By Shannon Drayer
Once again trading Felix Hernandez has become a national topic. Jack Zduriencik's stance on this matter is what it has always been in that he is not trading his ace. The same suspects are named as trade partners, and such a move makes no more sense today then it did in 2009 when the national media started rumbling that the Mariners must trade Felix because he had no intention on staying with them. Clearly they were wrong then.
The Mariners have needs and Hernandez is clearly one of the top assets in baseball, but his value to the Mariners (according to Zduriencik) cannot be matched in what the return from a trade partner would be. Trade Hernandez for prospects? Not enough, no matter how "can't miss" they are deemed to be. No, a trade would have to bring back near his offensive equivalent in major league talent. I'm not talking two years, and no assurance of an extension with Robinson Cano here either. Think more along the lines of Mark Teixeira. Such a deal would never be made.
Nova, Betances, Montero, throw all the prospects names you want at the Mariners. You know what? They have prospects. Acquired through drafts and trades they have rebuilt and continue to build the farm system. You trade Hernandez for prospects if you have to rebuild an entire farm system. The Mariners do not have to do that. They like their prospects and for the most part haven't had to make painful moves to acquire them. Do they have to have more young pitchers in order to survive? Nova and Betances are nice shiny names, but they have Hultzen and Paxton close with Walker and Campos not far behind.
Montero? Is he really a catcher? What is to say he isn't Justin Smoak? Or Chih Hsien Chiang? Of course we don't know yet what exactly Smoak is. We don't know what Chiang is going to be at the major league level either. And after eighteen games in the big leagues, we don't know what Montero is. We know what he should develop into but that is not enough. For Hernandez, you better be bringing back something proven. You are not desperate for prospects.
There is the argument that the Mariners will lose Hernandez in three years anyway so they must get value. Are you sure about that? I am not big on 'I told you so's' but it is appropriate here. For months in the summer of 2009 I told you to ignore the national media when they said that the Mariners must trade Felix. "They can't afford him," they wrote. "He is hell bent on testing free agency, there is no way he stays in Seattle." The national media was wrong on this one. Being there every day, it was clear to me that the Mariners wanted Felix here and that he wanted to stay. There was no question in my mind.
Since then I haven't seen much change. I do think that Felix wants to see a clear path to winning, but his commitment to the area and team is even more than it was in 2009. He embraced the Mariners marketing efforts with him. He has bought a house here. He spends an extra two months here after the season ends, one of the only players since the mid 90's that I have seen do that. His daughter is in school here. He is active in the community. Most recently, very quietly along with his wife Sandra, he pledged to match donations during a KOMO telathon for a new endowment in anchor Kathi Goertzen's name that would fund brain cancer in children research.
Then there is Felix on the field. This is what gets missed. If you trade Felix you get all these neat pieces but then you don't have Felix. It is one thing to trade pitching, another to trade an ace. Who throws the 240 innings he has averaged the last three years? Michael Pineda does not just step into the ace role. It took Felix almost four years to turn into what we see today.
Pineda in the second half of the season was hardly dominating. Yes, they were keeping his pitch counts down, but do yourself a favor and go look at his post All-Star numbers. What is most disturbing is that Pineda was focused on having an even better second half than first. He told me after the All-Star Game that is what he would be most proud of. If he could finish strong knowing that hitters had seen him, Hernandez would consider that to be as big as winning the Rookie of the Year Award. He went in the other direction. All that said, Pineda has a great chance to turn into an ace, it is just going to take time. Felix is there and is showing no sign of slowing down.
Trading Hernandez is by no means something that needs to happen now. He has three years left on his contract. A lot can happen in three years. Just ask the Texas Rangers. A rebuild of the farm system, brilliant trades and some big risks are what got them to the World Series, not the crazy dollars they now have at their disposal. What is to say that the Mariners cannot do the same? There is a lot of young talent in the organization. What if additional dollars come in? What if a big trade is made a year from now or at the deadline? Do you really want to let your biggest asset who wants to stay (really, a player who wants to live in Seattle) go now for prospects? He is going to have significant value when and if he is ever traded, be it now or a year-and-a-half from now.
If you feel that you have a good chance of signing Felix to another contract, it makes little sense to trade him. With all the needs the Mariners have, they do have the one thing that many regard to be the most valuable asset in the game not yet in his prime. Sure, he could get hurt but even if the Mariners were to lose him for a year to injury his value in his healthy years could still outweigh the year he was lost. He is that valuable.
If I am trading pitching, I am trading Pineda. Why? Because he is replaceable. There is a very good chance that by the end of next season Danny Hultzen could be Michael Pineda on the hill in regards to development, path, and what he brings to the rotation. If you trade Felix no one is close to being what he is, an established ace who has suffered through the growing pains, who has learned the league and is committed to his team and community. That is what he is now and what he should be for some time to come.
I am not saying you don't listen to offers. I am saying you darn well better know what you have, both now and potentially in the future before you make a move. I believe Zduriencik does and that is why he says he will not trade Felix.