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Should the Mariners trade Felix Hernandez?

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King Felix has a ton of miles on his arm. So many that it's time to start wondering how much he still has left in his tank.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It's certainly hard to imagine the Mariners getting any worse under Jerry DiPoto than they were under Jack Zduriencik. While a lot is unknown about the former Angels GM, and how he will perform with presumably fewer restrictions than the ones he was operating under in Los Angeles, now is a time for optimism. After all, Jack Z's tenure was an utter disaster, so DiPoto really doesn't have to do much to at least get the M's moving in the right direction.

One guy that he's going to be counting on, however, is Felix Hernandez. The Mariners' stalwart ace has long been one of the best pitchers in the game, and after a disappointing 2015, Seattle needs him to be what he was if they're going to move forward.

It's not that Felix was bad. He absolutely wasn't. But he wasn't King Felix either. Whether you're talking about his 3.53 ERA (his highest since 2007), his 106 ERA+ (his worst since 2006), his decreased strikeout rate, his increased walk and home run rates, or his decline in velocity over the past few years, everything is trending down for him.

Why? Pitches don't age like you and I do. Not a year at a time. No, they age a batter at a time. An inning at a time. A start at a time. And, despite still being under 30 (seriously, can't you believe that?), Hernandez's arm is a lot older.

Felix was a phenom, debuting in 2005 at 19. He's played 11 years now, avoiding major injury and starting no fewer than 31 games since his debut season. Along the way, he's racked up 2262.1 innings, and faced a rather ridiculous 9251 batters. He hasn't been abused, but he also has never really had a break.

Historically speaking the odds are against him, as well. Since 1980, a total of 11 guys make up the combined top 10 lists of innings pitched and batters faced through the age of 30. On those lists, Hernandez currently ranks fourth in innings and batters faced, and second in overall starts. All this, and he still has a season to go. That's amazing, but also alarming when you consider the players on the rest of the list.

Player

IP

Age

GS

BB

SO

ERA

FIP

ERA+

BF

Fernando Valenzuela

2355.1

19-30

322

918

1764

3.34

3.30

107

9893

CC Sabathia

2364.1

20-30

355

725

2017

3.51

3.51

125

9789

Greg Maddux

2365.2

20-30

332

589

1643

2.86

3.01

139

9637

Felix Hernandez

2262.1

19-29

334

630

2142

3.11

3.20

128

9251

Roger Clemens

2222.2

21-30

301

619

2033

2.94

2.75

145

9037

Dwight Gooden

2169.2

19-29

303

651

1875

3.10

2.77

116

8898

Frank Viola

2107.2

22-30

306

608

1469

3.70

3.72

113

8817

Dave Stieb

2122

22-30

298

749

1279

3.32

3.77

128

8804

Mike Witt

2067.1

20-30

290

691

1343

3.80

3.64

106

8744

Javier Vazquez

2062.1

21-30

320

543

1815

4.28

3.95

105

8690

Bret Saberhagen

2074.2

20-30

284

388

1410

3.19

3.06

128

8374

The first thing you'll notice is that the list contains both Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, two of the greatest and most durable pitchers of all time. Javier Vazquez also managed to remain productive and healthy for the overwhelming majority of his career before retiring at 34, while he was still very effective. But the other guys on the list?

  • At age 30, Valenzuela made two starts for the Angels. He had one more healthy and effective season in him.
  • Gooden developed shoulder trouble at 29 and was never the same pitcher again, also proving effective for just a season with significantly reduced velocity.
  • Saberhagen also developed shoulder problems in his late twenties, bounced back with a nice year for the Mets in 1994 before the wheels came completely off. He had more arm problems, missed the better part of two seasons, got two more effective campaign in with the Red Sox at 34 and 35 and was done.
  • Mike Witt started to struggle at 26, but stayed in the rotation and gradually wore himself down to the nub. By 1990, when he was 29, he was pitching out of the bullpen. He started 11 games after turning 30.
  • Viola was incredible through age 30, after which he began to break down. Shoulder trouble forced him to change the way he pitched and he became a junkballer. He was a completely different pitcher in his last effective season at 33.
  • Dave Stieb was labled the pitcher of the 1980s, but by 1989, he was struggling to get by on severely reduced stuff. He developed arm problems and never had any success after undergoing arm surgery in 1993 at the age of 33.
  • And, finally, there's Sabathia, who was a massive star when the Yankees signed him at age 28, and who has struggled with arm and leg problems for the last three years as he's struggled to figure out how to succeed with reduced velocity. His last good season was at 31, and he doesn't seem poised to break out again.

None of which is to say that Felix is destined for the operating table and for an unarrestable decline. Maybe he can find another gear and be a Roger Clemens. Maybe he can be a master craftsman like Maddux. But with another healthy year, Hernandez will easily lead this list in batters faced, innings pitched, and games started through age 30. No one else will have put this mileage on his arm in the last 36 years. History says that guys who do that tend to get worn down to nothing.

So while it will be great if the Mariners get another five years out of Hernandez, Jerry DiPoto absolutely cannot count on that as he works to rebuild their franchise. It literally pains me to type it, but at some point, I wonder if he might be better off trying to unload their ace before he implodes. Since they'll get nothing after.

I mean, no, they won't do it (and a million Mariners fans are going to tell me why I'm wrong and a jerk for even suggesting it). It's Felix, for God's sake. But really, they should at least find out what kind of ridiculous package of prospects they could get for him before it's too late. Because Felix Hernandez is a ticking time bomb.