Saturday, February 9, 2008

Schilling, Bedard Trade, etc.

It's hard to believe that we're only a scant few days away from the beginning of the 2008 baseball season. The prospect of those first images from Florida and Arizona on Wednesday and Thursday warms my winter heart. It's the universal sign that these cold months will go away soon and that the spring and summer will bring us the joy of the greatest game on earth once again. I always start to get the fever for baseball right around this time of year, and I can sense it coming back extremely soon. Even if there won't be any games for another couple of weeks, it's a least a great diversion from my Patriots depression.

We begin with Curt Schilling and this week's news about his lingering shoulder problems. Word right now is that Schill will be on the shelf until the ASB at the earliest. But finding out exactly what is wrong with his shoulder is a matter of what source you consult. The Red Sox think he's got a partial rotator cuff tear, while Schilling himself has refuted that diagnosis. Schilling's own doctor has been extremely public in his belief that Schilling can still have the surgery and pitch this year while the course of action the team has prescribed won't work. I'm not sure who to believe, but either way he's not going to be pitching anytime soon and the Sox will essentially have to plan on trying to win the 2008 World Series without him. I'm glad cooler heads prevailed on this matter, considering there was a lot of contention between the two camps and the Sox reportedly explored the option of voiding his contract (but, as Rob Neyer pointed out, "if the Rockies couldn't get their money back from Denny Neagle, the Sox aren't getting theirs from Schilling." Very true indeed).

You know your club is in good position when they can afford to lose a pitcher like Schilling for at least half the season and it's not really a big deal. There's no reason for Theo Epstein and Co. to panic and give a ridiculous contract to Kyle Lohse or overpay in players for the mediocrity of Joe Blanton. This generally assures Clay Buchholz will play a major role this season for the Sox, as will Julian Tavarez. If the other four members of the rotation are healthy, I'd personally like to see Tavarez begin the season as the 5th starter while Buchholz pitches four-to-five inning stints in Pawtucket until the end of May. The Sox will be putting Buchholz at significant risk if they pitch him more than 180 innings this season, and given their willingness to shut him down last fall I'm fairly certain the club is aware of his limitations. I would not mind seeing the Sox bring in some cheap insurance like Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia with the relative fragility of all their starters. I think losing Schilling doesn't help the club but it also doesn't worsen their '08 chances. Does anyone else think it would have been possible for a Tavarez/Buchholz combination to outpitch Schilling this year anyway?

The long-awaited, much-debated trade of Erik Bedard from the Orioles to the Mariners finally reached its conclusion yesterday. I don't think I've ever read more articles in a two-week span dealing with whether or not players had traveled for physicals in my life. Not unlike the Johan Santana trade, there seems to be a general consensus about who won this trade, but this time it's not the side that received the bigtime pitcher. At the expense of their future, the Mariners elected to make a play for Bedard they hope will even the score with LA heading into the season. This move does not do that, despite the borderline hilarious musings of Steve Phillips on Sportscenter last night. In my estimation the Mariners gave up, far, far too much for a pitcher we'd all agree is far from a sure thing.

Don't get me wrong, I think Erik Bedard is an awesome pitcher. I'm also excited to see how teams deal with the Bedard-Felix combo throughout the year. But there are several facts about Bedard that should cause worry all M's fans. Bedard underwent TJ surgery in 2002, and he's never logged more than 196 IP in any season. He was shut down for most of the final month of 2007 with an oblique strain. He's also never won more than 15 games (which could be more of a product of playing on crappy teams in Baltimore), and he will also be 29 at the start of next season with two years to go until free agency. Given the extension Santana earned last week, I don't see how any premiere pitcher could wait until either one year before free agency or free agency itself to sign. There's a ton of money out there for them, and if Seattle can't retain Bedard this trade could prove to be a massive mistake.

I say that because the Orioles got a boatload of talent back unlike anything we've seen this winter. There have been a lot of major deals since October, but I'll say without qualification the package headed by Adam Jones (one of my absolute favorite young players in the game) was the best any team received for any player this offseason, including those for Santana, Haren, Swisher and the O's earlier trade of Tejada (which definitely wasn't a bad haul). Jones profiles as a Mike Cameron-type, and at 22 he's still got a long way to reach his ceiling. In a short period of time I could see Jones hitting 25-30 homers and stealing 15-20 bases annually. All he has to do is improve his plate discipline, as he's already a plus defender in center with a 70 arm (that's scout speak for "freakin' awesome"). Also heading to Camden will be George Sherrill, J.J. Putz's lefty setup man last year who will almost certainly step into Baltimore's vacant closer job, and losing him is yet another reason why I dislike this deal from Seattle's perspective. Starters Chris Tillman and Tony Butler also will be changing addresses, and Tillman was recently ranked 44th on Kevin Goldstein's Top 100 Prospects list over at Baseball Prospectus. The final player in the package is an intriguing, high-upside reliever named Kam Mickolio who could join the Baltimore bullpen right away. This has the chance to be the best trade for the Orioles since (get ready for this) they dealt Mike Boddicker to the Red Sox for Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson at the 1988 trade deadline. That tells you how crappy the O's have been over these recent years.

Andy MacPhail has changed the culture in Baltimore, finally setting the franchise on a rebuilding path that should have started years ago. For Tejada and Bedard they've gotten back a whopping ten players, and if Brian Roberts goes they should be able to get at least three or four more. They will use Jones, Nick Markakis and top draft pick Matt Wieters as their foundation for the future. As someone that grew up respecting Cal Ripken's Orioles teams and appreciating their legacy of greatness from 1966 to 1983, I want badly for the Orioles to be a great team again. While we can expect them to be in the cellar for at least the next two years, these moves actually serve a purpose and will finally help the Orioles build towards something positive.

With that, baseball season is in the air. I've already signed up for two Yahoo public leagues and taken part in a half dozen mock drafts. Coming up I'll have my annual AL preview and I'll also try to post some other fantasy stuff including a recap of a mock I did last weekend that I'm extremely proud of. Until then, stay warm and pray for spring.

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