It appears that Erik Bedard is going to be a Mariner. And a hat tip to Jim Street of MLB.com, who basically had the scoop on this. At first I thought Street was just throwing out some conjecture that he’d saw on the "blogoland" as he called it, or perhaps a minor and humorous dig at blogoland as he’s been known to do from time to time. But he confirmed he had a source and it appears he was right, and he should get the credit.
So for the better part of the morning, I’ve sat staring at my laptop trying to eloquently or at least logically express my opinion on the idea of signing Bedard to a reported 1-year, $1.5 million contract with plenty of incentives. Finally, I came to a realization. I have no opinion. I’m not for the move. I’m not against the move. I don’t love the move. I don’t hate the move. In fact, I view the move with frightening indifference.
Frightening? Well, for me it is, because I usually never lack for opinion on anything. Yet on this subject, I have none.
Perhaps it’s because part of me never really felt that Bedard was a viable option for the 2010 season for the Mariners or any other team. Surgery to repair a torn labrum is a procedure that hasn’t exactly produced solid or consistent results. While ulnar collateral ligament replacement (Tommy John surgery) has a proven track record of success, surgery to repair a torn labrum has not. My buddy Larry Stone of the Times did a nice blog post on this subject, including links to an oft-referred piece written by Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus about labrum injuries a few years back.
Did I think Bedard’s career was over when it was determined he needed labrum repair surgery? No. But I had some doubts about him being able to pitch this season.
Realistically, there is no guarantee that Bedard will ever be the same pitcher he was before the injury. For every Roger Clemens (who knows how much his accused chemical enhancements helped) or Chris Carpenter or Curt Schilling, names like Ryan Anderson, Mark Prior, Matt Clement and dozens more arise.
One thing that also needs to be taken into consideration is the extent of the injury. We really don’t know the exact details of the tear in Bedard’s labrum, or the extent of damage in the shoulder. We know there was a tear, and know that it was repaired. But that’s basically it. Was it torn completely? Was it minor fraying or tearing? This would also help determine the success rate of a Bedard return.
Rick Griffin told writers a few weeks back that Bedard was in month seven of a 10 to 12 month recovery. Bedard told LaRue his timetable for a return, which had him back a little sooner. So who is right? Well, they both could be. No one can be certain. It’s all about how the body recovers and reacts. If Bedard feels May, and Griffin feels around July, perhaps mid-June isn’t a far off ETA. However, Chad Cordero underwent labrum surgery two years ago and still hasn’t regained the strength. It also took Gil Meche the better part of two years to get his arm strength back
And it’s also not just when his shoulder is strong enough to start throwing bullpen sessions again. It’s also how it reacts after throwing. So much of injuries isn’t how the player feels at the time, it’s how they feel the next day. Right now Bedard is throwing, but certainly not with any leverage. And when it comes to time to fully let it go and throw with force and velocity, we won’t know whether or not Bedard can psychologically “let it go” or if even if he will still have the same stuff and velocity that made him coveted in the past.
And if it does come back, will there be limitations? He was usually done after 100 pitches before, will it be 80 now? Will he make a few starts and then have to miss one with shoulder fatigue? Will be able to be counted on?
And yet, from a baseball standpoint, it’s hard to find a lot of fault with this move. Though most of us will never see $1.5 million in a life’s worth of work. It’s a relatively cheap investment for a one-year contract in baseball, especially with a player as talented as Bedard.
Many M's fans believe the same thing. Check the comments of any story or blog post in Mariners-sphere about Bedard since this subject arose and you will see the phrase “low-risk, high-reward” used often for people who like this deal.
Then again, you’ll also see the phrase, “If he’s healthy,” or “If he can get healthy.” “If” is the key word. As in “If” I just met Sophia Bush, and she dropped that restraining order, I’m sure she’d date me. Or “If” I just picked the right six numbers for the power ball, this would be my last blog post ever.
Of course, the chances of me dating Sophia or me winning the Powerball are ridiculously slim in comparison to Bedard coming back healthy. Still, I’m trying to remember a time where I saw Bedard truly healthy for a period of five or six consecutive starts. We’ve probably only seen brief periods of Bedard at 100 percent or close to it in his time with the M’s. It’s been a point of consternation and frustration for most Mariners fans. Still, Bedard at 80 percent is probably still better than 100 percent of Jason Vargas or Doug Fister. Before the shoulder problems last season, he was damn tough. Maybe it was only five or six innings, but those innings were better than what most could give you. As many of the saber guys pointed out, Bedard’s win shares before he got hurt are higher than Vargas, Fister and others combined.
As for any notion that bringing him back would somehow have a negative affect on the clubhouse. That’s ridiculous. First of all, Bedard is a lot of things – quiet, distrusting of the media, loathe to talk about himself, relatively stock in answering questions. But he’s not a jerk. As I tweeted the other day, I do more things in a day to be construed as jerk than he does.
Erik is never going to be Eric Byrnes. He isn’t going to share his thoughts or feelings about most things or any thing for that matter. He keeps to himself and has no interest in being a team spokesman. Bedard was that way in Baltimore and stayed that way in Seattle. There are worse crimes. Most of the writers have grown used to it, and moved on. As a teammate, I don’t think Bedard is a divisive presence in the clubhouse. There were times I thought he had issues with Kenji Johjima’s catching, but he wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
While I have doubts about how much it truly relates to on-field success, this clubhouse is stronger than it was in 2008. It’s a different place. And one person isn’t going to take it spinning out of control. Not Bedard, not Milton Bradley, not anyone. Wakamatsu and his staff—and most likely Griffey—wouldn’t allow it.
So if Bedard comes back, what is a fair level of expectation? I’ve already heard fans talking about the idea of rolling Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard for three starts in a row. It’s a nice dream, but maybe it should stay that way for the time being until we see where Bedard is at in his recovery.
In fact, I caution Mariners fans, who are really excited about this move to lower their level of expectations a little. This is a serious injury he’s recovering from. When they talk of 12 month recovery, it’s under ideal conditions and barring setbacks. How often does that happen with a serious surgery? And while Bedard and the Mariners hope that he will be a contributor for this season, it would be completely unfair to hold it against him if he doesn’t make it back. Yet some people will find fault in Bedard because of his past two seasons with the M’s where he was perceived to not be mentally or physically tough and unwilling to push himself for the betterment of the team. He’s a somewhat polarizing figure amongst M’s fans, often for reasons out of his control. It's unfair.
And now, after this rambling post, where I’ve meandered from having a point to just babbling and then back again, I still don’t have a strong opinion. I’m sure it will progress as Bedard’s recovery does. But for the time being, I hesitate to declare it a great move, and I won’t say it was an awful move. If anything, I’d say it was a prudent and calculated move. And usually those are the smartest moves that are made in baseball.