It's a dilemma that even the most optimistic of us in December would not have forseen. The Mariners are 2 games out of first and alone in second place in the AL West. However, they also have tremendous SP and RP depth that can be traded at the deadline a little over a month away. Primarily, Erik Bedard's resurgence has made him one of the best available pitchers...if he is indeed available.
The main question of this fanpost is: It is the week of July 31st and the deadline is approaching. How far back do the Mariners have to be behind the Rangers before you consider trading Bedard? Where do you draw The Bedard Line?
Before coming up with a number, a few things need to be considered: the remaining schedule, Bedard's health, the effects of fatigue on the Mariners (mainly the starting pitchers), the lack of SP options in Tacoma, the holes in the 2012 roster that a trade can address, the trade market itself, and Jack Zduriencik's history at the deadline and job security. Let's examine these in turn.
First, the schedule. Jeff already covered the schedule between now and the ASB. After the All-Star Break, the Mariners play the Rangers 13 times, which proffers a massive opportunity to change the standings. However, the Mariners also have 6 games each against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, as well as the AL Central teams. The second half of the schedule, in short, looks significantly harder than the first half. This makes those series' with the Rangers that much more crucial, because moving up on them against the AL East and Central teams is going to be difficult. That first series against the Rangers could very well set the tone for the Mariners at the deadline, be they buyers or sellers.
Second, Bedard's health. Just today Jeff wrote on this topic and came away cautiously optimistic that Bedard can make the rest of the season. I share his cautious optimism, though I am always holding my breath after he starts, fearing that Shannon Drayer will tweet something about his sore hip. He is a ticking time bomb which can explode at any point, and while the results so far this season have been encouraging, it could go off track in an instant. The fact that he can become injured at any point also somewhat lowers his trade value, though the numbers he is putting up so far mitigates that somewhat.
Third, can the Mariners keep this up? Will the late summer months drain away some of their energy or fight? Obviously this is hard to predict, but some trends are disturbing, to say the least. David Pauley is on pace for more than 90 IP, while League, Wright and Laffey are all on pace for over 80 IP. How good of quality these later innings will be is up for debate. Michael Pineda and Doug Fister also warrant concern, as neither has thrown more than 190 innings in a year. Both are young and in good shape, but whether they can keep up their current pace remains to be seen.
Fourth, how big is the drop off from Bedard to his possible replacement? Answer: pretty friggin big. The best options in Tacoma, which Geoff Baker ran down a couple days ago, are Blake Beavan, Luke French or the reanimated corpse of Nate Robertson, none of which are putting up inspiring numbers. David Pauley or Aaron Laffey each have experience starting, and could be stretched out, though that's a time-consuming process and will most likely require one spot start as well as weakening our bullpen. This is not to say that losing Bedard means the Mariners are screwed, it simply means that it will be harder for the Mariners to win on days he was supposed to pitch as he is simply better by a wide margin than his replacements.
Fifth, what holes can a Bedard trade help plug? Even with his numbers, expecting Bedard to yield anything more than a major league player and an org player is wishful thinking. Looking to 2012, there is a definite need for a corner OF with a bat, a 3B and perhaps another starting pitcher. 2012, in the eyes of many Mariner fans, is Year 1 of hopefully a string of years where the Mariners really compete for the AL West crown and hopefully the World Series. This team, as is, is a great foundation, but it has some flaws. Trading Bedard in 2011 can help address at least one of those flaws in 2012.
Sixth, consider the market. Right now, there are not a lot of sellers, as a ton of teams are hanging in contention. Even as some of these contenders drop off and become sellers, Bedard could easily be the best starter available in what will most likely be a seller's market. Something else to consider is the fact that Bedard is only making around $1mil, with some escalator clauses, so he's very affordable as well. Aside from the Phillies, Braves, Giants and Rays, every team could use what the 2011 version of Bedard is doing. If the Mariners are truly sellers, they can package Bedard with a reliever (League? Pauley?) and yield an even bigger package of close-to-the-majors talent. Zduriencik should have his choice of excellent deals should he make Bedard available.
Finally, Jack Zduriencik's history and job security. I don't think it's an exaggeration to claim that the first half of this season has earned Jack Z at least another year on the job, as the youth infusion has made baseball exciting again in Seattle. As a result, he can afford to punt 2011 in favor of 2012 and still keep his job. The best analog to 2011 is 2009, when Zduriencik traded Clement, Cedeno, Adcock, Pribianic and Lorin to Pittsburgh for Ian Snell and Jack Wilson, which was a quintessential win-next-year move. At the time of the move, the Mariners were 7.5 back and in the middle of a bit of a losing streak.
So, in short, the Mariners have Bedard, who cannot be easily replaced, can be injured at any time and is arguably the best starter available in a seller's market. The Mariners have an intense schedule post-ASB, 13 games head to head with Texas and are taxing their pitchers with high innings counts. Their GM's job is safe and has a history of pulling off big moves and can do so this year without fearing for his job.
That all being said, it's the week of July 31st. How far back do the Mariners have to be before you trade Bedard? Where is The Bedard Line for you?