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December 16, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Trade Felix Hernandez to the Yankees? Worth looking into, but Mariners wouldn’t have stomach for it

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Colleague Larry Stone penned a blog post a few days ago that’s gotten quite a bit of discussion around the city and country. Stone wondered aloud whether, with the Yankees perhaps a bit desperate after losing out on Cliff Lee, the Mariners would benefit from listening to offers on Felix Hernandez.
Larry put the question to readers and asked their opinion in a poll. I’m not going to do that because the short answer is: “Of course you listen!”
Listening is free. And sometimes, the longer you listen and keep your trap shut, the more the other party feels obliged to fill in the void and give you more than what you were looking for. It’s right there in Human Psychology 101. OK, granted, we’re not talking about verbal speech patterns here. This is trade psychology we’re looking at.
But folks, if a team isn’t willing to at least explore just how powerful its leverage can be, then that’s a team not worth following. I can guarantee you, if the Yankees came calling, the Mariners would not hang up the phone.
Why would they? They scored only 513 runs last season. They are at least two years away and probably three, from making any noise in the AL West. Hernandez is only under contract four more seasons. Do the math.
If the Yankees could put together a package that outweighed the M’s ability to have Hernandez around for a year or two of serious contending, then Seattle would have to look at that package. It’s how teams get better.
Nobody remembers Herschel Walker in Dallas except to thank him for providing a championship blueprint for the Cowboys all through the 1990s after he was traded to the Vikings.
As good as Hernandez is, he’s only one guy. He can only take the ball every fifth day.
The package I suggested on Twitter last night, just to get the ball rolling, would be starting pitcher Phillip Hughes, second baseman Robinson Cano, catcher Jesus Montero and maybe another player plus Milton Bradley’s salary.
If you’re the M’s, you’d be nuts not to look at that.
As a Yankees fan, yeah, you’re thinking I’m nuts, too. But here’s the thing: the Mariners aren’t trading Hernandez. If the Yankees want him, they’ll have to knock Seattle’s socks off. Have to help jumpstart Seattle’s rebuilding plan, because Hernandez is part of the foundation for that plan. You don’t knock socks off by offering a bunch of Class AA prospects who may or may not pan out in five years. Well, OK, you may knock some GM’s socks off. But that GM still has to sell this deal to fans.

Hughes gives you the potential No. 1 starter you’re losing by dealing bona fide ace Hernandez. In a couple of years, when the M’s are ready to contend, Hughes could be right up near — or maybe slightly below — where Hernandez is now. Chances are, you’d be downgrading slightly on a permanent basis with your top-of-the-rotation guy.
But look at what you’d get for that downgrade.
You’d get Cano, a legit middle-of-the-order hitter to go with Justin Smoak and Jack Cust. A guy who can play second base and allows you to move Dustin Ackley back to his natural outfield position in left.
All of a sudden, an M’s offense that can’t swing a bat straight goes into 2011 looking pretty scary.
You also get your catcher of the future in Montero, the guy the M’s turned down in order to get Smoak from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal. If Montero is as good as everyone says, you get your catcher for years. If not, you still have Adam Moore around and a pretty good long-term DH in Montero — who is supposedly the type of pure power guy who can hit homers as a right handed bat at Safeco Field.
Throw in Bradley’s salary and you can afford Cano for this year. Trade David Aardsma, as many expect the Mariners to do, and you’ll have enough cash left in the kitty to go out and buy another starting pitcher.
Yeah, I make it sound perfect, don’t I? For me, the key to that deal is Cano helps you fill two positions of need at second base and in left. Putting Ackley back in left helps you potentially answer all those “What about Michael Saunders?” questions.
Saunders has had parts of two seasons to show something in left and hasn’t so far.
If Ackley goes to left and can handle that position and hit like everyone feels he will, then Saunders becomes your fourth outfielder. Or, maybe your center fielder, if Franklin Gutierrez continues to be plagued by health issues. Or, maybe he’s traded. Who knows? Who cares?
