Nobody likes to admit when a deal doesn’t go their way, especially a sports franchise. But there’s no question that the Baltimore Orioles got the better end of the deal that sent Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a package of five players in February of 2008. The O’s received a prized prospect named Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Tony Butler, Chris Tillman, and Kam Mickolio in the trade and in exchange, the M’s were receiving a starter who was coming off a fifth place finish in the 2007 American League Cy Young Award voting and was establishing himself as a top pitcher in the American League.
At the time, the M’s were coming off of an 88-win campaign and a second place finish in the American League West while featuring the likes of Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre playing key roles in their lineup. Seattle had been tantalized by the idea of pairing another ace with Felix Hernandez, who was already blossoming into one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and felt they could be one more key acquisition away from getting back to the postseason — so they pushed their chips to the center of the table to make the deal. There’s no doubt this deal left a sour taste in many Mariner fans’ mouths since it took place, but let’s take a look at what has transpired over the last six years for the players and teams involved since the transaction took place.
Bedard, the Ontario, Canada native, was the Orioles’ sixth-round draft pick in the 1999 amateur draft and was selected two picks after the Mariners chose JJ Putz, and seven picks before Shane Victorino and Aaron Harang were taken back-to-back. The lefty would make his major league debut for the Orioles on April 17, 2002 against the New York Yankees, but he’d end up requiring surgery on a left elbow ligament and pitched just 88 minor league innings in 2002 and 2003 combined. Bedard would turn the corner in 2004, however, as he started 26 games and finished with a 4.59 ERA and a 4.22 FIP; good for 2.4 fWAR.
Between the 2005 and 2006 seasons the Canadian left hander would accumulate 8.1 fWAR over 338 innings pitched — he missed 49 games with a knee injury in 2005 — before solidifying his status as an ace in the 2007 campaign. After posting a 3.76 ERA and a 3.59 FIP in 2006, Bedard managed to be even better in 2007 as he pitched to the tune of a 3.16 ERA with a 3.19 FIP and a 2.90 xFIP. Despite being sidelined with an oblique strain from September 2 until the end of the season, the left-hander still managed to throw 182 innings and post a career high 5.1 fWAR. If not for the injury, it’s entirely possible that he would’ve taken home the American League Cy Young that year. The Orioles would go on to lose 93 games in 2007 and as their ace entered his final two years of club control, it appeared likely that he would be dealt that offseason while his value was at a peak.
Following the 2007 season, Seattle turned their attention to improving a rotation that produced the fifth worst ERA in all of baseball with a 5.13 mark. The subtractions of Jeff Weaver and eventually Horacio Ramirez from the rotation were improvements on their own, but in December the club signed Carlos Silva, who was coming off a 3.0 fWAR season in 2007 and his fourth consecutive campaign throwing 180+ innings, to a four-year contract. Fun fact: prior to signing Silva, Seattle would select RA Dickey, his teammate from the previous year and a participant in a future blockbuster deal of his own, in the Rule-5 Draft from the Minnesota Twins and he would start 14 games for the club the following year. The M’s would then to pursuits to acquiring a certain Oriole pitcher that was believed to be available at the time.
In January of 2008, while the Mariner-Bedard connection was growing past the rumor stage, PI’s Jason A. Churchill saw the Mariners sending Adam Jones, Carlos Truinfel, and George Sherrill to the Orioles as the likely compensation in a potential Bedard deal, while FOXSports’ Ken Rosenthal opined that the M’s would include Jones, Jeff Clement, and Matt Tuiasosopo in the rumored deal. Other prospects such as Brandon Morrow, Chris Tillman, and Tony Butler would appear in rumors until early February when reports that a deal between the Orioles and Mariners had been reached and was pending physicals.
On the eighth of February, the Mariners would officially send Jones, Tillman, Butler, Sherrill, and Kam Mickolio to the Orioles in exchange for Bedard. The M’s had got their man.
At the time of the deal things were looking good for Seattle — the rotation appeared strong, there was veteran talent in the lineup — but the lustre would fade quick, and 2008 would become a season rather forgotten.
A week after being acquired, Bedard would be named the club’s Opening Day in which he would throw five innings en route to a 5-2 Seattle victory — Bedard would receive a no decision in the win. The left-hander would make one more start before making a trip to the disabled list with a hip injury. It appeared to be just a minor bump in the road however, as he would pitch well for the next two months with only a minor case of back spasms pushing a June start back a few days. Unfortunately for the Mariners, their prized offseason acquisition would make his last start of the campaign on the fourth of July as he was shut down with a shoulder injury that would ultimately require surgery to remove labrum tissue and a cyst.
Bedard would make just fifteen starts in his first year in the Pacific Northwest and finish the campaign with a 6-4 record and a 3.64 ERA. His 4.32 FIP and 4.50 xFIP suggest he pitched slightly worse than his ERA showed, and his production was good for a single win above replacement according to FanGraphs. The M’s would go on to finish the season with a whopping 101 losses. Year one, bust.
