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So, Okay

I'm basically at the point right now where I'm treating the Bedard trade as an inevitability. I'm convinced that, before long, Erik Bedard will be a Mariner, and Adam Jones, George Sherrill, and some other people will not. I don't have an inside source leading me in one direction or the other, but at least this way, if it happens, I'll be prepared, and if it doesn't, I'll be ecstatic. That's how the experienced loser deals with dejection.

Obviously, this trade is all the rage. Every Mariner fan with an Internet connection is talking about it, and it's been analyzed and evaluated from every angle imaginable. There is little to say about this deal that hasn't already been said, which is kind of remarkable considering it hasn't happened yet. The Mariner community is nothing if not thorough.

With that in mind, there's one thing that's bothering me in a lot of the current discussion. It's not that some people are underselling the impact of defense - that's pretty much always the case. It's not that some people are willing to sacrifice a chunk of the future to win now - that's understandable. And it's not that some people are ignoring the value of Jones' low salary - it's tough to make people care about money when all you see are the players on the field.

It's the fascination that some people have with labels. Bedard, the #1 ace pitcher. Jones, the average corner bat. Sherrill, the LOOGY. And so on and so forth. A typical argument will be that "Bedard is a #1 ace pitcher, and there aren't many of those around, so you have to seize the opportunity to get one while you can."

This point (or some variation thereof) is being repeated everywhere as justification for making the trade. And if you just give it a casual glance, it makes sense - #1 starters are rare, and therefore extraordinarily valuable, because whatever you trade to get one is more easy to replace than the pitcher himself, who has few peers. In a way, this is sort of the whole basis of the stars and scrubs approach to roster management.

Well, for one thing, while #1 pitchers are indeed incredibly rare, so are highly talented outfielders under cheap team control for the next six years. Right now, Adam Jones has fewer comparables than Erik Bedard.

But more importantly, let's drop the labels entirely. Yes, Erik Bedard is a #1 pitcher. That's great. Just don't let that fact cloud your judgment.

Every single player in baseball can be described by two values - the number of runs he contributes to his team, and how much he costs. Every single one. There's no need for labels when it comes to serious analysis. Instead of saying something like "Erik Bedard is valuable because he's an ace," it's better to say "Erik Bedard is valuable because he's x runs better than (other pitcher), and won't cost that much in terms of money." It paints a more accurate and specific picture that makes for easier evaluation than trying to navigate between a bunch of flattering, imprecise adjectives.

In the case of the current Mariners, you can't just rationalize a trade for Bedard by saying that he's an ace, and that we need an ace something terrible. You need to work with the numbers. Let's forget about salary for a moment. Bedard is likely to be, I dunno, anywhere between 30-40 (edit: 40-50) runs better than whoever else we'd end up plugging into that final rotation spot. That's a huge improvement in the team's overall run differential, one that would make us a handful of wins better as a team.

Now subtract from that total of 40-50 however many runs you think we lose going from Sherrill to somebody else. Then subtract however many runs you think we lose going from Jones to another RF at the plate (if any). Finally, subtract however many runs you think we lose going from Jones to another RF in the field. What number are you left with?

In order to properly evaluate this trade, you need to look at three things:

(1) the size of that number in 2008 and, if you're feeling adventurous, 2009 (the improvement in run differential)
(2) how much closer that brings us to the upper tier of the AL
(3) whether an improvement of that magnitude is worth giving up six years of Jones, four years of Sherrill, and six years of whoever else you give up

I'll let you make up your own mind about what you'd prefer to have happen, but if you want to analyze this trade, that's how you have to look at it. Any other approach, particularly one that draws heavily upon the appeal of having Bedard/Felix at the front, is incomplete. Yes, that would be an awesome pair to have. But would it be awesome enough to justify the expense?

My personal belief is that, no, it wouldn't. If we were about five wins better or so, in a position where adding Bedard could put us over the top, then yeah, it'd make sense to overpay. But I don't think we're there, not yet, not without an inordinate number of good bounces going in our favor. And I think we're unlikely to get there in the next few years unless we hang on to the very talent that we're on the verge of trading away.