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In the presence of greatness

The Baltimore Sun

Mike Mussina's pursuit of a 20-win season remained alive Thursday when he picked up his 18th victory of 2008 - his most in six years.

He is scheduled to pitch twice more - Tuesday at Toronto and next Sunday at Boston - meaning he could capture his first 20-win season in his illustrious 17-year career.

"Yeah, but I've got to win 19 [first]," he said. "The first one is on Tuesday. I'll worry about that first and see what happens."

Thursday's win was monumental, too. It was his 268th career victory - tying him with Hall of Famer Jim Palmer for 34th on the all-time wins list. Palmer isn't just another guy for him to pass.

It's probably the most significant name on the list for Mussina, whose first spring training in 1991 was the same in which Palmer attempted his Orioles comeback.

"That was February or March of 1991, and I've known him ever since. We get along great," Mussina said. "Being at 268, being next to him, is a pretty good place to be."

Mussina doesn't want to be there for long.

"If I happened to end on that number, then I am stuck with him for at least until next year," Mussina, 39, joked. "And he'll probably call me once a week."

There's an interesting dynamic that exists between Palmer, the greatest pitcher in Orioles history, and Mussina, the heir apparent with 147 Orioles wins before he signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent in 2000.

Although it's painful for Mussina haters and Palmer lovers to admit, their career numbers are similar. Mussina's record in 18 seasons is 268-153; Palmer's was 268-152 in 19 seasons. Mussina has roughly 600 more strikeouts in 500 fewer innings, but Palmer's career 2.86 ERA is significantly lower than Moose's 3.69.

Then there's the hammer in any comparative argument: Palmer's eight 20-win seasons, three Cy Young Awards and three World Series title rings compared with none in those categories for Mussina.

Palmer contends that Mussina would have been the franchise's greatest pitcher if he had spent his entire career with the Orioles. But Mussina didn't, so Palmer retains that crown - perhaps forever. Mussina is surely OK with that.

But don't think 269 is just a number for Mussina. He wouldn't say it, but passing Palmer might be as important to him as getting that elusive 20th win.

Bedard's bad labrum

Think you've had a tough 2008, Orioles fans? Well, those in the Great Northwest envy you. And blame you, too, for the Seattle Mariners' awful season.

On Wednesday it was revealed that left-hander Erik Bedard, whom former Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi traded five players to the Orioles for in February, has a torn labrum and a cyst in his left shoulder.

He'll have surgery Friday and will be out between six months and a year. It's possible this could be a career-ending injury for the 29-year-old who made just 15 starts after being anointed Seattle's ace.

"If I can't pitch, I guess it'll be time to find reality, find a 9-to-5 job in the real world," Bedard told The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash.. "I love the game. If I'm not playing it, I watch it. I'm one of the few guys I know who goes home in October and watches playoff games - that's how much I love this game."

Bedard is a free agent after 2009 and has one year left of arbitration this winter. With Bavasi fired, the Mariners' front office might not feel compelled to hang on to Bedard just to save face in that disastrous trade.

If the Mariners have the guts to nontender him, it's possible for the Orioles to get Bedard back - maybe sign him to a two-year deal with a lower base salary and an incentives-based option.

It would be a risk, but the Orioles can afford to be risky with another rebuilding season ahead in 2009.

More nontenders

Because of the expensive arbitration process, plenty of teams will nontender arbitration-eligible players instead of paying high prices for mediocre return. And other clubs will seize on those decisions. In 2002, the Minnesota Twins nontendered David Ortiz, and the Boston Red Sox have done OK with that pickup.

This winter, clubs will be watching what the Orioles do with Daniel Cabrera, who might have thrown his last pitch for Baltimore. We all know about his ceiling, his inconsistency and the fact that he'll make between $3 million and $5 million in 2009 if the Orioles keep him.

He and Bedard aren't the only intriguing players who could be nontendered. Here are a few worth watching: outfielders Mark Teahen (Kansas City Royals), Willy Taveras (Colorado Rockies) and Jonny Gomes (Tampa Bay Rays); third baseman Andy Marte (Cleveland Indians); middle infielder Brendan Harris (Minnesota); and first baseman Adam LaRoche (Pittsburgh Pirates).

LaRoche, who turns 29 in November, surely would interest the Orioles. They nearly traded for him in 2006 in a proposed deal that would have sent Brian Roberts to the Atlanta Braves.

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