With this issue of the series, we move into the early 2000s with a failed Syd Thrift deal and two failed Jim Beattie deals. In these three deals, Erik Bedard was supposedly desired in each of them. In fact, they were all rather pitcher heavy, which makes sense because that was where the Orioles had “strength” in their thin minor league system during this time.
Deal #1 (Baltimore Sun)
Orioles receive 3B Scott Rolen, P Chris Brock, INF Kevin Jordan, and P Alfredo Simon
Phillies receive P Sidney Ponson, P Buddy Groom, P Erik Bedard, P Sean Douglass, and LF Jeff Conine
During the winter meetings in 2001, this deal appeared to be near completed. Scott Rolen was one of the best players in the Major Leagues. He was a very good hitter with an excellent glove. He was also coming to the end of his team controlled years and the Phillies had no interest in committing major money to him over the ten season deal he was said to want. At that point and time, the organization was far more conservative with their payroll than they are now. They also thought that they needed to bolster their pitching and that guys like Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and Travis Lee could take them far enough with the bats. The main targets in this package were Sidney Ponson and Buddy Groom with Bedard and Douglass as high upside minor league arms (or as high upside as was available on the Orioles).
The Orioles on the other hand had an opening at third when Cal Ripken Jr. decided to retire. In 2001, the team claimed Tony Batista as a potential replacement for Ripken, but his play was unimpressive. Rolen would give the team a face, a true All Star. However, this deal required the team to sign Rolen to an extension. The year before, it was mentioned in the press that Mussina was let go because he would not sign for an amount that was sensitive to the media market in which the Orioles existed. Perhaps likewise, Rolen desired a full market deal, which was as disagreeable to the Baltimore ownership as it was to the Philadelphia ownership. The deal collapsed and was minimized to one where Chris Brock made his journey to the Orioles while the Phillies acquired John Wasdin. From blockbuster to journeyman switcheroo.
Evaluation of the Orioles proposed package
Rolen wound up signing an 8 year, 90 MM deal with the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2002 season. It was mentioned that he took less due to his adoration of the baseball culture around St. Louis than he was willing to take with Philadelphia or Baltimore. The Cardinals bet on this as they did not make him sign as a requirement of the trade, which was something Baltimore was unwilling to do. What the Cardinals got was an excellent player with an MVP quality season for almost half of the contract until injuries started impacting his performance. Eventually, Rolen was dealt to the Blue Jays in a challenge deal for Troy Glaus. That deal seemed pretty even until injuries destroyed Glaus’ career.
The rest of the package is underwhelming. Kevin Jordan never played in an MLB game afterward. Chris Brock did make his way to Baltimore, but was a typical journeyman reliever. Alfredo Simon was heavily impacted by injuries until resurrecting his career a decade later in Baltimore and then taking it to the next level as a reliever with the Cincinnati Reds.
Evaluation of the Phillies Package
The Phillies wound up 21.5 games behind the NL East leading Atlanta Braves in 2002 and 15 out behind them in 2003, so it is probably safe to say that Sidney Ponson’s two year run of being a solid 2/3 starter and Buddy Groom’s 2002 270 ERA+ would have not helped them as much as they needed. The real get for them would have been Erik Bedard, who put in amazing seasons in 2006 and 2007 before injuries got hold of him.
Trade #2 (Baltimore Sun)
Orioles receive 1B Derrek Lee
Marlins receive P Erik Bedard, P John Maine, and 3B Tripper Johnson
As the 2003 season wound down, first base was a bit of a mess for the Orioles. After Jeff Conine (a marginal 1B) was dealt to the Marlins for their playoff run, it became apparent that B.J. Surhoff, David Segui, Jay Gibbons, nor Carlos Mendez were solutions. Derrek Lee became the main target they decided to focus on. He showed himself as a true middle of the order hitter and played at a position where the Orioles truly had no MLB quality option in their organization.
For the Marlins, after winning their second World Series, they decided a need to retool. It has been a strategy that has made their ownership a good bit of profits, angered much of baseball, and has actually been relatively successful. They tend to acquire good young talent, acquire a couple decent pieces when the youth have progressed to open a window of competition, and then sell most of their pieces while they still have value in order to restart the youth movement. Most folks do not like how sausage is made when the process is made relatively transparent, but most folks love the taste of sausage. To put it another way, the Marlins built a franchise during the 2000s that had the 14th best record overall with a winning percentage of .502. That is a successful organization. Anyway, it meant Lee was to be let go and a package of prospects be acquired that would catapult the Marlins toward another playoff run.
