Trading top pitcher for prospects often a winning move

The Baltimore Sun

To a conservative-minded fan, it might seem crazy for the Orioles to trade a gifted pitcher, Erik Bedard, who seemingly is entering his prime.

But the Orioles were guaranteed only two years of Bedard, 28, and seem unlikely to contend for the playoffs in either season. To keep him longer, they probably would have had to offer a five-year extension worth $90 million or more.

Very few pitchers, even excellent ones, prove to be sound investments over such a long period. For proof, simply look at the top 10 ERA leaders from 2002. None of them was among the top 10 in 2007.

Sure, there are John Smoltzes and Mike Mussinas in every generation. But as a seven-year bet, pitchers are hardly blue-chip investments.

Given that reality, many rebuilding clubs have tried to convert precious aces into packages of young talent in recent seasons. Here are a few of those deals and how they worked out.

Bartolo Colon

2002: Cleveland Indians trade pitcher Bartolo Colon, then 29, to Montreal Expos for outfield prospect Grady Sizemore, pitching prospect Cliff Lee and second base prospect Brandon Phillips.

What Colon did: He pitched well for the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and won the Cy Young Award for the Los Angeles Angels in 2005. But he was either hurt or ineffective in the other three seasons since the deal.

How the Indians have done: Sizemore became the centerpiece of a team that won 93 games in 2005 and 96 games in 2007. Lee went 18-5 in 2005. The Indians gave up on Phillips, but he's now a star for the Cincinnati Reds. The Indians lost 94 games the year after dealing Colon but rebuilt quickly after that.

Verdict: Big win for Indians.

Mark Mulder

2004: Oakland Athletics trade Mark Mulder, then 27, to St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Dan Haren, reliever Kiko Calero and first base prospect Daric Barton.

What Mulder did: He won 16 games with a 3.64 ERA in 2005 but has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries.

How the A's have done: Haren won 43 games in three excellent seasons as a workhorse for Oakland and became the centerpiece of a major deal for the club this offseason. Barton became a top hitting prospect.

Verdict: Big win for Oakland. Haren has outpitched Mulder since the deal, and the players acquired for him will help Barton and the A's rebuild.

Tim Hudson

2004: A's trade Tim Hudson, then 28, to Atlanta Braves for pitching prospects Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz and outfielder Charles Thomas.

How Hudson did: He has won 43 games and been a durable, above-average starter for Atlanta, but he has not pitched as well as he did in his best seasons in Oakland.

How the A's have done: Meyer flamed out. Thomas contributed little. Cruz was quickly dealt for another pitcher, Brad Halsey, who has pitched 94 1/3 innings for Oakland.

Verdict: Bad trade for the A's. They might not have re-signed Hudson, but they didn't end up getting much value for him.

Josh Beckett

2005: Florida Marlins trade Josh Beckett, then 25, along with third baseman Mike Lowell and pitcher Guillermo Mota to Boston Red Sox for a package of prospects that included shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

What Beckett did: He struggled with a 5.01 ERA in his first year in Boston but rebounded to win 20 games and, along with Lowell, lead the Red Sox to a World Series championship last year.

How the Marlins have done: The club's record has declined each of the past two seasons, but Ramirez was Rookie of the Year in 2006 and at age 24 looks like the greatest long-term asset from the trade.

Verdict: Short-term win for the Red Sox, but the Marlins acquired a young superstar in Ramirez, so they hardly took a bath on the deal.

Adam Eaton

2006: San Diego Padres trade talented but injury-prone pitcher Adam Eaton, then 28, along with reliever Akinori Otsuka to Texas Rangers for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Chris Young.

What Eaton did: He pitched only 65 innings for the Rangers in 2006 and posted a 6.29 ERA last year after signing with the Philadelphia Phillies.

How the Padres have done: Gonzalez is a slick fielder and San Diego's best power hitter. Young has become one of the best No. 2 starters in the league. The Padres have won 88 and 89 games the past two seasons, respectively.

Verdict: Huge win for Padres.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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