(Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore…)
Andy MacPhail had been running the Orioles' baseball operations for eight months when he decided to inflict about as deep a wound as he could to his club's short-term fortunes.
It's easy to forget now, but Erik Bedard was one of only a few true bright spots on the 2007 Orioles, a lefty with filthy stuff who had struck out 221 batters, third most in the league.
And MacPhail wanted to trade him — felt he had to, really — even though Bedard was exactly the sort of present star that owner Peter Angelos had long been reluctant to exchange for future assets.
"Making the decision to part with him wasn't going to be good for our immediate future," MacPhail remembered. "But I believed that to make some long-term gain, we were going to have to suffer some short-term pain."
MacPhail hardly could have been more correct. He never did get to preside over a winning Orioles club, leaving his job after the 2011 season. But the centerpiece of the Bedard trade, Adam Jones, will make his third All-Star appearance for the Orioles on Tuesday night. Another player acquired in the Bedard trade, right-hander Chris Tillman, was added to the A.L. All-Star roster Sunday. Jones will be joined in the starting lineup by shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Chris Davis, two other players MacPhail acquired in trades.
Together, the trio helped lead the Orioles back to the postseason last year, and they have the club off to a winning start again this season.
If team building is a long game, MacPhail knows he's looking like a winner now, even if he's too modest to say it outright.
"I just have to scratch my head and say that it's all worked out better than I could have hoped," he said in a recent phone interview. "To acquire three guys like that in trades is not something that happens all that often. So I think we can all look on it with some enjoyment."
Manager Buck Showalter couldn't help turning a question about the trades into a chance for a little mirth. He noted that his club's fifth All-Star, Manny Machado, also fit the theme.
"Manny was kind of a trade, too," Showalter said of the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft. "We traded our season [the year before]."
As a room of media members cracked up, Showalter deadpanned, "Another thing I owe to Andy."
Though his tone was light, Showalter's point was real. The Orioles endured years of anguish — some calculated, some not — to set up their current roster.
Shift in philosophy
In revisiting the trades, it's noteworthy that despite MacPhail's sound long-range logic, providence also played a significant part in the end result. Hardy, for example, wasn't the Orioles' first choice as they looked to trade for a shortstop before the 2011 season. Davis was added to a 2011 deal with the Texas Rangers only after MacPhail threw in cash he had freed with a timely trade of veteran first baseman Derrek Lee.
Regardless, the whole thing began with Bedard's deal and the deeper philosophical shift it implied.
MacPhail took over as the president of baseball operations in June 2007. It was the perfect time, he said, because he had half a season to assess the franchise and decide on a long-term course. That evaluation led him to some tough conclusions.
"Our roster had some age on it, and it wasn't competing then," he said. "That didn't bode well for the future."
MacPhail decided that annually patching the major league roster had to stop being the primary goal. The Orioles needed to bring in as much young talent as possible, by any means they could. Bedard was their best chip to start that process.
The Orioles seriously negotiated with two possible trade partners: the Cincinnati Reds and the Seattle Mariners. The Reds, however, never seemed willing to make outfielder Jay Bruce or starter Homer Bailey the centerpiece of a swap for Bedard. And MacPhail didn't regard their other prospects as talents commensurate to Bedard.
The Mariners were more willing to part with Jones, a 22-year-old center fielder who had torn up the minor leagues but had yet to establish himself as a regular in Seattle.
"He was the centerpiece of the package, no question," MacPhail said. "We knew he had great ability — power, a great throwing arm, great coverage in center."
The Mariners were also game to include young, promising starter Chris Tillman and lefty setup man George Sherrill. "If anything, it was my stubbornness to get more players in the deal that held things up," MacPhail said.
The Mariners eventually added two other pitchers, and the trade was consummated Feb. 8, 2008. Immediately, talent evaluators from around the game raved about MacPhail's haul, calling Jones a potential Most Valuable Player and Tillman a potential top starter.