Casey at the Bat | M's Free Agents: Erik Bedard

Casey McLain@caseymclain34Senior Analyst IApril 25, 2009

SEATTLE - APRIL 18:  Erik Bedard #45 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the game on April 18, 2009 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

As Erik Bedard started sharp in the Mariners series-opener with the Angels, a question that has been avoided during the Mariners’ feel good beginning to the 2009 season was apparent. What does Eric Bedard’s future hold?

Bedard has been characterized, at least since his arrival in Seattle, as an atypical media pariah. A lot of this, fair or foul, began when his health became a point of frustration for the Mariners brass and fans.

However, as Bedard enjoys a similarly prosperous start to his season as the team whose uniform he presently wears, free agency looms in the offseason. My message to the team: Start contract negotiations now.

Seattle is already at a geographic disadvantage in the free agent market. If you look at a United States map, and take a look at the cities that host MLB teams, Seattle is by far and away the most isolated.

That geographic disadvantage played a huge role in Ken Griffey Jr. leaving the Mariners.

It’s difficult to imagine, in any other working environment, a circumstance where a laborer would be forced to move to the opposite coast, to an area of his non-native country which he’s not familiar with. Bedard should be given a pass on last year.

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If anything, kicking the tires on Bedard’s interest and demands gives the team a better means to assess his viability as a long-term option.

Also, it would allow first-time General Manager Jack Zduriencik to dig into his first serious contract negotiation. Bill Bavasi was allowed the opportunity to do so, signing Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson early in his career as the Mariners’ general manager.

Not only will it be a very indicative time for Zduriencik, as it will show his handling of high-priced free agents, but could ultimately result in the talented lefty remaining in a Mariners uniform.

Pitching, especially good, starting, left-handed, power pitching is incredibly hard to come by in baseball. While guys like CC Sabathia and Johan Santana exist, many other power-lefties end up in the bullpen or on the disabled list, a place Bedard is familiar with.

If Bedard’s able to weather a long baseball season in relatively decent condition, he’ll be exiting the “danger years” of his pitching career, as he’ll have matured to the fullest extent physically.

One of the major reason I supported the Bedard trade, and understood the nearly-equal personnel compensation to the Mets trade for Johan Santana, was that the Mariners would have two years to evaluate Bedard before signing him to a long-term, expensive contract.

One year has passed, and while it didn’t do much for Bedard’s stock, his down 2008 season paired with a sputtering economy could work in the Mariners favor. This offseason, Oliver Perez, a poster-boy for potential signed a reasonable three-year, $36 million contract.

A similar contract could easily make Bedard a bargain for Seattle. Bedard would be making close to the same amount of money per season as Carlos Silva, and no matter how oft-criticized, Bedard is a more productive pitcher than Silva.

This all of course, assumes that Bedard has any interest in remaining in Seattle. To this point in his brief Seattle career, it appears that Bedard is more stubborn than the average ball player.

If Bedard makes it clear that he’d prefer, or intends to play elsewhere, the Mariners are left with two choices. Those being, of course: keep him and let him walk, or trade him.

A trade scenario would be very dependent on Bedard’s stock approaching the trade deadline, and team-need paired with available prospects and budget room, as Bedard makes $7.75 million this year.

Keeping Bedard would likely be very dependent on their position in the AL West standings. If the team remains competitive into July, it would be hard for Zduriencik to rationalize trading the team’s No. 2 starter.

However, one potential related advantage of that situation, would be that a playoff push could come as a result of a very good season from Bedard, one which could bump him into the class of Type-A free agents.

This would alleviate a lot of pressure to keep the lefty, as letting him walk would likely give the Mariners two extra draft picks in the top-40 picks of the 2011 amateur draft.

Also, a playoff push may warm Bedard’s view of the Mariners, and alter his opinion entering the offseason.

Though I feel that Bill Bavasi was an awful general manager, I continue to defend his trading for Bedard. Teams with good players, are usually well, better, and even if Bedard is simply an eventual absent means to a positive end, he’s a tool which offers the team flexibility.

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