Had a chance to talk last night with Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, the guy who may have to be traded before the Mariners can do anything with Jarrod Washburn. There are teams like the Phillies and Brewers who consider Washburn to be a fallback plan if they can’t land Halladay, but first, that domino will have to tumble. Halladay had not heard anything more as of last night on whether he would get dealt. But for now, he’s assuming he’ll take the mound tomorrow for the Jays, which is why he’ll be off-limits to the media until after then. He doesn’t talk the day before games, something he first picked up from Roger Clemens when they teamed briefly back in 1998 for a few weeks.
Much of our talk was about Felix Hernandez and the similarities he and Halladay shared when it came to being called up from Class AAA at young ages — Halladay at 21 and Hernandez at 19 — and being able to cope with the expectations placed on them as No. 1 starters leading teams of men much older than them. I’ll give you the transcript of our formal interview on the turn page, but first, let me tell you that I broached the subject of why Halladay has now said he’ll become a free agent after 2010. Back in 2004, he opted to sign a five-year extension, with Toronto rather than head into free-agency the following year. It was interesting and will be for you, as Hernandez fans, to hear his full reasoning.
And this is important because that little time bomb, known as Hernandez’s free-agent clock, is ticking louder by the day. By this time next year, Hernandez will be in the exact same position as Halladay. Maybe the Mariners should therefore get a headstart and put Hernandez in that position right now? As in, make him available to other teams?
Think about it. If you’re Jack Zduriencik and you aren’t sure that Hernandez will sign a long-term deal with your club, what would it hurt to start taking offers right now? With all the names we’re hearing thrown around in connection with a Halladay deal, what kind of haul could the Mariners bring in by dangling Hernandez on the trade front? I mean, he’d be an obvious boost to a contending team. And that team would have him for the next two years as well. One more year than Halladay and cheaper per season at that.
Now, of course, you don’t make the deal if you’re relatively certain that Hernandez is open to signing long-term. But you also have to be realistic about what “relatively certain” means. Does it mean you’re only feeling “so-so” sure about the prospect? Because if you are, it’s time to start mapping out alternatives.
Whenever I or my press colleagues have broached the subject of a long-term Hernandez deal, whether with Zduriencik or predecessor Bill Bavasi, the discussion has always been short and sweet. And the answer, to paraphrase, has been something along the lines of “We have ongoing discussions about players all the time, but it takes two to tango.”
The implication being that Hernandez might not be all that incentivized to sign here. Frankly, why would he? He’s waited long enough and is now a millionaire through arbitration. By next year, he should be making Erik Bedard-type money up near $8-to-$10 million in a one-year arbitration deal. That’s pretty good coin. And the open market isn’t exactly flourishing right now. By 2011, Hernandez could earn Halladay-type money through arbitration. Could he get that on the open market now? Questionable. So, what does it hurt for him to wait until the economy rebounds, then test the open market when teams are more willing to throw big bucks around?
From my perspective, it doesn’t. In my interview with Halladay, the Toronto ace talks about how his decision to pass on free-agency with his first extension in 2004 was about the people he had around him with the Jays and what he felt was a legit shot at winning. Can Hernandez say the same? There have been a ton of changes, especially on the coaching front and now in the front office as well since Hernandez came aboard. Halladay had coaching changes as well, but his team’s front office had been the same for two-plus years. The Mariners now look to be on the upswing, as the Jays once appeared to be, but does Hernandez really feel that this club can win 90-plus next year? I’m not sure Zduriencik really does, so if Hernandez has doubts, I can’t blame him.
And that’s a big question. Does Zduriencik consider this team pennant worthy heading into next season? For all the good the M’s have accomplished so far, compared to 101 losses last season, they are still on the verge of falling double-digits behind the Angels and, in fact, could still do so before August. And if you are doubtful Hernandez will sign an extension, then the only reason to stall any trade talks for 12 months is if you’re relatively certain this team can contend for real in 2010.
If not, then Hernandez should no longer be untouchable.
I’m not talking about a “Bedard-type deal”. I’m talking Bedard Super-Sized. I’m talking about replenishing the farm system in one mega-deal and providing future young stars who are major-league ready right now. Who could start contributing to a real title run by 2011 and beyond. Because if the M’s are not ready to contend by 2010, then the only title run the team will have Hernandez for is 2011 at most, unless he want to sign long-term.
And so, if quietly exploring a Hernandez deal, where would I start looking? How about the city where Hernandez threw that one-hitter of his back in 2007? Yeah, the Boston Red Sox need another big weapon in their never-ending war with the New York Yankees. And whoo-boy do they have a ton of farm talent. But it’s talent they’ve been loathe to part with in a one, or two-year rental. But Hernandez isn’t that. Hernandez is an all-star, relatively cost-containable staff ace you’d have for up to three pennant drives.
It doesn’t hurt for the Mariners to listen to offers. Look at what’s being thrown Toronto’s way in terms of trade talks. Hernandez’s value is arguably at its highest point ever right now. And I’d be shocked if a forward-thinking front office like Seattle’s hasn’t gone over this scenario in far more detail than I have.
Here’s the transcript from the formal part of the Halladay interview.
Q: A lot of talk is about Felix Hernandez and about whether he’s done what he has to do to become an ace this year. There’s been a lot of pressure on him for four years. And his career has paralleled your career a lot, you coming up at 21 and him at 19. What was the hardest thing for you when you had to break into the majors and live up to expectations?
