Andy MacPhail had been running the Orioles' baseball operations for eight months when he decided to inflict about as deep a wound as he could to his club's short-term fortunes.
It's easy to forget now, but Erik Bedard was one of only a few true bright spots on the 2007 Orioles, a lefty with filthy stuff who had struck out 221 batters, third most in the league.
And MacPhail wanted to trade him — felt he had to, really — even though Bedard was exactly the sort of present star that owner Peter Angelos had long been reluctant to exchange for future assets.
"Making the decision to part with him wasn't going to be good for our immediate future," MacPhail remembered. "But I believed that to make some long-term gain, we were going to have to suffer some short-term pain."
MacPhail hardly could have been more correct. He never did get to preside over a winning Orioles club, leaving his job after the 2011 season. But the centerpiece of the Bedard trade, Adam Jones, will make his third All-Star appearance for the Orioles on Tuesday night. Another player acquired in the Bedard trade, right-hander Chris Tillman, was added to the A.L. All-Star roster Sunday. Jones will be joined in the starting lineup by shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Chris Davis, two other players MacPhail acquired in trades.
Together, the trio helped lead the Orioles back to the postseason last year, and they have the club off to a winning start again this season.
If team building is a long game, MacPhail knows he's looking like a winner now, even if he's too modest to say it outright.
"I just have to scratch my head and say that it's all worked out better than I could have hoped," he said in a recent phone interview. "To acquire three guys like that in trades is not something that happens all that often. So I think we can all look on it with some enjoyment."
Manager Buck Showalter couldn't help turning a question about the trades into a chance for a little mirth. He noted that his club's fifth All-Star, Manny Machado, also fit the theme.
"Manny was kind of a trade, too," Showalter said of the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft. "We traded our season [the year before]."
As a room of media members cracked up, Showalter deadpanned, "Another thing I owe to Andy."
Though his tone was light, Showalter's point was real. The Orioles endured years of anguish — some calculated, some not — to set up their current roster.
Shift in philosophy
In revisiting the trades, it's noteworthy that despite MacPhail's sound long-range logic, providence also played a significant part in the end result. Hardy, for example, wasn't the Orioles' first choice as they looked to trade for a shortstop before the 2011 season. Davis was added to a 2011 deal with the Texas Rangers only after MacPhail threw in cash he had freed with a timely trade of veteran first baseman Derrek Lee.
Regardless, the whole thing began with Bedard's deal and the deeper philosophical shift it implied.
MacPhail took over as the president of baseball operations in June 2007. It was the perfect time, he said, because he had half a season to assess the franchise and decide on a long-term course. That evaluation led him to some tough conclusions.
"Our roster had some age on it, and it wasn't competing then," he said. "That didn't bode well for the future."
MacPhail decided that annually patching the major league roster had to stop being the primary goal. The Orioles needed to bring in as much young talent as possible, by any means they could. Bedard was their best chip to start that process.
The Orioles seriously negotiated with two possible trade partners: the Cincinnati Reds and the Seattle Mariners. The Reds, however, never seemed willing to make outfielder Jay Bruce or starter Homer Bailey the centerpiece of a swap for Bedard. And MacPhail didn't regard their other prospects as talents commensurate to Bedard.
The Mariners were more willing to part with Jones, a 22-year-old center fielder who had torn up the minor leagues but had yet to establish himself as a regular in Seattle.
"He was the centerpiece of the package, no question," MacPhail said. "We knew he had great ability — power, a great throwing arm, great coverage in center."
The Mariners were also game to include young, promising starter Chris Tillman and lefty setup man George Sherrill. "If anything, it was my stubbornness to get more players in the deal that held things up," MacPhail said.
The Mariners eventually added two other pitchers, and the trade was consummated Feb. 8, 2008. Immediately, talent evaluators from around the game raved about MacPhail's haul, calling Jones a potential Most Valuable Player and Tillman a potential top starter.
With Jones now making his third All-Star appearance in six seasons and Tillman a key piece of the rotation, that's exactly how it worked out. As for Bedard, he never pitched a full season for the Mariners and has bounced between four teams in the past three seasons. Injuries undermined his talent. The Orioles had him for his best seasons and, in hindsight, traded him at the perfect moment.
"It was a painful exercise doing it," MacPhail said of the deal. "And I wish Bedard had been healthier in Seattle. But for the young players we got to have evolved into what we hoped, that's about all you can ask."
The Orioles struggled, as expected, the next two seasons. Poor production at shortstop was among the reasons. With so many young pitchers coming up, MacPhail believed he had to solidify the pivotal infield position for the 2011 season.
He initially had his eye on Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett, with Hardy's availability less clear after an injury plagued year with the Minnesota Twins.
"Fortunately for us, Hardy did come back on the market," MacPhail said.
Though Hardy had been an All-Star for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007, he had missed enough time from various injuries that many in baseball questioned his durability. So he came relatively cheap in a December 2010 deal, with the Orioles sending relief prospects Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to Minnesota and taking on $1.25 million in salary for another Twins infielder, Brendan Harris.
With Machado on the way in a few years, the Orioles regarded the move as more of a short-term fix. But they were blown away by Hardy, who not only hit a career-high 30 home runs in his first season but also played excellent defense and emerged a model veteran for the club's younger players.
The Orioles were so pleasantly surprised that they signed Hardy to a three-year deal beyond his initial season.
"While he has done very well statistically, he did so much to stabilize the middle of the infield," MacPhail said. "That was a position where we had really scuffled to find a permanent solution, and J.J. is the type of guy you want there. He's so reliable."
MacPhail has shrugged off the notion that Hardy is blocking Machado, now entrenched at third, from playing his ideal position. "I always told people that if we got to the point where we had too many good players, we'd be happy to deal with that," he said.
"It turned out pretty good"
The trade for Davis in July 2011 came in that spirit of continuing to stockpile young players. As with Bedard three years earlier, MacPhail believed he had an excellent short-term asset in reliever Koji Uehara, who could be flipped for long-term pieces.
"He was an expiring asset, and it was just about trying to turn that into as much young talent as we could," MacPhail said.
He quickly agreed with the Rangers that pitcher Tommy Hunter would be a good start to a possible deal. But Texas general manager Jon Daniels continually balked at including Davis, a prospect with elite power who had failed to establish himself as a major league regular.
With the sides at an impasse and the trade deadline bearing down, MacPhail shipped Lee to the Pittsburgh Pirates, clearing about $2 million in his payroll. When he offered to include the cash in the Uehara deal, Daniels blinked.
Davis, desperate for a fresh start, told his future wife he felt like jumping up and down on his hotel bed when he heard about the trade.
Uehara has continued to pitch well, though he's now doing it for the Boston Red Sox. Hunter, meanwhile, is an effective reliever in a similar role for the Orioles. And Davis has blitzed the league, giving the Orioles the power-hitting first baseman they had long coveted.
MacPhail doesn't pretend to know that Davis would become this kind of star. When he looks at the deals from his Orioles years, he sees good, consistent process that eventually yielded enough good results.
"It shows you what the front office was doing, and how important trades can be," said Hardy, almost as understated as MacPhail. "In this case, it turned out pretty good for the Orioles."