The beginning of the 2009 season offered promise and the return of Mariner great Ken Griffey Jr., but it would be a similar story for Bedard as he was now a single year away from reaching free agency with minimal reports of extension discussions, and rightfully so. After dealing with a hip strain in Spring Training, the lefty would string together a stretch of seven decent starts before a hamstring strain in May would cost him nine games. Bedard would return from the injury to show some of the promise the Mariners had anticipated when they spent big prospect dollars to acquire him before landing on the disabled list in June with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. Just four more starts would be made in 2009 before a second shoulder surgery would be required to repair a torn labrum and an inflamed bursa. Seattle would finish the year with 85 wins, but year two would also sadly be considered a bust.
The Mariners would re-sign Bedard to a one-year deal prior to the start of the 2010 season with the hope that he’d be able to return in May or June, but he encountered several setbacks in his rehabilitation process and would only throw 11 minor league innings that year. The club would once again re-sign the starter prior to the 2011 season, but this time to an incentive-laden minor league contract. He would pitch as well as he ever did for Seattle and after making 16 starts for the club — the final two were separated by a month long stint on the DL with a knee strain — he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox with Josh Fields on the July 31st trade deadline in a three-team trade including the Los Angeles Dodgers that netted the M’s outfielder Trayvon Robinson and pitcher Chih-Hsien Chiang.
Erik Bedard’s Mariner career was officially over.
Just ten days prior to this blockbuster trade another one took place involving a big time left hander took place when the New York Mets acquired Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins. In exchange for Santana, who was tied with Bedard for fifth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2007, the Twins received Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra; a return many believed to not only be light, but lesser than the package the Orioles would end up receiving for their ace. Guerra is the only one of the four still with the Twins’ organization but has yet to make a major league appearance. Reportedly a package including Jacoby Ellsbury was offered by the Red Sox, but Minnesota turned it down.
It was said with almost complete certainty that the any package the Orioles would receive from the Mariners in exchange for Bedard would include Adam Jones— he was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the organization and the O’s had a hole in center field with Corey Patterson leaving via free agency. There were few who weren’t enamoured with the skill set possessed by Jones, and this is what Churchill had to say about the former top prospect back in April 2007:
“Jones can do a little bit of everything, covering his skill set with above-average tools across the board. He’s taken quickly to center field after spending most of his first three pro seasons at shortstop. His offense has progressed nicely, backed with plus bat speed and an improved approach to hitting.
Adam Jones has as good a chance to become a regular – and a star – as any M’s position prospect since Alex Rodriguez more than 10 years ago. He’s backed up his skillset with a great work ethic and a desire to get better every season. The way he took to the position switch says a lot about who Adam Jones is as a person and teammate, and the way he took to hitting Triple-A pitching at the age of 20 says all you need to know about Adam Jones the ballplayer.
I don’t think there’s any way he fails as a big leaguer. At the very least he’s a super sub with power and defensive versatility, but if things work out, he’s a multi-time all-star with more power and overall offensive ability than either Cameron or Hunter.”
Jones was the Mariners’ first round pick 2003 amateur draft, No. 37 overall, and entering the 2007 campaign he was rated No. 28 in Baseball America’s annual Top-100 prospect list. He would appear in 73 games for the M’s between 2006 and 2007 so he was no longer considered a prospect prior to the 2008 season, but their were no doubts that he had the potential to be a difference maker. It wouldn’t take long for San Diego, CA native to make his mark in the big leagues as he would make the All-Star team and win his first Gold Glove in 2009, his second full campaign with the Orioles. Jones would follow up the breakout campaign with two solid yet unspectacular seasons in 2010 and 2011 — he accumulated 2.5 fWAR in each — as he made his ascent to superstardom.
In 2012 and 2013 combined, Jones produced the following: a .286/.326/.499 batting line with a 122 wRC+, 65 home runs and 190 runs batted in, 74 doubles, a .213 ISO rating, two All-Star appearances, two Gold Glove Awards, one Silver Slugger Award, and a pair of top-15 MVP finishes, including a sixth place finish in 2012. He would be rewarded in May 2012 with a six-year extension worth at least $85.5 million — incentives could push the total value of the deal as high as $91.5 million — and includes a no-trade clause. Churchill had mentioned Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron as comparisons for Jones back in 2007, and there’s little doubt that he and the scouts were right on this one; Jones has become a bonafide superstar and will only continue to produce so long as he’s able to stay in good health. Man, would he look good roaming Safeco Field right about now and hitting behind Robinson Cano.
It’s easy to forget about the other players the Orioles received in exchange for Bedard after perusing the impressive resume Jones has managed to put together thus far, but he wasn’t the only player to pay dividends for the O’s.
