Boy, these trades of ace pitchers sure seem to take time, don't they?
It took almost two weeks after a Baltimore Sun report indicated Erik Bedard preferred a trade if the Orioles didn't plan to sign him to a long-term extension, but the left-hander got his wish Friday. He's headed to the Mariners in exchange for outfielder Adam Jones, left-handed reliever George Sherrill, and three minor league pitching prospects: right-handers Chris Tillman and Kameron Mickolio and left-hander Tony Butler.
For Bedard, any move should be considered a good one. With the Orioles having traded Miguel Tejada and rumored to be shopping second baseman and leadoff man Brian Roberts, run support wasn't likely to be plentiful for the left-hander. The Orioles ranked a middling 16th in runs per game in 2007 (4.67), and there was little chance they'd repeat that.
In Seattle, Bedard becomes the ace of a staff that calls Safeco Field, a pitching-friendly environment, its home. Only twice in Safeco's 8½-year existence did it classify as close to a neutral ballpark: 2005, when it ranked 19th in terms of runs scored on the Park Factor page (0.970), and 2000, when it ranked 18th (0.986). Baltimore's Camden Yards, by comparison, ranked sixth in runs scored (1.109) and third in home runs (1.228) in 2007, though to be fair, over the past half-decade its ranking actually has earned it a reputation for being only mildly hitter-friendly. There's a definite benefit here in terms of ballpark factors, perhaps enough to mean a quarter-run difference in ERA.
More things to consider: Seattle's closer is certainly better than anything Baltimore had the past few years or could have provided in 2008, as J.J. Putz ranks among the game's best. While the Mariners' entire bullpen had a middling 3.95 ERA (13th in MLB), it's far better than the Orioles' 5.71 mark, second-worst in baseball. That can't help but make Bedard a noticeably safer bet in the wins category.
In addition, while the Angels boast a solid lineup, the American League West doesn't come close to rivaling the AL East in terms of loaded offenses. The Orioles play the Red Sox and Yankees 18 times apiece; the Mariners play them 18 times combined in 2008. If you don't think that makes a difference, you're kidding yourself.
As for Bedard's raw talent, consider his numbers in 47 starts since June 15, 2006, the date he officially became "ace-worthy": 23 wins, 10 losses, 2.93 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .218 batting average allowed, 10.13 K's per nine, 0.74 homers allowed per nine. By the way, in his 24 road starts, he was 13-3 with a 3.27 ERA but also a 1.07 WHIP and .205 BAA. Certainly the shift to Safeco should help Bedard at least maintain those numbers, perhaps even improve them.
I'm sure any fantasy owner can find room for that kind of arm on his/her staff, and really, the only way I'd see Bedard being less than top-five-starter worthy is if the elbow problems that ended his 2007 on Aug. 26 flare up during spring training. Considering he had to pass a physical to get traded in the first place, Bedard looks OK for 2008.
Looking at the Orioles' haul, Jones is the prime acquisition. Ranked the No. 28 prospect overall by Baseball America in 2007, Jones batted .322 with 34 homers, 119 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and 119 runs scored in his past 150 games played at Triple-A Tacoma, but went .230-3-12-5-22 in his first 73 big league contests. At 22 years old, Jones has clearly mastered Triple-A ball, though it's not shocking he's taking time to get adapted to the bigs. His plate discipline leaves a tad to be desired, so while the move to Baltimore virtually assures him everyday at-bats to grow and develop, fantasy owners who pick him should do so late and be prepared to endure some frustrating cold spells. Jones' upside makes him a fifth-outfielder sleeper for mixed-league owners, but expect inconsistency.
Sherrill, meanwhile, might actually be the most valuable fantasy option for 2008 of the Orioles' acquisitions. After all, the team's closer picture is wide open, and with the left-hander coming off a career year -- 2.36 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and .179 BAA -- it wouldn't be at all shocking to see him land the role and be a sneaky 30-save candidate. AL-only owners, and perhaps some in mixed formats, will need to take a chance on him late, and he could absolutely generate more appeal if he nabs the role in the spring.
Of the other pitching prospects the Orioles received, Tillman is the standout. Ranked the Mariners' No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, Tillman struggled in his first taste of high Class A ball in 2007, posting a 5.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 20 starts for High Desert. His command is a bit shaky, particularly with his curveball -- he walked 48, hit 12 and threw 13 wild pitches in 102 2/3 innings there -- but scouts feel given time and proper development, he'll become a middle-of-the-rotation type. Such numbers, though, demonstrate how far off these three pitchers are from being fantasy-worthy, and therefore how possible it is none will ever pan out. Butler, 19, had a 4.75 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 20 games (18 starts) for Class A Wisconsin in 2007, meaning it might be 2010 before we see either pitcher.
Mickolio, a reliever, reached Triple-A ball at the age of 23 in 2007, and is closest to being big league ready of the three pitching prospects. As with most relief-pitching prospects, though, there's no guarantee his stuff will play at the top level, and scouts don't call him closer material besides. At best, he'll develop into an ERA/WHIP helper out of a set-up role, though again, that's something that'll probably take a few years.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.