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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 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM

The Felix conundrum, Take 2

felixgimaces.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

I can’t say I’m totally surprised that yesterday’s blog post, pondering the question of whether or not the Mariners should listen to potential trade offers on Felix Hernandez — prompted by the likelihood of Yankee desperation over losing out on Cliff Lee — caused such a buzz. It’s a provocative topic that hits upon many hot-button issues. As my buddy Ryan Divish at the TNT tweeted, “You were flipping matches at a house filled with dried wood, nitroglycerine and firecrackers.”

Really, in some ways, this question cuts to the core of what it means to be a fan, pitting the emotional investment in your favorite players vs. the cold-blooded reality of possibly using that beloved player as a trade chip to enhance the team you root for. I don’t blame anyone who ripped me for having the temerity to even broach the subject of trading Felix. I respect and understand the passion. As I wrote yesterday, it’s visceral. As miserable as the Mariners have been of late, it’s no wonder fans want to cling to their beacon of greatness.

I do want to point out that I never once, in that blog post, endorsed trading Felix, nor did I ever say the Mariners were considering trading Felix. Those points might have eluded a few people in their fervor to castigate the very notion. All I was saying (or trying to say) was that this could be a unique juncture at which you could use the Yankees’ frustration at losing Lee, and their perpetual, perennial need to “feed the beast” that is their rabid fan base (who pay the highest ticket prices in all of MLB), to see if there is a blow-you-over offer to be had that would make you at least consider — consider — giving up your historically valuable right-hander.

And even then, if it was me calling the shots, I would still have a very hard time pulling the trigger, even if what seemed to be a palatable deal was on the table. It would have to be such an overwhelming victory for the Mariners that I could endure the inevitable howls from irate fans and be confident that it wouldn’t take long to validate the wisdom of the move. I believe the Yankees, of all teams, have the pieces to present such a deal. Whether they have the stomach, in the post-George Steinbrenner era, is another question. One reason the Yankees have put out such a consistently great product in this current era — beyond their tremendous financial resources, which admittedly helps a lot — is that they supplement their spending with wise decisions by GM Brian Cashman. Especially with The Boss’s influence waning in the years before his death, the Yankees haven’t been nearly so prone to ignore prospects and sound team-building philosophies to satisfy the owners’ latest whim. Yet, that said, there is still tremendous pressure to win in the Bronx, and tremendous incentive to keep feeding their fans’ insatiable appetite for shiny new players. So you never know what lengths they might go in pursuing what I believe, as I wrote yesterday, is the most valuable commodity in all of baseball.

I think another key point that’s at play here, as it is in every discussion involving the Mariners these days, is the supreme lack of confidence in the current M’s regime. This is manifested in the opinion of many who responded on the blog that the M’s can’t trade Felix, because as ScottsdaleDawg wrote in the comments section, expressing a sentiment put forth in various other forms, “I don’t trust the front office to pull it off without getting hosed!”

Yeah, it’s all probably a hypothetical exercise, but I thought it was a fun debate to have. And I think I was right, judging by the fact it has been the most read piece on the Seattle Times website all day and has led to heated discussions all over the internet, on radio, and even television. A few people accused me of writing it to “sell newspapers.” I’d point out that the original blog post appeared only on the internet, which is free. But if it helps generate hits, I don’t mind that. My goal with the Hot Stone League blog is to always find interesting, provocative and fun topics to write about. Nothing sinister about that, is there?

Lots of people have weighed in on the topic, including Ken Rosenthal of FOX, who

says the Mariners would be crazy to trade Felix, and Kirby Arnold of the Everett Herald, who is not a big proponent, either. Colin O’Keefe at Pro Ball NW agonizes over the notion. Jon Heyman of SI.com shares a tweet from Jack Zduriencik, who says “i have no interest in trading Felix.” (I don’t doubt for a second this is true, but it hardly closes the door on the possibility he could become interested. Remember, Jack Z said “Don Wakamatsu is our manager” a week before firing him. That said, let me stress that I don’t expect the Mariners to trade Felix. I’d be shocked if they did.

Later today, Heyman tweeted that the Yankees are believed to be on Felix’s list of 10 teams to whom he can veto a trade, but adds, “tho, yanks 1 team that can sometimes change things (hint: $)” In other words, the Yankees could try to sweeten the pot to induce Hernandez to waive the no-trade clause, if it came to that. Here, a Mets’ blog weighs in, and so does Craig Calcaterra of NBC. Brock and Salk batted around the topic on ESPN 710, and Nightline plans a segment on Felix trade possibilities tonight on ABC.

Just kidding about that last one. It’s actually “Meet the Press.”

All in all, I was impressed with the discussion by readers of this blog — lots of good points on both sides and not as much name-calling or blind outrage as I honestly expected. In fact, responders were a lot more open-minded about the notion of entertaining Felix offers than I expected. I just checked the poll, and of the 8,392 responses (which is one of the highest totals for an on-line poll I can remember), 63.63 percent (5,340 votes) were in favor of at least listening to offers. A total of 3,052 (36.37 percent) said they didn’t want to trade Felix under any circumstances. When I launched the blog post yesterday, Jerry Brewer and I were discussing the likely outcome of the poll, and I predicted pretty much the reverse. I thought about 2/3 of the voters would not even want to discuss trading Felix. Of course, there’s always the possibility the poll was infiltrated by Yankee fans, but I didn’t get any indicatation that was taking place.

Feel free to keep the discussion going, if you’d like. This is not going to become a “cause” or a mission for me. I’ve made my point. The last thing I want to do is run Felix out of town. That was never a goal of mine. I love watching him pitch, and he’s a fun guy to be around.

I just think there can be a point with even a truly great player like Felix Hernandez where you have to at least open your mind to the possibility that the greater good of the team can be served with a trade. And even then, it still would take tremendous guts to pull the trigger.

I’d be very surprised if the Mariners and Yankees — or any other team — got to that point any time soon.

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