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

March 14, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Be prepared: Felix trade speculation isn’t going to go away


Ken Rosenthal of FOX is the latest to fan the flames of a possible Felix Hernandez trade.

Using some the same logic I did in this blog post after Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies in December — namely, Yankee desperation — Rosenthal posits that the planets are aligned for the Mariners to make a blockbuster, 5-for-1 trade with the Yankees. As he sees it, the Mariners should send Hernandez (shown above during Saturday’s intrasquad game) to the Yankees and raid their farm system of every top prospect as a means to hasten their rebuilding process.

Even though Jack Zduriencik continues to flatly rule out a Hernandez trade, and even though Felix has the contractual right to veto a trade to the Yankees and says convincingly he’s extremely happy in Seattle, the rumors and speculation are going to continue. And if the Yankees, who have an unsettled rotation beyond C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, get off to a rocky start and begin to slip behind the Red Sox in the AL East, the “go get Felix” cries among Yankee fans — and media — is going to be deafening. And if the Mariners are buried in the standings by the trade deadline — as could well happen — then the speculation is bound to reach a crescendo.

My point in the December blog post was that it wouldn’t hurt to listen, and see if the Yankees are desperate enough to make an offer that is so overwhelming it would be virtually impossible to turn down. But I also fully recognize what a uniquely valuable property Hernandez is for the Mariners, and how reluctant the club is to anger an already skeptical fan base by trading their best and most popular player.

Those kinds of deals — an established player for prospects — are always initially a hard sell, particularly to casual fans who have never heard of, say, Ivan Nova or Dellin Betances. If those players develop into stars, then everyone’s happy in the end. But it can be awfully tough for a franchise as down as the Mariners are right now to be willing to take the blows that would inevitably come their way if they traded Felix Hernandez. And you can make a perfectly reasonable case — as Zduriencik is doing — for using Hernandez as the centerpiece of their rebuilding efforts. His point is that in Hernandez they have the most critical, and elusive, piece in baseball — a bona fide No. 1 pitcher under contract long-term. So rather than trade him, why not build the rest of the team around him? That strategy only works, however, if the other highly touted prospects in the system, like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, come through as expected, and if you do a shrewd job of acquiring ancillary pieces. The jury is still out on that.

I expect the Mariners to continue to take the stance that they will not even entertain a Hernandez trade. But that’s not going to stop everyone else from talking about it.



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