It 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.