George Sherrill was coming off of the best year of his career at the time, his age-31 season, at the time of the trade and immediately entered the closer’s role in the O’s bullpen. He’d make 57 appearances and accumulate 31 saves in 2008 but finished with a 4.73 ERA and a 4.33 FIP — though getting 0.5 fWAR out of a relief pitcher at a cost of just under a million bucks is solid value for any club. The left hander would make 42 more appearances as an Oriole before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers one day before the 2009 July trade deadline. The Dodgers would send Josh Bell and Steve Johnson to Baltimore in exchange for the reliever. Johnson would rise through the system as a starter including four starts for the big club in 2011, and his pitched a total of 54 major league innings since being acquired, mostly in a relief role. He’s started the 2014 campaign with the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate.
Bell, a third baseman, would be shipped with Kam Mickolio — the third player Baltimore acquired for Bedard — to the Arizona Diamonbacks in a deal prior to the 2011 season that brought Mark Reynolds to the Northeast. In 100 major league games with the Orioles, Bell would post a measly .195/.223/.265 line while Reynolds would chip in 60 home runs and 149 runs batted in during his two seasons with the club. However, thanks to his defensive shortcomings and limited skillset, he would actually provide negative value to the tune of -0.2 fWAR for the Orioles during his stay. The infielder would depart via free agency after the 2012 season.
Back to Mickolio, who was selected by the Mariners in the 18th round of the 2006 amateur draft. The 6-foot-9 right hander made a quick ascent through Seattle’s minor league system after throwing 32 1/3 innings for the Single-A Everett AquaSox in ’06, and splitting the 2007 campaign between Double-A West Tennessee and Triple-A Tacoma. Since he was pitching as a reliever he didn’t garner much hype as a top prospect, but he did crack FanGraphs’ Top 10 Baltimore Orioles Prospects for the 2010 season in the No. 8 spot. The hope was that Mickolio could be a future closer or set-up man for the club, but he was dealt to the D-Backs in the aforementioned trade for Reynolds after allowing 12 earned runs in 25 innings major league innings between 2008 to 2010. He would throw 58 innings with the D-Backs Triple-A squad in 2011 and he would also make six appearances for the big club, but following the campaign he would sign with the Hiroshima Carp of the JPL which is where he has pitched since.
Tony Butler was the lone player involved in the deal that has not made a major league appearance, and in fact he has yet to pitch above the Single-A level. The M’s third round selection in the 2006 draft was ranked fourth on Baseball American’s Top 10 Mariner prospects list entering the 2007 season, but he failed to crack that Top 10 list prior to the 2008 campaign. Butler, a left-hander, made 11 starts for the Orioles’ Single-A affiliate in 2008, but would throw just 13 minor league innings in 2009 before undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder that July. He would be released by the Orioles in June 2010 and would rejoin the Mariners’ organization in 2011 where he made 15 starts in the low minors. Butler was last seen pitching in the Independent League in 2012.
The last player Baltimore received in the deal was right-hander Chris Tillman, who has slowly but surely made his way to the show after being acquired. Selected in the second round of the 2006 amateur draft — yes, three of the players acquired by Baltimore were from that particular draft — Tillman made five starts for the AquaSox and entered the 2007 season as the Mariners’ eighth best prospect according to Baseball America and jumped all the way up to the No.3 spot prior to the 2008 campaign.
After spending the entire 2008 season at Double-A, Tillman would split the next four season between Triple-A and the major league squad and in 266 2/3 major league innings across 51 starts, he would post a 4.73 ERA with a 4.97 FIP. The right-hander had struggled with giving out walks throughout his minor league career, and would record a 3.5 walks per nine innings mark during that period. But in his 15 starts during the 2012 season — which are included in the sample size mentioned — he managed to drop that mark down to a 2.95 rate and ended up posting a 2.93 ERA with a 4.25 FIP. Tillman would pitch his first full major league season the following year in 2013 and in 206 1/3 innings, he posted a 16-7 record with a 3.71 ERA, 4.42 FIP, and a 3.88 xFIP; an even 2.0 fWAR season. He’s off to a solid start in 2014 and all things equal, he looks set to become a fixture in the Orioles’ rotation for years to come.
Hindsight is 20/20, and certainly this transaction didn’t go quite how the Seattle Mariners thought it would when former general manager Bill Bavasi pulled the trigger. But at the time, the M’s saw the opportunity to upgrade their club and determined that it was worth the risk to make the deal given the potential rewards of adding a frontline starter. These kinds of deals are always tough to predict because there’s so many variables that go into them, especially with the uncertainty that prospects carry and potential injury risks among other factors. They can end up like the Johan Santana trade that was mentioned in which neither team was really rewarded in the deal, or like the Bedard deal did where one team was the clear beneficiary.
Nobody knew for certain that Adam Jones would become a superstar — although many had made the now correct prediction — and nobody could’ve foreseen the immense struggles with health that Erik Bedard would face during his time in Seattle.
Perhaps the real point of contention should lie within the fact that since the trade in February of 2008, the Orioles were able to snap a 14-year playoff drought with a 93-win 2012 campaign that clinched the club a Wild Card slot — they would go on to lose to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series in five games. The Mariners are still in search of their first playoff appearances since 2001, and Bavasi was relieved of his general manager duties just four short months after the transaction with the O’s.