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Mariners Rotation Set

Erik BedardJohn McLaren continues to waste absolutely no time setting the Opening Day roster. Today, nearly a week before the first pitch in a spring game is thrown, he announced the order of the starting rotation. Up first will be Erik Bedard (96/94), followed by Felix Hernandez (83/91), Carlos Silva (75/74), Jarrod Washburn (74/72), and then Miguel Batista (76/72). It is perhaps a little surprising that Batista, the M's leader in wins last year, is penciled in as the fifth starter, but it was going to be hard lining up these guys in a surprising order. The most surprising thing is that McLaren named the entire rotation order so early.

Frankly, starting rotation orders are a little overblown. The most important thing is to make sure that the best pitchers on the staff get the most starts. Clearly, the M's two best are Bedard and King Felix, and they are in the top two spots. The last three could really go in any order. However, with that said, McLaren made sure Washburn was sandwiched between two right-handers, which may help him, and he finally decided Batista would be fifth because he is so versatile. At times, the fifth starter is skipped, and Batista has significant experience out of the bullpen. I also think versatility in a pitcher is overblown, but there is such a small difference in talent between the bottom three pitchers that I am fine with splitting hairs and looking at things like bullpen experience.

Ultimately, the most important thing a manager can do for their pitching staff is clearly define their roles, and McLaren seems to understand this. He understands that spring training is largely about preparing for the season, not figuring out who is on the roster. I cannot remember any team announcing their rotation order this early ever before, so I have to credit McLaren with thinking outside of the box a little. This is a veteran starting staff, and once the team acquired Bedard it was obvious who the starting five would be, so I see nothing but positives from this early announcement. As curious as some of McLaren's managerial decisions were last year, I like the start he is off to in Spring Training.

Dave Niehaus, HOF

Dave NiehausToday the recipient of the Ford Frick Award was announced, and it was none other than Dave Niehaus. The award itself is prestigious, but the biggest perk of winning is enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Niehaus had been a finalist for the Frick award for the past several years.

It seemed clear that Niehaus was getting closer and closer to winning the Frick award, and to a certain extent it seemed inevitable that he would get it and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It also seemed likely that he would win the Frick award before any Mariner player would be enshrined in Cooperstown. However, even though in many ways this moment had been coming for years, it does not take away from the magnitude of this achievement. For Niehaus, there may be no greater honor. This award asserts him as a broadcaster for the ages, preserving his legacy at a level beyond the Pacific Northwest.

This is a big deal for the Mariners too. Sure, Gaylord Perry got his 300th win with the Mariners and is in the Hall of Fame, but he was more of a passer-by in franchise history. Dave Niehaus is not. He started with the Angels, but developed into a Frick award-winner as a Mariner. He has been with the franchise from the start. As important as Martinez, Griffey, Buhner, Johnson, Wilson, Moyer, and others have been to this franchise, Niehaus was here before all of them, and is still around now that they are all gone (though I hope Griffey comes back some day). Dave Niehaus is a Mariner and always will be. Truly, having a bona fide Mariner in the Hall of Fame is a major step forward in Mariners' history. It may not show up on the field, but there is a certain level of status that cannot be achieved without someone in the Hall of Fame.

Even though this day has been coming for years, it is still so sweet. As great as a number of the '90s Mariners were, I would not have wanted anybody but Dave Niehaus to be the first Mariner inducted into the Hall of Fame. With signature calls like "My oh my!" he was the first to give this franchise an identity. He has watched all the lows and celebrated all the highs, delivering them to the fans day in and day out in only the way that he can. He was one of the first two members of the Mariners hall of fame, he threw out the first pitch in Safeco Field history, and now he is the first Mariner hall of famer. This is a great honor for a great man that has given so much to the Mariners and the Pacific Northwest. I don't know what else to say besides my oh my. His impending induction speech this summer will be one of the greatest moments in Mariners history.

Bedard Trade Finally Official

Erik BedardIt may have taken the whole off-season, but SP Erik Bedard (96/94) is finally a Seattle Mariner officially. In the end it took five players to get him, OF Adam Jones (73/86), RP George Sherrill (86/83), SP Chris Tillman (46/76), SP Tony Butler (40/70), and RP Kameron Mickolio (65/80). Jones and Sherrill were both safe bets to be on the Mariners opening day roster, with Mickolio having a faint chance, and Tillman and Butler still far away.

