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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 9, 2008 10:51 AM

M's need a bidding war

Posted by Geoff Baker

The one thing yesterday's trade of Rich Harden to the Chicago Cubs did was establish Erik Bedard as one of the top remaining options for contenders on the pitching front when it comes to trades. In fact, I'd say Bedard is the best option right now. If it's between him and A.J. Burnett, or Daniel Cabrera, I'd go with the lefty every time. But will the Philadelphia Phillies? In this story, Bedard is refered to as the "B'' list option. Frankly, given the fact Bedard will likely go on the DL tomorrow, retroactive to July 4 (he isn't pitching until July 21 anyway, so the DL is just a formality to clear room for Felix Hernandez), the window for the M's showcase him much more is quickly closing. There is a lot of pressure being put on the front office in Philadelphia to make a move. This story was written before yesterday's Harden deal, but you can see the premise.

At this point, I don't see the M's getting back much more than Class AAA starter Carlos Carrasco, the top pitching prospect in Philadelphia's system. And that's only if GM Pat Gillick, who is not afraid to "Stand Pat" in the face of public heat come deadline time, swallows hard. What might make him swallow harder? Some competition for Bedard's services.

Right now, the best chance of that happening would likely be from the St. Louis Cardinals, who have all sorts of pitching needs and yet somehow find themselves within sniffing distance of a playoff spot. The Cards just watched their division rivals beef up on pitching. This writer, about the only guy in town in a limited media market, isn't sure the Harden and C.C. Sabathia deals will put the Cubs and Brewers over-the-top.

But if you're the Cards, contending unexpectedly, can you afford to take that chance?

Remember, the NL wild card will very likely come out of the Central division. NL West leading Dodgers are a sub-.500 team, as are the clubs chasing Philadelphia in the NL East. So, a second-place finish in the Central might guarantee a playoff spot. At least, today it does. The Cards don't have to catch the Cubs. They merely have to keep pace with the Brewers.

And so, going after Bedard might help the Cards -- at least, in their minds -- do exactly that.

And that would benefit the M's immensely. Think of that house you're trying to sell for $400,000. If you get one serious bidder at $380,000, chances are you'll sell for less than asking price. But if one bidder comes in at $380,000 and the other at $390,000, then you've got two folks you can play off against each other and maybe sell for $410,000. Above asking price.

Right now, with Bedard, going five or six innings per game, the asking price won't be nearly as high as it was last winter, after a season in which he consistently went seven innings. But maybe, with a bit of a bidding war, the M's can at least generate something a little better than they stand to make right now with their six-inning guy about to go on the DL.

One more thought before I close. Brian L. in the comments thread wrote in about how Carlos Silva's sinker had less sink on it than he'd averaged in a prior start heading into last night's game. This according to the Pitch F/x data on the game. I've since been alerted to the fact that the U.S.S. Mariner blog is taking issue with me writing down what Silva said last night. They say he had a less effective sinker because that's what the vertical drop charts show. And also, they point out that he had more flyouts last night than ground outs. They suggest (by the post's very title "When Access is Detrimental to the Truth") that I listened to Silva and wrote what he said because I'm afraid of losing clubhouse access. Yes, that's right. I'm afraid of not having access to players that have been almost universally criticized in this space and by me on the radio at various times all year.

Here's the thing. I tend to make a habit of listening to guys I write about before venturing forth with an opinion as to whether they are right or wrong. Sorry, just a habit I picked up doing this job. You realize early on that you aren't always right, that stats don't tell you the full story and that it's sometimes better to wait a bit before rushing to judgement, calling people "idiots" and stuff that most of us in the pro-ranks of our industries generally got over in high school.

So, when Silva tells us, as he did last night, that he felt more comfortable with his sinker by about the fifth inning, I believe him. Why lie about something like that? In fact, if you check the game data from last night, he recorded 12 outs in innings five through eight. Five of those outs came on ground balls. Three on strikeouts. Two on infield popouts. Two came on flyballs. Don't know about you, but that tells me his sinker was fairly effective. Any of you who watched last night's game probably saw that. I won't pretend that these stats mean everything, because we won't know how successful Silva's adjustment will be until he uses it more often. But in my book, it's reason enough to assume that he knows a little bit about what he's saying.

Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately for you, I don't keep a list of fan favorite players (Ichiro, Beltre, Bedard, Clement, Hernandez) or whipping boys (Sexson, Vidro, Batista, Washburn, Silva). We call them like we see them here. The popular and unpopular guys are all treated the same way. And you won't always agree. That's why we let you have your say in the comments area, even if it's something we feel is ridiculous for you to say. We don't know it all.

As for whether or not Silva is spinning yarns about his sinker, first off, the effectiveness of a sinker won't always correalate to how much it drops. If every sinker starts bouncing in the dirt a foot in front of the plate, thrown at the same release point a pitcher normally would throw it, it will have one heck of a drop reading. But it won't entice too many hitters to swing. Or if a sinker drops real nice, right over the heart of the plate, it won't help a pitcher either.

We went over this a couple of weeks back when U.S.S. Mariner took a swipe at Jarrod Washburn -- called him an idiot, I believe -- for saying he had better command. Mentioned his strike ratios and walk ratios. But that basic premise shows a lack of understanding of the meaning of command in the major leagues, which isn't exclusively about the ability to throw strikes and not walk guys. Well, part of it is, that's true. But right here is an example of a guy who throws tons of strikes -- but who also has no command.

Yes, Josh Towers. Know him well. Heard about him all last winter when some folks thought he'd make an intelligent addition to any major league roster. Well, that's not true. He's yielding more hits, more baserunners than ever before, continuously missing his spots going on three years now and given up Horacio Ramirez-like run totals in Class AAA. He lost his command in Toronto the last season I covered the Blue Jays. Meaning, he threw big, fat juicy ones over the heart of the plate on a regular basis starting in 2006. Didn't hurt him in 2005, when he landed a nice contract because of an ability to leave balls just out of a hitter's wheelhouse and get guys to miss, or mishit the ball. He hit his spots with regularity. He had command.

But since then, hitters have hit the ball hard. The homer rate has declined in the minors, possibly because he isn't facing big leaguers anymore. But his walk rates are also up and that's typical of pitchers who get clobbered and then are afraid to throw strikes. Fearful of challenging hitters. It's a fine line with these guys.

It's why you see guys like Washburn, Silva and Towers giving up their share of home runs. Sometimes, the ball is an inch or two too close to a hitter's sweet spot. They live on the edge. With Washburn, lately, he's gotten on the better side of that edge because of a mechanical adjustment (or so he says). He'll still give up some extra base hits, as he did the other night. But so far, he isn't getting crushed like he was in May. So, if that makes him an idiot, OK.

Back to Silva, he made a similar reference to command struggles a couple of weeks ago in San Diego. Said he could still throw strikes. He can still throw a sinker. But that sinker isn't ending up where he needs it to go. It's either dropping too far out of the zone, where he falls behind in counts. Or, it's winding up too high in the zone, or over the plate, and getting crushed. Silva has complained about a lack of a feel for his sinker all season. If this adjustment gives him a better feel for the pitch, enabling him to throw it where the groundballs hit off him aren't rockets, then he'll be a more effective pitcher.

But he wasn't effective against Detroit his last time out. No matter how far the data shows his sinker was dropping. He was continuously falling behind hitters, even after landing first-pitch strikes. Last night, the sinker was moving where he needed it to. Even if he gave up some flyballs as a result. The flyballs weren't crushed. They weren't going over the fence. And they didn't all come on sinkers.

Look, no one is saying Silva is a Cy Young candidate or will continue to have success when he faces better lineups. But he threw strikes last night. And when the balls were hit, they tended to be mishit more often than not. If he keeps it up, against better lineups, perhaps the M's will have something better to take out of this season. Yes, we know his contract looks bad. It will be for a long time. This is about moving forward. looking ahead. Putting aside prejudices and looking at what's actually taking place and seeing whether it is sustained. Strange things happen in baseball. See the terrible Cleveland Indians for an example of that.

And if Silva gets crushed his next time out, then, like Miguel Batista -- still tinkering with the mechanical adjustment he made -- he'll have to go back to the drawing board.

And no, to correct another thing from the U.S.S. Mariner post, Silva doesn't claim to throw a splitter. He cleared that up in an interview three months ago when he stated that some Minnesota writers had mistaken his change-up for a splitter last year because the grip was similar to his sinker and the pitch moves like a splitter. So, that's why Silva hasn't thrown a splitter this year. He has thrown change-ups to lefty hitters.

All done? Good. We can get back to this in five days when we see how Silva and Washburn do against the Royals.

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