Club looks to extend ace Bedard's contract

The Baltimore Sun

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail spent part of last week's general manager meetings listening to offers for Erik Bedard. But his focus is expected to change in the coming days to finding out how much it will cost to keep the ace pitcher in an Orioles uniform beyond 2009.

According to a club source, MacPhail likely will begin conversations with Mark Pieper, Bedard's agent, about a contract extension for the pitcher before the winter meetings, which begin Dec. 3 in Nashville, Tenn.

To this point, the Orioles have gauged league interest in Bedard, 28, who went 13-5 this season with a 3.16 ERA and set a franchise season record with 221 strikeouts despite missing the last month of the season with an oblique injury. They've found plenty of interested parties, including the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, they have no plans to trade Bedard without at least exploring what it might cost to sign the left-hander long term. Bedard is eligible for free agency after the 2009 season, which presents a difficult choice for MacPhail.

Bedard is the first legitimate ace the Orioles have had since Mike Mussina's departure. But Bedard also is the club's most valuable trade chip, and moving him might be the quickest way to land the type of young talent the Orioles need to speed the rebuilding process.

"It would be [a difficult decision] for anybody," MacPhail said yesterday. "Young left-handed starters don't grow on trees, especially ones that are potentially dominant, as Erik has been."

MacPhail made it clear last week at the GM meetings that every player in the organization is available. Predictably, Bedard, who was one of the front-runners for the American League Cy Young Award before his injury, was a popular target in a market short of quality pitching.

"We've taken the position that we're obligated to entertain offers on virtually any of our players," MacPhail said, declining to specifically talk about Bedard. "Obviously, that's what they pay us to do - listen to clubs, listen to offers. We have to see if there is a match. There's nothing too sophisticated here."

The Dodgers, who have a well-stocked farm system, have been one of the most aggressive suitors for Bedard, according to a team source.

Among the players that have been discussed, the source said, are: Matt Kemp, a 23-year-old outfielder; Jonathan Broxton, a 23-year-old reliever; and Clayton Kershaw, a 19-year-old left-handed starter who is regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball.

However, those three players reportedly also are being mentioned in trade talks between the Dodgers and Florida Marlins involving the latter's starting third baseman, Miguel Cabrera.

If they decide to trade Bedard, the Orioles likely will look for three young major league-ready players in return.

In other trade news, the New York Mets expressed interest in Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez. However, the Orioles' asking price - a high-end prospect - was more than what the Mets were willing to give up, according to an industry source. The Mets reportedly are close to signing free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba.

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