What looked like a solid step in the Orioles rebuilding process has proven to be the club’s foremost trade since the turn of the 21st century, as the team sent staff ace Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for five minor league prospects. A top of the rotation southpaw for some hopeful youngsters. Nothing more than that. Adam Jones was the centerpiece of the deal, while George Sherrill was the frosting on the cake. Chris Tillman? He was the kicker, the added piece that pushed the teams to sign the paperwork.
Five and a half years later, Jones is a three time All Star, two time Gold Glove winner, previous top ten MVP candidate, and most importantly, voice of the Orioles and team leader in more ways than one can count. You can look at arbitrary leader boards to find that Jones led the American League in sacrifice flies in 2011 (12) and double plays turned as an outfielder in 2010 (6). Judge him by his 37 errors in center field over his career or praise him for his 64 career outfield assists. Adam Jones is the superstar the Orioles wanted from Seattle.
Chris Tillman took a bit more time to come around, but pitched to an All Star campaign in 2013, winning 16 games and eclipsing the 200 inning mark. Tillman has faced exactly 2000 batters in his career and is on track to start on Opening Day for the birds.
Can you imagine otherwise? Can you envision the Orioles never acquiring Jones and Tillman, leaving them with a gaping hole in center field and looking elsewhere for rotation pieces? Take yourself back to 2008, and remind yourself that, as with all big name trade pieces, there are always rumors and speculation regarding the landing spot of a player, and further, what pieces it will take to make the deal go down.
The Associated Press early morning headline on Feb. 9, 2008 was simply “Orioles trade Bedard to Mariners for five prospects.” It takes no longer than reading the first sentence, which states, “the Seattle Mariners have their ace,” to remind us that at the time, Bedard was the big name of the trade. He still is to this day, but for all the wrong reasons. We all know how Bedard has dealt with injuries and practical mediocrity since landing in Seattle, while Baltimore has been left with a franchise superstar and then some. But in 2008, it was all about Erik Bedard. All about his 13-5 2007 campaign in which he posted a 3.16 ERA with 221 strikeouts. All about a young arm, fresh and ready to earn his spot as Seattle’s top of the rotation mainstay.
Pitching is a valuable asset in the major leagues. There is no doubt that Bedard was highly coveted by more than just the Mariners. In fact, twelve identifiable teams were reportedly interested in trading for Bedard over that offseason: the Phillies, Cardinals, Yankees, Mets, Mariners, Angels, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Blue Jays, Tigers, and Reds. The names floating around should raise some eyebrows such as Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton from the Dodgers or Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller from the Tigers.
The Mets and Reds were certainly two of the more active teams in the Bedard market as well. Both franchises had an abundance of talent ready to be shipped to Baltimore. The Mets were focused on offering Lastings Milledge, the 9th best prospect in the game in 2006 according to Baseball America, to Baltimore as a centerpiece for a deal. There were thoughts that the team could have placed a more serious bid had they put forward Jose Reyes, then the Mets’ 24 year-old MVP-caliber shortstop who had led the league in 2005 and 2006 in both triples and steals.
The Cincinnati Reds are the team that will make your jaw drop, at least when looking back at their potential offers five years ago. Deals discussed between Andy MacPhail and the Cincinnati organization included such names as Homer Bailey, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, and Edwin Encarnacion. Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider suggested at the time that the Reds offer Bailey, Votto, and Cueto along with a fourth player for Bedard with the additional inclusion of third baseman Melvin Mora.
Further, an SB Nation post from December of 2007 claims that “a Reds insider is 75 percent sure the Reds will deal Josh Hamilton, Homer Bailey, and Joey Votto to the Baltimore Orioles for Erik Bedard.” Read that again, then go get a snack, take a walk, nap if you may, but come right back here and read that statement just one more time.
Joey Votto. Yes, that Joey Votto. Looking past his performance on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, we’re talking about the 2010 National League MVP, that of a .419 career on base percentage. The man worth 33 games above replacement over his six full seasons as the Cincinnati Reds first baseman. That guy. The one responsible for just three pop fly outs over the last four years. 2008 runner up for Rookie of the Year. Gold Glove in 2011. Four time All Star.
A laughable comparison of Votto to Adam Jones, as a side note, is the fact that while Votto has led all of baseball the past three seasons in walks, Jones has 176 career walks in seven years, merely 41 more than Votto had in 2013 alone.
Josh Hamilton was the American League MVP in 2010. Let’s not forget that late Saturday evening in 2012 when he hit four home runs against the Orioles in one game. Bailey, with a no-hitter under his belt earlier this season, stepped up his efforts in 2013, pitching to a 3.34 xFIP with a career high strikeout rate at 8.57 per 9 innings pitched.
It is simply absurd to look back and wonder “What if?” How can you? Who knows how some of those careers would have developed in Baltimore opposed to the way they have matured in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Bailey and Encarnacion, for example, have only become household names in recent years. Encarnacion, for one, was an average player at best until 2012 when he swatted 42 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays and followed up with a 36 bomb campaign in 2013. Known for his odd arm raise during home run trots, Encarnacion’s OPS year-to-year before 2012 hovered in the .700s, nothing to get worked up about.
Let’s not forget the thirty starts Bedard made with the Mariners between 2008-2009 in which he posted a 3.23 ERA in 164 innings. With an entire year off dealing with shoulder problems in 2010, Bedard has compiled 406 innings since 2011, including 151 in 2013 with the Houston Astros. His stat lines have stayed consistently average, and although he never lived up to the top of the rotation expectations in Seattle, it was not wholly a bust for the Mariners
In the end, the Orioles got Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler. Not Brandon Morrow and Wladimir Balentien as originally thought. Mickolio and Butler never panned out. Sherrill gave the Orioles his two best years in baseball, earning an All Star selection in 2008 and compiling 51 saves in Baltimore. Sherrill was in turn flipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Josh Bell and Steve Johnson. Bell was a failed project, but Johnson has become a valuable pitching asset for the O’s.
There’s no denying that Buck Showalter was an immeasurable component to the turnaround of this franchise and their push to the postseason in 2012. Adam Jones, on the other hand, brought immense passion and a boundless amount of intensity to the team on and off the field. Not to overlook his on-field contributions, but this deep leadership certainly transcends the clubhouse. That facet of his game alone is what makes the Orioles complete winners on this trade and gives them no reason to look back.