With Cano giving you above average power at second, if helps mitigate having no power with Chone Figgins at third.
Yeah, this is all looking pretty good for the M’s. But why shouldn’t it? They’re giving up the best young pitcher in baseball!
If they’re going to deal Hernandez, the Yankees have to make it worth their while.
This isn’t the type of deal where you look for a boatload of prospects still years away.
I’m sure Dellin Betances is a fine pitching prospect. At 6-foot-8, he makes a lot of people salivate. But he’s a Class A pitcher.
The Mariners already have Michael Pineda knocking on the major league rotation door. Betances would be a nice extra tossed into a deal like this. But the Mariners want to contend at some point before the year 2015.
The key to this deal would be to get guys ready for the majors, or already performing well in the majors, right now. That way, you hasten some of the rebuilding.
And if the Yankees won’t do it, no harm done. You hang up the phone.
Sort of what the Diamondbacks just did with Justin Upton. The only reason they put him on the block was to get socks knocked off. When fans and teams around baseball started squaking that “Well, there’s no way we’ll trade our version of Ackley AND Smoak to get him!” then the D-Backs said “Fine, we’ll hang on to him.”
Would the Mariners be willing to part with Hernandez for anything other than a sock-remover deal? Would they trade him in a win-win scenario? Nope.
For proof, you need to look no further than Ichiro. The M’s could have traded him back in 2007 rather than signing him to another long-term deal as he approached his mid-30s. But they simply could not stomach doing it. Couldn’t take the PR hit.
It made plenty of sense to deal Ichiro back when he was a $12-million per year player. Now that he’s an $18-million guy approaching 40, not so much. The team would be hard-pressed to deal the salary alone. You’ll never get value back in return.
That ship has sailed.
Ichiro continues to produce all-star seasons. And the Mariners, since 2007, have lost 101 games twice in three years. They continue to make noise about being hamstrung with cash. So yeah, it made sense to explore an Ichiro deal back when he was at the top of his game and still young enough to get teams to part with players and eat cash. He’s one guy. And one guy alone can’t win championships.
But the M’s couldn’t do it. Can they do it now with Hernandez? Probably not. This type of story makes for a nice mid-winter fantasy. But the reality is, the Mariners probably wouldn’t risk alienating any more fans by dealing their Cy Young Award winner. Even if it made sense to do it.
It doesn’t matter that it’s Jack Zduriencik in the GM chair now and not Bill Bavasi, as was the case in 2007. Deals like this don’t get done strictly at the GM level. Ownership and its representatives would have to sign off on it and have plenty of input all through the process. The same ownership, CEO and president that have been jointly in place for more than a decade.
And it’s unfair of me to place all of this “Don’t have the stomach” thing on them. In the end, it’s the fans who are most unlikely to want to go down this road. Back in June 2008, with the M’s in the midst of a 101-loss season and Ichiro less than a year into his current contract, I wrote this blog post suggesting Seattle might want to trade their leadoff hitter then. Check out some of the fan commentary at the bottom of the post.
Nowadays, I suspect, we’d get a lot more takers for that proposition. The “trade Ichiro” crowd is the trendy thing to be part of these days. But folks, it’s too late now. You have to trade players when they have value to other teams. Not when other teams are just as likely as you are to not want that player around. A trade like this has to hurt, in other words, or it doesn’t get done. If you’d be relieved to deal an aging player and his hefty contract, chances are, another team will be filled with angst at the prospect of taking it on.
And let’s not forget, it takes two to tango. The Yankees are a big part of this “Trade Felix” scenario.
And the Yankees are not in the habit of giving other teams what they want. They seem to approach deals as if it’s their God-given right not to pay through the nose. And frankly, that’s what it would take here. Don’t have a second base replacement for Cano? Not Seattle’s problem. The Yanks have plenty of power hitters up and down the lineup. Sacrifice one at second base and try living like every other team if you want Hernandez.
I doubt they want him that badly.
And that’s why, in the end, this just isn’t a match made in trade heaven.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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