Monday, January 28, 2008

I Can't Confirm This, But....

"We do not have any reports of fatalities yet, but we believe that the death toll may be in the hundreds of millions. Beaverton has only a population of about eight thousand, Tom, so this would be quite devastating." Field Reporter (South Park, 2005)

What am I trying to say? That at least I am willing to speculate on what may be. Currently the Baltimore Orioles are reported to be trading lefty pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for highly touted outfield prospect Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill, minor league pitcher Chris Tillman and another player yet to be named. This report is via that states the trade is simply awaiting the players to complete their physicals and for Baltimore ownership to approve of the deal.

This report has yet to be confirmed, but if history is any indicator (and yes, I am using FoxNews and South Park as my historic references of choice) this deal is as good as done-note I am being incredibly sarcastic, but I don't have much more to write about aside from No Child Left Behind.

Keep in mind, as more information comes available, I will add on comments and grades. For now, I will discuss the players that are said to be involved and insight into whom I believe may be added.

To start, the center piece of this trade, Erik Bedard. While teams had been making noise about Erik Bedard, the majority of speculation behind a starting pitcher being moved, revolved around Johan Santana. I will say this though, in my opinion if the Orioles were set on moving Bedard, pulling the trigger on this moving rather then waiting on the Twins eventual move of Santana was the right thing to do.

Erik Bedard will turn 29 prior to Opening Day. In 2007, Bedard turned the corner and became one of the American League's elite starting pitchers owning a dominating strikeout rate. During this season, he posted a career best in NRA, of 3.07. His RA for the season was third in all of baseball and first in the American League. He also owned the American Leagues top xFIP at 3.13, 28 points lower then his closest competition. With all of that in mind, there is little reason to think Bedard was going to enter the 2008 season as anything less then a top 3 or 4 pitcher in the American League, among the likes of Santana, Josh Beckett and C.C Sabathia.

However, one could hold concern that entering his age 29 season, Bedard had yet to pitch 200 innings in any one season. Although he has not been sidelined for a long period of time due to a major injury. A major injury to a pitcher is one in which occurs to the throwers arm or shoulder. Bedard did have Tommy John surgery in 2002, forcing him to miss the 2003 season. Outside of that, it appears as though Bedard just has a difficult time staying in games, combined with an overly cautious team philosophy. Neither of which are terrible assets in todays game and in fact, could be classified as a bonus given Bedard's age.

Given that Bedard has been in the majors for such a long time, there isn't much need to get into his old prospect status. That said, it is still interesting to note that entering the 2002 season John Sickels (via Baseball rated the then 23 year old as a B prospect after a 2001 season in which Bedard posted an ERA below 2.50 and a K/9 of over 11.50.

Bedard will be exchange for center piece Adam Jones. The 22 year old toolsy outfielder dominated triple A in 2007 after being aggressively moved through the Mariners system. 2007 was Jones' second season in triple A, however he did not disappoint, improving all of his numbers by decent margins, even more so impressive because of his age relative to competition. Something Jones has always had to fight against and something that may stunt his long term growth.

Jones ranked as John Sickels #2 prospect in the Mariners system entering 2006, and #1 entering the 2007 and upcoming seasons. At each stage, Jones rated as a B+ prospect, once being compared to a younger Mike Cameron without the walks but the potential to improve.

Entering the 2007 season, Sickels ranked Jones as his #28 hitting prospect, if you decide to scan the list, it is almost impossible to argue with any of the names listed ahead of him and can hardly be considered a knock. Keep in mind, that the Orioles have a single hitter on this list, a kid who is all of 19 years old and ranks as the #4 Orioles prospect entering 2008. Checking back with 2007's top 50 hitters list, I can't imagine any of them being available for Bedard and a team not regretting it sooner then later.

Baseball Prospectus would have ranked Jones as a 5 star talent entering the 2008 season, just behind Felix Hernandez and ahead of Jeff Clement (who qualifies). However, he unfortunately did not qualify and will have to prove that the Mariners did more harm then good in rushing him through their system. Even with that in mind, Jones has a very good chance to be an excellent outfielder both with his bat and with his glove.

The next player, and the one who in my opinion will end up being the head scratcher 5 years down the road, is Chris Tillman. The 19 year old who has just over a single professional season under his belt is considered to be a plus talent and rated as a 4 star prospect by Baseball Prospectus. Here is their glowing review from the same author,
"The Good: Tillman is a highly projectable power pitcher. He has a loose, long frame and good mechanics, with a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96, which should become a more regular occurrence as his body fills out. His overhand curveball is a true plus offering that he breaks hard through the zone. Scouts love his aggressiveness, and team officials praised his ability to survive as a teenager in one of the worst pitching environments around.
The Bad: Tillman simply needs a little polish. While he’s hardly wild, he needs to improve his command and control. Like many young pitchers, his changeup needs some improvement, but he does show some feel for the pitch, and it’s already gotten far better since he was drafted."
Not even a hint of a negative there. I imagine Baltimore would be smart and start him at an age friendly level this season, which would be high A with an obtainable promotion to double A by mid season.

Entering 2007, John Sickels rated Tillman as a B- pitcher with "huge upside...[and in] need [of] time". A more recent review has Tillman jumping up as a B+ pitcher. Keep in mind, that at an older age with a substantially superior statistical track record, Erik Bedard rated as a B prospect.

To be entirely honest, I don't really care for the addition of Sherrill. He is, a reliever who had an excellent season. Although, 2007 was an incredibly lucky season for Sherrill as he posted BABIP and LOB% numbers that are well below league norms, however in limited action as a reliever, that can often occur. His strikeout and walk rates are very impressive and appear to be sustainable given his track record. However, the Orioles are trading their best pitcher, dealt their second best hitter previously and are said to be in the midst of dealing their third best hitter. What need they will have for yet another bullpen arm is beyond me.

To grade out a winner and a loser in this trade, I will go with the Mariners. Bedard could very well be the difference between this team winning the division in 2008 and falling 7 games out, as they did in 2007. The Mariners also need to look to the immediate future as their farm system does not look promising, especially compared to that of the division rival Athletics. However, this is not to suggest that the Orioles lost out altogether. If they can manage to squeak Wladimir Balentien out of the Mariners, instead of Sherrill and another low level prospect, they definitely made out very well for themselves. That would give the team a very young outfield core of high ceiling hitters.

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