Seattle Mariners‘ ace Felix Hernandez has been the subject of trade rumors season after season. Although general manager Jeff Zduriencik has vehemently denied the possibility of trading his ace, we have heard time and time again of the Mariners’ willingness to deal King Felix for the right package. Of course, such a trade has not yet been actualized.
There is obvious reason for their reluctance. Hernandez is a special talent – a remarkable combination of sturdiness and stuff – and the Mariners would seem silly to deal him away. But year in and year out, the Mariners find ways to lose. They have finished in the basement of the AL West in every season since 2009. That year, they finished just one spot from the bottom.
The time might be now to put him on the table.
Generally, the Mariners have had little trouble with their pitching staff. Last year, Hernandez and now-traded Michael Pineda anchored a strong rotation. The Mariners have consistently finished in the upper half of the league in ERA from their starting staff (6th in 2009; 8th in 2010; 15th in 2011). Unfortunately for the Mariners, as King Felix rifles through his prime years, the team – at least at the big league level – seems to be on a steady downward trend. This year, they rank 22nd in baseball for starter’s ERA, a formidable feat for a rotation anchored by Felix Hernandez. Of course, it becomes far more fathomable when you consider that the rotation behind him consists of Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood, and Blake Beavan, none of whom invoke feelings of confidence moving forward.
What’s worse, however, is the offense behind them. The Mariners have struggled offensively in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to the pitcher-friendly nature of Safeco Field, but a substantial portion of the blame falls on an outright lack of talent.
The Mariners took an important step in redeeming themselves offensively by trading off young Michael Pineda for slugging prospect Jesus Montero. Montero hasn’t been outstanding this year, but it’s hard not to believe in his powerful bat moving forward.
The Mariners took yet another step forward in last month’s MLB Draft by selecting catcher Mike Zunino, who should rocket through the Mariners farm system quickly and further assist in stabilizing a developing offense.
The Mariners also appear to be set up the middle with second basemen Dustin Ackley already in the majors and shortstop Nick Franklin soon on his way.
Fortunately for the Mariners, they look set at some of the most difficult-to-fill positions at the major league level in shortstop, second base, and catcher. Unfortunately, the infusion of young offensive talent ends there. Their farm system lacks ideal positional depth and it is difficult to envision the Mariners filling all three outfield spots with the current complexion of their farm.
The Mariners also have cause for concern at the corner infield positions. Alex Liddi and Justin Smoak still have a shot, but both have shown worrisome difficulties making contact.
The Mariners’ organization has multiple positions to fill. They need outfield help. They need corner infield help. These positions are not particularly difficult to fill, but without the facilitation of trades, it takes time.
Where the Mariners are organizationally strong, in particular, is in the realm of starting pitching. Three of their top five prospects are starting pitchers, in Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton. Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino come in ahead of Paxton – who has experienced significant difficulty with control – and behind Walker and Hultzen. In addition to Seattle’s ‘big three’ stable of arms, the Mariners also have an exciting young right-hander, Victor Sanchez, who, at just 17 years of age, is currently enjoying success in the low-A Northwest League.
It is clear that the Mariners have a plethora of young pitching on the rise. Should those four (Walker, Hultzen, Paxton, Sanchez) continue their success in the major leagues, Seattle will be fine in the pitching department for the foreseeable future with or without King Felix.
So, we have reached a diagnosis: Seattle is set with young pitchers, but needs considerable help on the offensive end. With an uninspiring outfield at the major league level – currently consisting of Casper Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, and Michael Saunders – and a farm system full of pitching but deprived of hitting, the Mariners need to figure out a way to bring in some bats.
Felix Hernandez, without question, would fetch the biggest return of any pitcher in the Mariners’ organization.
What kind of package could Seattle expect to get for Felix? First, they would certainly demand help in the outfield. It is likely that a top center field prospect would be tops on their priority list. They might also demand a top third base prospect, an intriguing corner outfielder, and a high-risk, high-reward arm.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, not many teams have the organizational depth to meet these demands. Certainly, they will not give away one of the best pitchers in baseball, who is still under contract through the end of 2014, for an offer that fails to meet their demands. The Mariners have all the leverage here. However, given the Mariners’ current organizational makeup, it is unlikely – and unlikely may be generous wording – that they will be contending by 2014.
One intriguing option is the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have a center fielder with tremendous upside in Jackie Bradley Jr., who is enjoying a breakout season and currently tearing up the AA Eastern League. It is likely that the Mariners would insist on the addition of Xander Bogaerts – who could end up at third base – to such a deal, but the Red Sox also have Garin Cecchini and Will Middlebrooks as intriguing third base options to satiate the Mariners’ need at the hot corner. Brandon Jacobs is a powerful corner outfielder who could pique the interest of Mariners’ brass, and Matt Barnes is a high upside arm that could polish off an intriguing package for King Felix.
Of course, there is a caveat: the Red Sox are on Felix’s no-trade list. But so are other large market teams: both New York-based teams, both Los Angeles-based teams, the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, and Philadelphia Phillies round out the list. Oftentimes, large market teams are the focus of a no-trade clause because these clubs have the financial capacity to offer the traded player incentives for waiving the no-trade clause. Thus, his no-trade clause should not be considered a significant obstacle to any of these teams acquiring King Felix.
The final say in any Felix Hernandez trade will likely come from the team acquiring the former Cy Young award winner. As of now, it is in the Mariners best interest to trade him should the right package come along. The question, in all likelihood, will be whether a major league team has the interest in parting with three key position player prospects, and likely a high upside arm, in order to acquire King Felix.
The Mariners need substantial help in the hitting department. With such an impressive stable of young arms, the time is now for the Seattle Mariners to pursue a trade for Felix Hernandez.
Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. He also writes, albeit less frequently, on the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.