After two months of speculation, Erik Bedard is finally - officially - a Seattle Mariner. There is no denying that he has become one of the elite pitchers in baseball, one of the few truly worth being called an ace. To many fans, this seems like the ultimate irony. The Orioles finally develop a frontline pitcher and then they trade him away.
Well, I'll let you in on one of Baltimore's worst-kept secrets - Erik Bedard wasn't particularly happy as an Oriole. He didn't like the losing and he especially did not like the media. He wasn't likely to re-sign after 2009, when he is eligible for free agency. Even if he did, it would be at fair market rates of about ~$20 million per year. Do the Orioles strike you as having a foundation strong enough to justify spending 20% of their payroll on one roster spot? Me neither. And Bedard certainly has little value to the Orioles of 2008 and 2009, save for the possibility that he could cause them to lose their top-five draft pick by pitching too well.
Andy MacPhail may have taken his time with this deal, but it had to be done. For once, the Orioles dealt a player at his peak value. After all, Johan Santana, perhaps the only pitcher in the game unanimously considered better than Erik Bedard, didn't bring back nearly as much in a trade simply because he was one year closer to free agency. So, even if Bedard pitched just as well for the Orioles next year, his value would go down.
Of course, this is all without mentioning the incredible return that MacPhail managed to extract from Seattle. I won't go over the scouting reports again, but suffice it to say that this is the type of trade that can reinvigorate a struggling franchise. Adam Jones is a potential all-star - Mike Cameron on the low-end, with Andruw Jones upside. He'd be an easy #1 for the top prospect list, if he weren't 9 at bats too far into his major league career. Chris Tillman, despite his 5+ ERA in high-A (in a ridiculous offensive environment), is now among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tony Butler is a 6-7 lefty with mid-rotation horse written all over him and Kam Mickolio, the 6-9 reliever, could break camp with the Orioles. That's 24 years of club-controlled service time for a player that, despite his greatness, is going to have minimal impact in the next two years. The package could get even better if the Orioles let George Sherrill rack up some empty save totals and then flip him at the deadline to a contender hurting for a "certified closer". The Orioles bullpen may look ugly in 2008, but 31 year old relievers are a luxury that a rebuilding team can do without.
This trade may serve to alienate some fans, but what really matters is how it affects the fortunes of the franchise. The Orioles may be looking at 2010-11 before they can contend again, but Jones, Tillman, and company aren't going to be able to do it alone. Joe Jordan is going to have to continue to draft well. Players like Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Radhames Liz are going to have to develop. And Andy MacPhail is going to have to continue to flip players who won't contribute in 2010 (Roberts, Mora, Huff, Walker, Bradford) for those that might.
Hang in there, O's fans. This might only be the first step, but it's a big one. And for once, it's in the right direction.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com