OK, charge me with an error for urging O's to trade Bedard

August 07, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Sometimes, you have to be willing to admit when you're wrong.

It's not easy, especially when you've had such little experience with being wrong, but in cases like this I'm guessing the best thing to do is just throw it out there and get it over with.

I'm the guy who spent the past several months encouraging the Orioles - in print and over the airwaves - to consider dealing Erik Bedard for Mark Teixeira or some other package of players that would upgrade the team's sketchy offensive lineup.

Seemed like a pretty good idea back when Bedard was 4-4 and had the kind of tiny ERA that seemed to prove my point - which was that the Orioles were never going to climb up the American League East standings on pitching alone. They probably aren't, but Bedard's eight-decision winning streak has made it crystal clear that they can't afford to let him get away.

He's 12-4 and starting to look like a Cy Young candidate. He also has established himself as a true staff ace, which is really the issue here. Now, the Orioles can enter the offseason focused almost entirely on the heart of the batting order, which is a couple of big bats short of the run-production potential that would make the club a legitimate playoff contender.

Of course, if Bedard really is untouchable, then the front office needs to find out in relatively short order what it's going to take to make sure he's still here five years from now. He won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season, but that doesn't mean the O's have the luxury of waiting around until his final season under contract to work on an extension.

The best hope of turning Bedard into a career Oriole is to get him signed and happy before his next arbitration date. That won't be cheap, but it figures to be a lot cheaper than going through two arbitrations and trying to sign him with free agency imminent. The only chance to get any kind of bargain is to offer Bedard enough now to make him unwilling to take the risk of waiting 2 1/2 years for more.

I realize that security is a relative term when you're talking about a player who will make $3.4 million this year, but every contract situation has a risk/reward component. Bedard had major arm surgery while he was in the minor leagues, so he knows as well as anyone that every pitcher's career hangs by an elbow ligament or shoulder tendon. The Orioles also have to weigh those considerations from the opposite perspective, but their habit of playing a wait-and-see game with each potential free agent has been a colossal failure.

Bedard has moved past the point where the team is going to get something for nothing. His agent can calculate what Bedard will get in arbitration the next two years and what the going rate is for one of the best left-handed starters in either league.

All the Orioles have to do is look at Mark Buehrle's recent contract extension to get an idea of what the going rate will be a year or two from now. Buehrle, on the verge of free agency, signed a four-year deal with the Chicago White Sox last month worth approximately $14 million per year. Bedard is about the same age and has about the same numbers over the past couple of years, so you have to figure he'll command at least that much when he gets close enough to free agency to force the issue.

The Orioles have to assume he'll command much more because the current trend is sharply upward for marquee pitchers, and there are no economic developments on the horizon that would cause overall salary growth to moderate the way it did in the early part of this decade.

The other reason to make a strong run at him now is to find out whether he's serious about staying, since his trade value will be at its peak between now and next year's midseason waiver deadline. If he gives any hint that he wants to take a wait-and-see approach beyond next July 31 - after the Orioles put a legitimate extension on the table - then the team needs to position itself to trade him by the deadline, unless the Orioles have a legitimate chance to reach the playoffs.

There might come a time when they wish they had been willing to deal him for Teixeira this summer, but that time obviously is not now.

They say it takes a big man to admit he's wrong.

In that regard, I'm overqualified.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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