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O's 'went downhill'; Bedard happy to go

The Baltimore Sun

Seattle -- It wasn't exactly the 12 days of Christmas, but the protracted trade of Erik Bedard from the Orioles to the Seattle Mariners finally ended yesterday with the 28-year-old left-hander smiling like a kid staring at a stack of Santa's loot.

No, there was no contract extension from the Mariners, but it didn't matter. For Bedard, the idea of moving cross-country to a team that can compete in the American League West -- to a team other than the Orioles -- was worth the wait.

"With Baltimore, it seems like you were backwards. When I first got there, they were signing players and trying to compete with Boston and New York. Then it went downhill. I'm glad to be here," Bedard said.

Bedard no longer has that sinking feeling about having to face the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees each 19 times a season -- a situation that Bedard said made him feel "lost."

The trade marks a big-time coming-out party for a frontline pitcher with a no-nonsense approach to piling up strikeouts and wins. Last season, Bedard set the Orioles franchise record with 221 strikeouts.

And in an offseason when the New York Mets made a blockbuster deal for Johan Santana, Bedard ran a close second in terms of the number of teams that coveted his services. Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said as many as 10 teams contacted him about Bedard. But he finally closed a deal with the Mariners months after the teams started talking.

The Mariners' trade for Bedard affirmed nationally the kind of pitcher the Orioles had in their rotation.

But the Mariners were eager enough to try to win now, and they shipped out the cream of their minor league system: outfielder Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill and pitchers Chris Tillman, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio.

Yesterday, Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said he expects "returns on four of those players to be really good." He called Jones "a sure thing." He said Tillman and Butler will be solid starting pitchers and that if left-hander Sherrill is used against left-handed hitters, then the Orioles will see "all four of those guys take off."

He said Seattle will try to negotiate a contract extension with Bedard, but the Mariners are thrilled to have him for the next two years. It was a lot of talent to give up.

Or maybe it wasn't, considering the impact a pitcher like Bedard can have on the Mariners, who won 88 games last season and battled the Los Angeles Angels deep into the season. With Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have a one-two pitching punch that makes them highly competitive.

For Bedard, perhaps the best thing about this trade is that it puts a low-key player in a low-key town with a pitcher's ballpark. It shouldn't take him long to get comfortable here.

"I don't think he's going to tell you this trade changes anything about him," said Bedard's agent, Mark Pieper. "That's the kind of player he is. Whether he's winning or losing in games you wouldn't know. He doesn't get emotional. But I think this is public affirmation for Erik."

In typical Bedard fashion, he was understated and said he didn't care whether he or Hernandez was called the Mariners' ace.

"He was here first. I don't see why I should take his place. I don't care if I'm No. 1 or No. 5, just as long as I don't get skipped in the rotation," Bedard said, adding: "This is a great feeling. It's never fun to be on a team that's rebuilding. Here they're looking to win."

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