Contract extension talks between the Orioles and Erik Bedard stalled yesterday, increasing the likelihood that team officials will spend part of next week's winter meetings contemplating trade offers for the ace left-hander.
"We've had some conversations. We spoke again today, but I'd say that we've cooled in that area," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said of the negotiations with Bedard's agent, Mark Pieper. "We've gone on to other things. It doesn't mean that [negotiations] can't or won't be started again. It just means that they've cooled for now."
MacPhail said he didn't consider the development a huge setback in the club's effort to sign a long-term deal with Bedard, who isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season. He also didn't rule out the talks resuming, though none are expected to take place at the winter meetings.
The Orioles already have gotten several trade offers for Bedard, who went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA last season and set a franchise record with 221 strikeouts. They figure to get more next week in Nashville, Tenn., though MacPhail said that the cooling of talks shouldn't be taken as a sign that the Orioles are ready to unload Bedard.
"I'm not concerned," MacPhail said. "My experience tells me that this isn't unusual. I'd be hesitant to read too much into it."
MacPhail said earlier this week that he and Pieper had been having "periodic" and "conceptual" conversations about an extension for Bedard, 28. MacPhail said that no contract figures were ever exchanged.
Reached last night, Pieper declined to comment, saying, "I don't feel comfortable talking about negotiations."
The New York Yankees, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers all have inquired about Bedard, who would be one of the most coveted pitchers available in a market that also includes two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
According to several industry sources, the Mets' offer for Bedard, which was rejected, included 21-year-old outfield prospect Carlos Gomez, reliever Aaron Heilman, 29, and a third player, believed to be right-handed starter Philip Humber, 24. Gomez, ranked as the Mets' third-best prospect by Baseball America, is clearly the headliner.
When Gomez debuted with the Mets in May, he was the league's youngest player. The speedy center fielder batted .232 with two home runs, 12 RBIs and 12 steals, missing two months after breaking a bone in his left hand.
Heilman went 7-7 with a 3.03 ERA in 81 appearances last year for the Mets while serving as a setup man for Billy Wagner. Humber, the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, was 11-9 with a 4.27 ERA last season in 25 starts for Triple-A New Orleans. He pitched in three games, including one start for the Mets, compiling a 7.71 ERA.
The Orioles and Dodgers have also had discussions about Bedard. Center fielder Matt Kemp, reliever Jonathan Broxton and pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw are among the names discussed, sources say.
MacPhail has said throughout the offseason that he has an obligation to listen to offers on all his players, including Bedard, the Orioles' first true ace since Mike Mussina.
"I think Bedard fits in nicely with [Jeremy] Guthrie and [Adam] Loewen coming back as your first three guys in the rotation," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said yesterday. "But like Mr. MacPhail has said, we're in a position that we have to listen to all offers. But obviously, Erik Bedard has shown himself to be a bona fide No. 1 in this league."