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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM

Should M’s take advantage of Yankee desperation and (gulp) listen to Felix offers?


(Felix Hernandez, holding son Jeremy, reacts to the news he’s won the Cy Young Award. Photo by Associated Press).

(Note: Poll at end of blog post)

I know the initial reaction to that question, at least from most Mariners’ fans, will be outrage and/or disdain. Maybe mockery. Yet I also see that it’s already being bandied about on Twitter, various blogs, and in the comments section of Geoff’s latest blog post. It’s at least worthy of discussion, I’d say. As Keith Law writes today on ESPN, “There’s an opportunity here for a GM with a pitcher he’s willing to move and the fearlessness to move him when no one expects it.”

Law was referring to both of the shunned teams in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Rangers and Yankees. But I think we can eliminate the Rangers from the equation. I can’t imagine the M’s even considering sending Felix Hernandez to a team in their own division, especially after the messy aftermath of the Lee trade in July.

Ah, but the Yankees are another story. To a far greater extent than the Rangers, the pressure on them to make a blockbuster move right now has to be tremendous. The arch-rival Red Sox have cleaned up this winter by adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. All the Yankees have done is re-signed their own free agents, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but everyone knew those moves were both fait accomplis all along. They had their hearts set on getting Lee, went after him with both barrels, and he jilted them.

If George Steinbrenner were still alive and in charge, you can just imagine the brow-beating that would be going on in the Yankee offices right now, and the hysterical demands to Brian Cashman that he do something, anything, to make a splash. Steinbrenner’s sons now running the team don’t seem nearly as reactionary as The Boss, but you know there is a certain desperation creeping in for the Yankees to make their mark this winter.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who is as connected as anyone in the market, tweeted this morning, “Asked multiple officials between last nite and today all say King Felix not available nor is anything else ace level in trade mart except Greinke, and #Yankees just don’t believe he can handle NY.”

That would indicate the Mariners aren’t even thinking about dealing Felix, whom I believe is the single most valuable property in baseball today. He’s a young ace (he turns 25 in the first week of the season), still in his prime, coming off a Cy Young award and under contract for the next four seasons. My initial inclination would be to keep him regardless of the offer, since he is the face of the franchise and one of the few drawing cards this team has. I’d suspect that’s the position of most of you (I’ll be fascinated to see the results of the poll at the end of this post).

But if you’re in a rebuilding mode, as the M’s clearly (and rightfully) are, and don’t see contention as a realistic possibility for another couple of years, even with Felix, an argument could be made for hastening the process with a whopper trade — a Herschel Walker kind of deal. Just an argument, mind you. (And yes, the same argument, probably more forcefully, can be made about Ichiro, but he now has full trade veto rights as a 10-and-5 player, and beyond that I just don’t see Mariner ownership even considering moving Ichiro unless he personally requested it; and I haven’t seen any inclination of him to do so).

In this piece today, Sherman goes over the circumstances of last July’s thwarted attempts by the Yankees to get Lee from the Mariners. He writes:

The Yankees, on the other hand, have a rotation with Sabathia coming off of knee surgery and the heaviest work load in the sport the past four years, and even larger questions beyond that. Those questions were manifest enough last season that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was willing to include his best prospect, Jesus Montero, in a package for Lee.

Initially, Seattle agreed. But they Mariners backed out over concerns about prospect David Adams’ medical records. The Mariners indicated they would reconsider if the Yankees put either Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova in the deal instead. Cashman refused, saying it was too much for half a season of Lee.

But that decision might be the costliest of this era. Because with Lee, the Yankees and Rangers probably would have had different postseason fates and the Yankees just might have repeated as champs. Also, Lee would have experienced New York. That means he might have built the love for the place that he did for Philadelphia.

One thing to remember about even listening to the Yankees is that the Mariners would be operating from a position of absolute power. If they didn’t like what they heard, they could simply say, “No thanks.” Only if they are completely blown away would they have to even consider considering a Felix trade. And to me, just to listen, it would take two of those three prospects — Montero and Nova or Nunez, plus Phil Hughes or Robinson Cano. (I know some of you might say Hughes AND Cano, but I don’t think that’s realistic). That would start the conversation, and the M’s could build from there. Oh, and I’d make the Yankees take Milton Bradley (and his $12 million) in the deal. They can afford it. Maybe Chone Figgins could come into play, along with Nick Swisher. There’s numerous directions to go here, but the Yankees have the prospects and established players to make it interesting.

Again, this is just food for thought. I have no knowledge of any interest by the Mariners in moving Hernandez; indeed, quite the opposite. I’d have tremendously mixed feelings about pulling the trigger on any trade involving Felix Hernandez, no matter how potentially beneficial. You could be giving up the greatest pitcher of his generation, a Hall of Famer in his prime. I wouldn’t blame the Mariners for dismissing the notion out of hand. On the other hand, pitchers burn out or break down — especially pitchers who started as teenagers. Hernandez’s continued ascension is no sure thing, even though he sure looks like the exception to the Dwight Gooden syndrome. Yet this could be viewed as a way to jump-start the rebuilding process by filling numerous holes at once. You could also point out that even with a high-performing Hernandez, the M’s have lost 101 games in two of the past three years. And by shedding some contracts in the process, the M’s would be better positioned to either hit the free-agent market next year, or take on high-priced players in trades.

Of course, if you’re going to listen to offers from the Yankees on Hernandez, there’s no need to limit the discussion to them. But their combination of desperation, prospects, young but established talent, and the ability to take on bad contracts makes the Yanks uniquely positioned to make an offer that would knock the M’s socks off.

It’s a provocative debate — the sort baseball fans love to have. And that’s what blogs are for.

Would you listen to offers from the Yankees (or other teams) on Felix Hernandez?survey software



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