedard or Jarrod Washburn before July 31 and pick up the offensive pieces needed to contend and still rebuild for the future at the same time. The thinking goes that the Mariners, as a team, have a better winning percentage on days somebody other than Washburn or Bedard makes a start. And so, by trading one and replacing him with another arm from within — even an average one at best — the team might not be losing all that much.
It’s an intriguing line of thinking. Setting aside the obvious skewed difference that Felix Hernandez brings to the remaining three starting spots in terms of wins and the fact that Washburn’s lack of run support is another huge reason for the difference, it does raise interesting points about the impact — or lack thereof — that one starting pitcher can have on a team in general.
But I’m still not buying the argument. And here’s why.

The Mariners as a pitching staff continue to sport the top ERA in the Amercian League, with the starters sitting No. 1 and the relievers at No. 2.
That trend continued in June, with the Mariners as a whole still topping the league in ERA.
But if you look closely enough, some tiny cracks in the foundation have started to appear.
The Seattle starters are now only 10th best in the league in terms of innings pitched. And the bullpen arms have moved all the way up to sixth highest in that category. Three of the teams ahead of the Mariners are the A’s, Indians and Orioles. What do they have in common? You got it. None are going to be vying for a playoff spot any time soon.
The two remaining teams with more bullpen innings logged than Seattle — the Blue Jays and Yankees — are staying in contention largely because of their offense. Can the Mariners say that? Uh, no.
So, something’s got to give fairly soon.
We might have been given a firsthand look at what potentially lies ahead with what Sean White delivered last night. Now, White has been one of the year’s success stories to date — sort of like Sean Green the past two years. That is, if you leave out the second half of the season.
White has had a taste of the majors before, but only for a couple of months in 2007. His arm hasn’t been taxed like this in the majors before and was showing signs of fatigue last week, which is why the Mariners rested him a few days, Now, last night, he gets lit up like a Christmas tree.
Hardly a catastrophe in the grand scheme. But a warning sign this team has to be aware of. And it is.
The one thing you can count on from either Bedard or Washburn is that they usually deliver six or seven innings at a time. And believe me, there is a huge difference between that and a pitcher who goes only five or six innings.
It may not show up in the overall stats, where a guy can be a six inning pitcher and log 200 frames a year. But get too many five and six inning starts in a row and your bullpen starts to feel it.
As things stand right now, the Mariners have Hernandez, Washburn and three guys who it’s less than certain will be able to deliver more than five or six innings worth of stuff. Garrett Olson has been all over the place innings-wise (well, at least when it come to quality innings). Brandon Morrow can barely go five frames at a time. Jason Vargas was lights-out early, but has made it through sixth innings only once his last five times out — and that was against a terrible Arizona team.
Can this continue on? Well, if the Mariners trade away Bedard, it just might. I still say that if the Mariners are to contend, they’ll need the seven-inning pitcher Bedard was earlier in the season.
It will help take some of the heat off the bullpen. That and the continued development of Morrow — hopefully punctuated by greater innings consumption.
If not, this team might not make it through the long haul, regardless of any improvement to the offense.
Starting pitchers impact more than just the first five to seven innings of a game. If they don’t go deep enough as a group, they have a cumulative impact on the bullpen and those final innings they spend towelling off.
It’s a delicate balancing act for these Mariners.
The reason they’ve gotten this far is pitching and defense. And they look to need more of that — not less — as the season continues. Especially with the defensive hit taken by the season-ending injury to Endy Chavez and the up to two months recovery time for Adrian Beltre after surgery. This team just took too big a defensive hit to be able to sustain any more by trading away a healthy Bedard and replacing him with an average arm.
Never mind if the Mariners actually did make the playoffs and what having Bedard in a short, best-of-five series could mean as opposed to, say, Ryan Rowland-Smith.
This is merely about getting to those playoffs.
And I don’t see the Mariners doing that without Bedard and Washburn. For me, this team needs both just to have a prayer. Well, actually, they need both and also to provide this offense some kind of boost via a deal.
We’ll focus on Bedard for now since he could potentially pull in better prospects in a trade with, say, the Phillies, a team getting more desperate by the day, than Washburn could. Also because the team is now, having reversed it’s previous strategy, discussing whether or not to send Bedard out for four innings against Boston on Saturday.
If you need to showcase a guy for a trade, you want him out there as much as possible before and after this all-star break.
Bedard threw about 45 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday. The team is still debating whether he can get up to 55 or 60 by Saturday and last four innings.
The fact they are even having the discussion shows me the idea of dealing Bedard may not totally be dead.
But if it does go down eventually, I don’t see how these Mariners contend. They’d be banking on far too much happening with the remaining arms while giving up on the one guy, who, when healthy, can pitch like a front-line starter.



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