The Marlins and Orioles agreed upon a deal, which was contingent on an extension. Supposedly, the club would not budge off of a 3 year, 18 MM deal after including so many prospects. The deal collapsed on that and the team decided to focus their plans for first base on bringing back Rafael Palmeiro. The Marlins went to their second favorite package, quickly dealing him to the Cubs. The Cubs signed Lee to a 3 year, 21 MM deal.
The three year deal the Cubs signed him to was scrapped after his second season when he established himself as one of the best players in baseball. This resulted in the third year being overwritten with a new 5 year, 65 MM contract. Lee then proceeded to one good season, one very good season, and three slightly below average seasons. He was somewhat underwhelming as the Cubs needed him to perform at a high level each season. It would be hard to see whether or not Lee would have greatly changed the Orioles’ future. You could argue that simply replacing Palmeiro with Lee in 2005 that the team would have gone 82-80 instead of 74-88. I’m not sure where the would get them outside of one grand benefit — never having to hear someone complain that the team took Billy Rowell over Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft.
Evaluation of the Marlins Package
Two things come to mind: (1) Erik Bedard was popular and (2) the Marlins would have preferred this package over what the Cubs gave them.
It is somewhat amazing to look back at what Bedard had accomplished for the Orioles and how it netted them, eventually, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler. A few broken seasons for three useful starters.
Maine would have given the Marlins a second useful piece in their rotation for a few years until his arm injuries caught up to him. Unlike Bedard though, Maine was later packaged with Jorge Julio and dealt to the Mets for the eternally underwhelming Kris Benson.
The final piece of the deal was Tripper Johnson who was a sleeper hot corner prospect with a decent swing and athleticism. He was a typical kind of throw-in that the Marlins were (and still are) looking for. He wound up staying in the Orioles’ organization and never advanced past AA where he had a full season and a cup of coffee. He retired after spending one season, at age 25, with the Pirates organization. He then played a lot of secondary, rather poorly, for the Washington Huskies in an 0-12 season and then played out his collegiate career as a special teams man.
Trade #3 (ESPN)
Orioles receive P Tim Hudson
Athletics receive P John Maine, P Hayden Penn, and P Erik Bedard
A year later, the Orioles changed their focus to pitching. The brass was very interested in the demolition of Beane’s early 2000 Oakland A powerhouse. Beane was also pretty impressed by some of the arms in the Orioles’ system. Both sides agreed on the above deal, but things fell apart allegedly when Tim Hudson refused to sign an extension with the club. The Orioles were concerned about leveraging themselves so greatly without an extension as a safety net, so the Athletics moved on to the next suitor.
It is actually pretty hard to believe these days that Tim Hudson has spent three more years pitching for the Braves than he did for the Athletics. He would have been a good addition to the Orioles’ staff, but to what end? During this part of the Orioles’ time in the wilderness, there was great hope that Daniel Cabrera, Sidney Ponson, and Rodrigo Lopez would be able to buoy the rotation with Hudson as the ace. The offense was supposed to be led by Tejada and Roberts with significant contributions from Javy Lopez, Sammy Sosa, a hopefully rejuvenated tandem in Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie, and with Jay Gibbons as a designated hitter. Back then, it looked like it just might work, but it meant that about a dozen things had to go right. Only, maybe, three of them actually worked out.
Something similar could be said about the Athletics. Hudson eventually went to the Braves for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas. Juan Cruz turned into one poor year of Brad Halsey. Nothing turned out well for the other two. Dan Meyer may ring a bell to some of you out there. Last fall, the Orioles picked him up. He was released at the end of Spring Training.
It is amazing that of the three famous non-Bedard deals that this one likely would have been the best for the team if they could have signed him to an extension. Still, I would have to state that the final Bedard deal was the one that worked out best for the club. The other deals above would have netted the team players who probably would not have had the necessary complementary pieces for making this team competitive. Essentially, all available money would have been tied up in these stars and the team would then be heavily reliant on a thin minor league that just went up and dealt their best pieces. Bad teams tend not to get better by dealing for a great player unless that move is matched with a deluge of cash to pick up additional players on the market.