At first glance it seems completely insane for the Seattle Mariners to even consider trading star pitcher Felix Hernandez. The 2010 Cy Young award winner is coming off one of the greatest seasons ever by an American League pitcher, posting a 2.27 ERA, 3.04 FIP and an 8.3 K/9.
The Mariners, however, won just 61 games last year and scored the fewest runs in baseball (74 runs less than the Pittsburgh Pirates.) They did acquire top prospect Justin Smoak from the Texas Rangers last season in the Cliff Lee trade and have second baseman Dustin Ackley and starting pitcher Michael Pineda on the way.
Hernandez is only one year into a five-year $78 million deal, but can the Mariners challenge for a playoff spot in the next four years?
It doesn't look like they can.Ichiro Suzuki's deal expires after the 2012 season. The perennial All-Star still batted .315/.359/.394 and swiped 42 bases last year despite the lack of lineup support around him. But, at age 38 at the end of his current deal, one has to assume his regression -- modest as it is -- will continue from his MVP season in 2001 when he took the league by storm and hit .350/.381/.457.
The M's inked infielder Chone Figgins to a four-year deal last off-season to play second base, but after hitting .259/.340/.306 and fighting in the dugout with former manager Don Wakamatsu, the former All-Star for the Los Angeles Angels might be out of town before his deal expires in 2013.
As promising as Smoak, Ackley and Pineda seem, the Major League roster is filled with holes. Holes that should be filled with young, high-ceiling talent -- not overpriced veterans. Hernandez could land the Mariners a package that tops the talent the Padres acquired from Boston this December in the Adrian Gonzalez swap. The Padres received two out of Boston's three best prospects -- pitcher Casey Kelly and first baseman Anthony Rizzo -- both of whom rank among the 40 best prospects in baseball, according to ESPN's Keith Law.
Buster Olney said in his blog on ESPN today that, although speculation circled about the Yankees pursuing Hernandez after Andy Pettitte announced his retirement, Hernandez would never ask out of town.
"[Hernandez's] mindset is nothing like Zack Greinke's mindset before Greinke essentially forced his way out of Kansas City," Olney said.
"Felix Hernandez is fully embracing his time with the Mariners."
Olney went on to say that Hernandez is one of the few M's players who lives in Seattle in the off-season, participates regularly in team events throughout the winter and even speaks to sponsors on behalf of the Mariners. Olney suggests Hernandez sees himself as the "face of the franchise" and he could one day draw comparisons to Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken, both of whom had legendary careers on one franchise.
Despite his love for Seattle, general manager Jack Zduriencik should listen when the phone rings to inquire about the Venezuelan right-hander. Maybe the Yankees can't assemble a package worthy of Hernandez (the M's turned down the Yankees proposal for Cliff Lee last year that centered around catching prospect Jesus Montero), but another contender might, and the Mariners need the pieces if they're serious about rebuilding a team that hasn't been to the postseason in a decade.