Bedard glad he avoided arbitration

February 18, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Had the Orioles not agreed to a one-year deal with pitcher Erik Bedard yesterday, the process would have played out Tuesday in a hotel conference room in Phoenix. At the head of a long table, three arbitrators would have been seated, flanked on one side by Bedard, his representative, Mark Pieper, and a team of agents.

On the other side of the table, Orioles general counsel H. Russell Smouse and his son, Greg, would have sat with members of the Orioles' front office. Representatives from the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball would also have been present.

Over the next four or five hours, both sides would have presented their cases, using statistical analysis and comparisons to support their causes. Though making sure not to disparage the Orioles' best pitcher, Smouse would have argued that Bedard should earn $2.7 million for the 2007 season, not $4 million. Pieper would have argued the other side. Most likely a day later, the arbitrators would have ruled whether Bedard had earned his asking price or the Orioles' offer.

"It's always hard," said Bedard, who was warned that the arbitration process can be both contentious and humbling. "Obviously you are not going to take everything seriously. But some things I am sure they would have said, would have stuck forever. That's hard to forget, but we didn't go through that process and I'm happy for it.

Three days before the hearing, the Orioles settled on a $3.4 million deal with Bedard, who more than doubled his salary from the 2006 season in which he went 15-11 with a 3.76 ERA and established himself as the club's ace.

Bedard, being his stoic and matter-of-fact self, pushed aside a question about his financial security and said the best part of the contract was not having "to go to a hearing and hear you [stink]. I am just glad it's over with."

The Orioles are, too. They haven't hesitated to arbitrate a case in the past, getting to the table 12 times and trying nine cases, tied for the second most in baseball since 1994. They are 8-1 in those cases, and Smouse is 6-0 when leading the club's efforts.

But Bedard was a different case, and though the organization wasn't saying it publicly, the club strongly wanted to avoid going the whole way with Bedard. By his own admission, Bedard can be moody, distrustful and resentful. He also has been prone to losing his confidence.

There was some concern in the front office about the effect a potential arbitration case could have on Bedard's psyche.

"I am of the belief that it is always better to come to an agreement than to arbitrate a case," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "We obviously have a very successful track record when it comes to arbitration, and we're not afraid to go. We will go if we have to. But we certainly don't like to go with our top pitcher from last year. That sends a bad message."

Both Duquette and executive vice president Mike Flanagan believed that one possible factor in Rodrigo Lopez's 18-loss season was that he might have never fully recovered from experiencing the process.

"As a former player ... I came close to going one time and was not looking forward to it," Flanagan said. "Just the nature of it, players are going to point out good points and we're going to have to acknowledge good points, but also decipher some numbers and whatever way we see it. You just hope that you can avoid it getting there."

Duquette was the Houston Astros' director of player development in 1997, when one of the club's best pitchers, the late Darryl Kile, lost his arbitration case.

"He came back and was ticked off," Duquette recalled. "At the end of the year, because of the fact that they went to arbitration, he [opted] for free agency [after going 19-7]. That's when he signed with Colorado for a million dollars more. [Arbitration] can have long-lasting effects to an organization and a player."

Judging by Bedard's comments yesterday, it's plausible that the Orioles would have seriously endangered their chances of keeping Bedard long-term - he is eligible for free agency after the 2009 season.

"They haven't offered, so I don't know," Bedard said. Asked whether he would like to stay with the Orioles long-term, he said, "Yeah, I wouldn't mind, but if something else comes up ... it doesn't matter now."

Bedard said earlier last week that he thought the process "was going all the way," especially after the Orioles filed an offer of $2.7 million. "I didn't think that they would go that low," the pitcher said. Bedard also wondered whether the Orioles were interested because he said his agent hadn't heard from the club for a while.

"They waited pretty long," he said. "But it feels good that they didn't try to lowball their first offer after arbitration [filing]."

It wouldn't have come at a good time, either. Bedard, who traditionally keeps to himself in the clubhouse, has been noticeably more outgoing with his teammates and reporters. Duquette remembers Bedard's barely making eye contact with him last spring, but said that he is now "carrying himself differently and with more confidence."

Said teammate Adam Loewen: "He's always been a very mature, professional guy. His confidence has always been up, but this year, he is more relaxed in front of everybody. He's a little more talkative. It's good to see. He's our ace. And we want him to be a part of everything."

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