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Erik Bedard, Hope Return To Mariners

A funny thing happened on the way to next season. The Mariners finished 61-101 a year ago - truly a magnificent bust of a team if ever there was one - and we all resigned ourselves to the idea that it'll be a little while before the M's are good again. Texas is strong, and the Angels are prepared to spend crazy money, and the A's are prepared to spend slightly less crazy money, and the M's are kind of rebuilding. We've come to terms with the likelihood that we won't see the playoffs for at least another few years. And that's fine. Every team goes through a dry spell.

Then the Mariners re-signed Erik Bedard. On paper, re-signing Erik Bedard doesn't change very much. But, psychologically speaking, re-signing Erik Bedard changes a lot. Look, I can prove it.

Felix Hernandez
Erik Bedard
Jason Vargas
Doug Fister
Michael Pineda

Before, there was Felix, and an open spot, and two finesse guys, and a rookie. Now there's that dreaded expression again - there's the potential for three aces. Felix! Bedard! Pineda! Nevermind that Bedard hasn't thrown a pitch in the bigs since July 2009, and that Pineda hasn't thrown a pitch in the bigs since ever. This isn't about thinking rationally. This is about dreaming, like all sports fans should be able to dream, and Bedard's return allows us to dream with the best of them.

Three aces. Who's to say? Felix was probably the AL's best pitcher a year ago. Bedard was excellent over 30 starts his first two season here, some of which came while he was injured. Pineda just dominated in the high minors, and has an electric fastball. The possibility exists that it could all come together, and as long as the possibility exists, the possibility will be considered, and the possibility will be discussed.

Again, rationally, this is a mistake. Pineda's a rookie with a lot to prove. Felix has thrown a ton of innings. And with Bedard, I don't even need to say anything, because the very name of 'Bedard' has taken on a definition such that simply writing 'Bedard' says everything that needs to be said. An intelligent fan who doesn't want to get hurt would keep from counting his chickens.

But this is what Erik Bedard does. Erik Bedard is hope in a salty six-foot Canadian frame. Between 2007-2009, Erik Bedard put up a 3.20 ERA and struck out ten guys per nine. At times he was as effective as any starter in the league, and we've seen glimpses of that in Seattle, even while he was battling injuries. And, of course, there are the injuries, the very issues that have limited him to 30 starts in three years as a Mariner. But then your brain gets going. He already had his labrum fixed. He nearly made it back a year ago, and while his comeback fell short, he was only sidelined with a bone spur, which has since been removed. A bone spur isn't a big deal, and the reports are good. He could do it. He could re-emerge.

None of these feelings are new feelings. We felt the same way before 2009, and we felt the same way before 2010. We can even laugh about it, and joke about how we're all just going to get burned yet another time. But still, everybody daydreams. Everybody who thinks about Erik Bedard can picture him coming back as an ace. This isn't like a Mark Prior situation. Bedard isn't five years removed from being effective, and he looks to be all healthy. There's promise. There's the chance that Bedard could still be the guy that Bill Bavasi was ever so determined to get.

That hope is a powerful, powerful thing. Let's say I'd run a poll asking about the Mariners' 2011 playoff odds yesterday. Now let's say I ran the same poll again. Something tells me we would've seen a positive shift. Probably a bigger shift than the day's events warranted. And that's because Bedard just feels like a major addition, even though he possibly and probably isn't. When a player is good, and then isn't good, people grow frustrated. When a player is good, and then gets hurt and doesn't play, people grow frustrated, but they're also more forgiving. Jose Lopez was good in 2009, but 2010 destroyed his perception. Erik Bedard was good for part of 2009 and missed 2010, and his perception remains by and large intact. Name value dies slowly, and Bedard's name value lifts everyone's spirits and makes everyone more optimistic, about everything.

I'm a cynical Mariners fan at the best of times, and have come to embrace my identity. Nevertheless, I welcome this news, because as ready as I've been for this team to rebuild, I like to spend my offseasons entertaining the possibility of playoff baseball, and Bedard will allow me to do it once more. I don't need anyone to tell me that I'm being unrealistic. I know that I'm being unrealistic. You can't count on Erik Bedard any more than you can count on a really shaky table that won't let you count things you're trying to count*. But Erik Bedard is supposedly healthy, and a healthy Erik Bedard is really good. You can figure out the rest.

The human brain is amazing.

* god damn shaky table!