A five-for-one swap definitely eliminates a bunch of the organizational depth, but it should be noted who was not in the deal as much as who was. To start with, though Jones was the Mariners' best young positional player, they still have OF Wladimir Balentien (70/81), C Jeff Clement (70/82), and SS Carlos Triunfel (43/79). Rumors were that the Orioles asked for Triunfel, so the Mariners have to get some credit for keeping him out of the deal. Also, though they gave up four pitchers, they did hold on to their best young one (outside of Felix of course), Brandon Morrow (75/81). In addition, it should be noted that Tillman, Butler, and Mickolio were all members of the 2006 draft class, and in my opinion the pitchers the M's drafted in 2007 look at least as good as the ones they selected in 2006, if not better. P Nick Hill (53/77), P Jake Wild (49/74), and P Robbie Dominguez (45/75), all members of the 2007 draft class, had strong showings in rookie leagues last year, and P Phillipe Aumont, the M's top pick from 2007, is yet to make his professional debut. Furthermore, though not from the draft, 19-year-old P Juan Ramirez (48/81) just made his professional debut in the organization this past summer. Ultimately, this trade certainly put a dent in the farm system, but it far from crippled the system. Former GM Pat Gillick left a very weak farm system for Bavasi, but to Bavasi's credit he has brought in guys like scouting director Bob Fontaine and built up the system to a point it has not been at since the mid '90s. Ultimately, there is little doubt in my mind that the system will be able to absorb the hit it just took in this trade.

However, are the Mariners really a better team with Erik Bedard? I am not so sure. He certainly makes the rotation better, even though he is booting out Morrow, who I think would have been a pretty good starter this year. Sherrill was arguably the best left-handed specialist in all of baseball last year, but the bullpen can handle the loss thanks to young southpaws Eric O'Flaherty (78/83) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (73/79). Actually, it would not shock me if O'Flaherty proves to be just as good as Sheririll next year.

Unfortunately, there is still the hole left by the departure of Jones that must be considered. The Mariners signed OF/1B Brad Wilkerson (69/68) to take his place, and in some ways the outcome of this trade falls on him. Personally, I think Adam Jones was going to be quite a bit better than the M's expected (I think he will approach Guillen's 2007 offensive production with vastly better defense), and I also think Wilkerson will not be as good as the M's expect. Wilkerson is a noticeable downgrade, and I do not think any other team in baseball would hand him an opening day job right now as the Mariners appear to be doing. I would at the absolute least make right field an open competition between Wilkerson and Balentien, and perhaps the M's will do this as well.

In the end, two factors will determine how good the Erik Bedard trade is. First, how much better Bedard is than Morrow. Second, how much worse Wilkerson (or potentially Balentien) is than Jones. I discussed how good I think Bedard is in a previous post, and under my rating system I think Bedard will be 6 to 8 points better than Morrow. On the flip side, I think Wilkerson will be about 8 to 12 points worse than Jones in 2008 (though I think Balentien would prove to be 5 to 10 points worse). All in all, this deal is about making the M's better now, and I am not convinced it does. If Bedard stays as good as he was this past year, there is no doubt that this is a fantastic deal for the M's. However, nothing about Bedard's career path predicted such a high level of excellence, though he looked like he would become a very good pitcher.

The unknown is so large in this trade because there are so many young players involved, and because the supposedly established ace to this point has had one incredible year, and it is unknown yet if it was a spike or the start of an epic run like Johan Santana (89/88) has enjoyed. I am definitely looking forward to seeing Felix Hernandez (83/90) and Bedard in the same rotation, and I am going to love this trade if Bedard goes out and tears up the AL just like he did last year. It could happen, but I do not think it is the most likely outcome. Likely, this is a lateral move for the current team talent-wise, though it also added payroll and hurt the farm system. This trade could go down as a great one, but it could also turn out to be a terrible one, and for me the risk is not worth the reward in this case. I credit Bavasi for not shying away from a bold move and aggressively trying to make the team better, but this is not a trade I would have done.

Wilkerson Signed by Mariners

Brad WilkersonYesterday, the Mariners signed OF/1B Brad Wilkerson (69/68) to a one-year deal worth $3 million, though it could be worth as much as $5 million depending on the number of plate appearances Wilkerson has this year. Basically, if he is an everyday starter and does not get injured (both legitimate ifs), then he will make the $5 million. In Wilkerson, the Mariners have acquired the left-handed version of Richie Sexson (67/65). Wilkerson is a bit younger and a little more versatile, but his great strength as a hitter is power, and his power comes with a ton of strikeouts.

However, perhaps the biggest deal about this signing is that it is likely a precursor to the Erik Bedard (96/94) trade. Bill Bavisi hinted last week at the "state of the Mariners address" that there may be deals connected to other deals, and he may make a deal on the assumption another one is going to take place. He has to be vague because of MLB rules, but it seems pretty clear he was talking about signing a guy like Wilkerson before losing Adam Jones in the Bedard deal. Wilkerson seems genuinely happy to be a Mariner, and John McLaren likes the way he plays, so it seems like a good fit. However, I personally would have gone after Shawn Green (80/77). He is still floating around the free agent market, and for how good he has been I am surprised that he is still out there. His power has diminished the past couple seasons, but he is still a good hitter, and has been durable throughout his career (his first trip to the DL was this past season with a broken foot). Still, Wilkerson does have more thunder in his bat than Green, and here's hoping he takes advantage of Safeco's right field porch a number of times.