The Orioles traded shortstop Miguel Tejada in December partly because they believed their best hitter needed a change of scenery. Their trade of ace pitcher Erik Bedard yesterday was emblematic of an organization that has finally committed to a change of direction.
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail made it clear that the Orioles are in a rebuilding mode for the first time in years, trading Bedard, the team's first legitimate ace since Mike Mussina, to the Seattle Mariners for five players, including promising young outfielder Adam Jones.
After several weeks of back-and-forth negotiations that sparked frustration on both sides, the two teams finally hammered out a deal that sends Jones, left-handed reliever George Sherrill and pitching prospects Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio to Baltimore for Bedard, 28, who went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and set a franchise single-season record with 221 strikeouts in 2007.
"I think it's an important trade for our future and I hope it will contribute mightily to the foundation of future success," MacPhail said. "Regretfully, to accomplish that and to get something meaningful, you have to give up something meaningful, and we traded one of the game's best young left-handed pitchers. But in exchange for that, we think we really improved the long-time outlook for the Baltimore Orioles in a very meaningful way.
"I think people understand it's going to be a little bit painful, but it's necessary. To really win, this is what we have to do. We are very confident that we have five young players here that are going to get us closer to that goal."
While Orioles manager Dave Trembley has already notified Sherrill that he would like him to be the team's closer this year and scouts rave about the hard-throwing Tillman, Jones is the player the Orioles most coveted.
The center fielder, 22, was the Mariners' first draft pick in 2003 and their minor league Player of the Year in 2005 and 2007.
MacPhail attempted to ease some of the expectations of Jones by pointing out that Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hunter, to whom Jones is often compared, was struggling in Double-A at Jones' age.
"My expectations are a lot higher than everybody else's," said Jones, who hit .314 with 25 home runs, 84 RBIs and eight steals in 101 games with Triple-A Tacoma last season. That earned him a promotion to the big leagues, where he hit .246 with two homers and four RBIs in 41 games.
"If I can meet the fans' expectations, that's a plus. If I can meet mine, that could be better. Right now, I see [Brian] Roberts and [Nick] Markakis are the faces [of the franchise]. I'm just trying to be a piece of the puzzle, helping out."
Jones and Markakis were teammates in the Arizona Fall League in 2005.
"He's got unbelievable tools," said Markakis, who lamented losing Bedard but said it's an understandable part of rebuilding. "He's definitely going to help us out in the long run. That's why we went out and got him. He's definitely an exciting player."
Jones mistakenly brought the deal to a standstill when he told a Venezuelan reporter on Jan. 27 that he was asked to leave his winter league team there to come to Baltimore for a physical because he was the centerpiece in a Bedard deal. The Orioles were annoyed that the deal became public before several issues were resolved, and talks hit a lull.
"This was a big move, and both teams needed to satisfy themselves and go through the medical protocol," said MacPhail, who also acknowledged that the teams had to get the commissioner's office involved to make sure certain "safeguards" were in place on both sides.
"In the grand scheme of things, whether the deal gets done Feb. 2 or Feb. 8, what mattered was, did each team get what they were hoping to get in the deal? That's going to be something that will be evaluated into the future.
"The real reason that we're up here in February and not in January or at the winter meetings or whatever, is because [Mariners general manager] Bill Bavasi was doing a good job holding on to the things that he felt that he needed to hold on to. He was thinking this was going to be a 3-for-1 in the beginning and that's not where we were going. ... We agreed to three names fairly quickly, but getting the fourth and fifth name out of him was like getting water from a stone."
Said Bavasi: "Their goal was to come away with two Jones-type guys. Our goal was to give them one, and some other numbers. They came up with the right names after Jones. They would prefer to be talking about Jones and [Brandon] Morrow and [Jeff] Clement and lists like that. That's why it took as long as it did."
The Orioles have been praised industry-wide for their return on Bedard, with several pundits saying they got better value for Bedard than the Minnesota Twins did in trading two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to the New York Mets last week.
Sherrill, a 30-year-old left-hander, went 2-0 with a 2.36 ERA in 73 appearances with the Mariners last season.
Tillman, a second-round selection in the 2006 draft, is a 6-foot-5 right-hander who is 10-14 with a 4.93 ERA in 38 appearances, including 33 starts, in two minor league seasons. He was the Mariners' minor league Pitcher of the Year last season.
Butler, 20, a third-round pick in 2006, went 4-7 with a 4.75 ERA in 20 games, including 18 starts, last year at Single-A Wisconsin. Mickolio, a 6-9, 256-pound reliever, dominated Double-A competition last year, going 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA and two saves in 18 games.
Seven of the 10 players the Orioles have received in the Tejada and Bedard deals are pitchers.
"We had to understand they're prospects. There are no guarantees," MacPhail said. "That's why you get five. This is the second transaction where we were able to turn one player into five. Now, we got two out and 10 in the fold. I think that's a great blueprint. I think it's important to establish that for quality, you need to get both quantity and quality back."