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He's Not Santana, But He's Not Cheap

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

NASHVILLE, Dec. 3 -- While the eyes of the American League East division's megalopolis -- namely, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- remained locked in on Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana on the first day of baseball's winter meetings, a separate and parallel trade market, this one the sole domain of baseball's non-stratospheric-payroll division, was percolating around another talented lefty, Baltimore's Erik Bedard.

But while Bedard's cost, in terms of dollars, is far less than that of Santana, the Orioles believe Bedard's value, in terms of the talent they should receive in return, is just as high as that of the two-time Cy Young winner from Minnesota -- who is still expected to be traded to either the Yankees or Red Sox in the next day or two, with the winning bidder signing him to a contract extension worth perhaps $150 million.

In other words, it is not so much that Bedard is a Plan B for the teams that lose out on Santana; he is Plan A for perhaps a dozen or more other teams who can't afford Santana's demands for an extension, but who see in Bedard a pitcher who is very close to being in Santana's class of elite starting pitchers and who would come at a fraction of the price.

"It's not surprising there has been a lot of activity on him," Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president and de facto general manager, said Monday. MacPhail is attempting a roster downsizing that could also see shortstop Miguel Tejada traded in the coming days or weeks.

The lack of resolution to the Santana saga paralyzed the lobby of the sprawling Opryland Resort, where sightings of Twins, Yankees and Red Sox executives were few, and Santana's agents were not saying much. The Yankees had put a Monday deadline on their final offer for Santana, which centered on pitcher Phil Hughes and center fielder Melky Cabrera, but the Twins seemed disinclined to rush their decision.

Around Bedard, however, the momentum continued to build. There are few teams, if any, who would not want a 28-year-old lefty who looked like the AL's Cy Young winner until his season was cut short by a minor arm injury in August and who is still two years away from free agency, at a relatively bargain cost of perhaps $17 million over the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

But can any of those teams meet the Orioles' asking price, which team officials acknowledge is Santana-high? The New York Mets, for example, have been one aggressive suitor, but a trade proposal built around promising outfield prospect Carlos Gomez was reportedly shot down by the Orioles because the other players in the package were not to their liking.

"If there's front-line starting pitching out there," Mets General Manager Omar Minaya said Monday, speaking only in generalities about his team's aggressive pursuit, "I can promise you we're having dialogue with those teams."

The Toronto Blue Jays, who have long sought to build around a Canadian star, are another team mounting an aggressive push for Bedard, an Ontario native. Given the Orioles' view of Bedard's value, the Blue Jays' offer presumably would need to begin with talented outfielder Alex Rios and 25-year-old pitcher Dustin McGowan.

The best model for a Bedard trade might be the Florida Marlins' trade of ace Josh Beckett to the Boston Red Sox in 2005. At the time he was traded, Beckett was 41-34 with a 3.46 ERA; Bedard currently is 40-34 with a 3.83 ERA in a tougher league. Although there were other pieces in the Beckett deal, the Marlins essentially traded him for shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who has since become one of the top young players in the game, and pitcher Anibel Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter in 2006.

MacPhail reiterated Monday that he does not have to trade Bedard, and that is technically true. But the team has little hope of re-signing him beyond 2009, and given the widespread interest in him, a blockbuster trade appears more likely by the hour.

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