Halladay: I think that’s exactly it. It’s living up to your own expectations and not other people’s. I think that’s hard, especially when you’re that good that young. I think a lot of people expect different things out of you. You really have to know what’s best for yourself and know what you’re trying to achieve. And I think that’s most important. Once you do that, I think the other stuff kind of falls in place.
Q: And it took you quite a while to do that.
Halladay: Yeah it did. And I think at some point you realize you are playing for yourself and that’s more important. A lot of times, it’s hard because you’re getting so much advice, having so much come at you from all different angles that it gets confusing. I think once you realize that, that you have to do the best for yourself and that’s what matters, it makes things a lot easier.
Q: And how easy is it to understand that at age 22 or 23?
Halladay: It’s not. It’s real hard. Especially because I think a lot of kids that are good when they’re growing up, there’re always expectations from other people. And they’re telling them ‘This is what you could be. This is what could happen.’ It’s never ‘What do I want out of this?And what am I going to achieve?’ And that’s a hard thing to eventually grab hold of. But yeah, I don’t know at what point that catches. For me, obviously, getting sent down (to the minors in 2001), I kind of had that chance to do it. So, for me, it was a little different. Other guys, it’s hard to say at what point they get that. Striving for themselves?
Q: At what point did you start to feel like a staff ace?
Halladay: I’ve always tried to avoid it, honestly. I think that other than opening day, you;re one of five guys. I’ve always tried to keep that mentality. I think you put too much on yourself if you’re looking at ‘I have to do this and I have to do this’ every five days. That’s a lot. So, I think you have to be more focused on the little steps and the parts of it and not really put all that on yourself. ‘I have to do this because I’m this guy.’ I think it’s a lot easier, if you’re one of five guys, you go out and do the best you can and try to accomplish little things as you go along.
Q: Are you talking about the little things between games as well?
Halladay: Yeah, I think everything. I think the preparation and even once you go out there, you can’t pitch different because of where you’re pitching in the rotation or who you’re facing or what they expect. I think you have to go out with the same mentality you always have even before you’re at that point. Which is, pitch-to-pitch, hitter-to-hitter and simplify it.
Q: But if you go only five innings and give up six runs, you’re not happy the next day.
Halladay: No, you’re not. But I think a lot of pitchers are that way. I definitely think the more you do it, the more greedy you get where you have different expectations. But for me I haven’t ever let that affect how I prepare or how I try to pitch. Sometimes, you’re going to get hit and it’s going to happen. And I think a lot of it is how you deal with it and come back from it.
Q: Because you didn’t do that when you were younger.
Halladay: Yeah, that was probably the hardest part, handling failure. I think you learn to turn the page on things more than anything. You can’t hold on to those things and that makes a big difference.
Q: What do you know about Felix? You obviously know the pitchers you compete with in the American League.
Halladay: Phenomenal stuff. I think, obviously, since he’s first come up it’s just been dominating type of stuff. From what I’ve seen, obviously not playing him much, he’s done a great job of being able to keep guys off balance and be consistent with that. I think a lot of times (with others) you see really great games and then not so good. But his consistency has been great. He’s obviously a front of the line guy.
Q: How do you know he’s a front of thel ine guy? What do you use to evaluate that?
Halladay: I think you look at results at this point. When guys first come up, you’re looking at stuff and you’re trying to project. But until guys are able to do it consistently, not only start-to-start, but year-in, year-out, I think that’s kind of the turning point where he goes from what we think he could be to where he actually is. And I think that’s where he’s getting right now.
Q: Did you get to interract with him at all at the All-Star Game?
Halladay: A little bit. Just chatting back and forth. Not a whole lot. There are so many guys, you get to say hi, and that kind of thing, here and there. But I didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time talking to him.
Q: There are a lot of parallels between the two of you. He had a child at a young age, you got married and had a kid at a pretty young age, right?
Halladay: I was married at 21, we had a kid at 20.
Q: Does that help you grow up faster in the big leagues?
Halladay: I don’t think so. For me, I always felt more grown up, I think, than a lot of the guys I was around at that point. So, for me, it was different. I think for everybody, there’s a time in your life where you’re ready for it and you plan for it and it happens. And, for me, that’s how it was. I don’t know for Felix. But it was just part of my life I was ready for. So, I don’t think it helped me grow up. Priorities may change, but other than that, it’s pretty similar.
Q: What played into your decision to sign an extension with Toronto when you were a year or more away from free agency? What played into that decision, becasue Felix may have to make a similar choice.
Halladay: I think there’s a lot, The people around you make a big difference in it. I think if you feel like you’re happy where you are, you like where you are, I think there’s a lot that goes into it and each guy’s different. For me, it was a simple choice because I do like Toronto. I felt the people around me were good people and we were headed in the right direction, so it was an easy choice for me. But each circumstance is different.
Q: And now, you’re set to become a free-agent if this goes on for another year-plus. What changed? Did the curiosity factor weigh into that for you?
Halladay: No, I think you just look at your opportunity to win. And basically that’s it. I think you’re still trying to achieve the same things. You just realize that your time of doing it is just getting shorter and shorter. That’s really just all it is.
Q: So, if you were 25 or 26?
Halladay: Yeah, I think it would be different. You still feel like you have a lot of time left.