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    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Why Would the Mariners Move Felix Hernandez? And Would the Cardinals Even Want Him?

    I swear I read baseball websites other than ESPN, but for some reason, I always seem more prone to respond to their articles with some sort of rebuttal. Today’s issue: Should the Mariners trade Felix Hernandez? David Schoenfield says yes. Why is that, David?

    “In a nutshell:
    1. The Mariners’ best chance of becoming relevant before Albert Pujols' contract expires lies in pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.
    2. If you have three good starting pitchers, you can afford to trade Hernandez.
    3. Under contract through 2014, Hernandez’s trade value is as high as ever right now.
    4. The Mariners are not going to be competitive in the next two seasons.
    5. He has thrown a lot of innings at a young age. He's a pitcher. Pitchers get hurt.
    Look where the Mariners stand. They’re competing against the Rangers and Angels, two franchises deep in talent and financial resources. Trying to build an 85-win club and hope you catch a few breaks isn’t going to cut it. You have to aim bigger.”

    In his credit, he is kind enough to provide reasons for not making this trade as well:

    “1. These trades never work out...
    2. The Mariners will lose their fan base...
    3. Felix loves Seattle and says he wants to pitch there forever. ”

    Somehow, I feel like he’s wrong in almost every way, on both sides of the issue.

    First, there’s the idea of the Mariners’ best chances of becoming relevant. Yes, it will help with some (or all) of those pitchers becoming good. But pitching prospects are notoriously uncertain, so you could pencil in maybe one of those three as a key component of the next good Mariners, two if you’re lucky. There’s good reason to hope on them, too; they’re all really good prospects. But there’s still a lot of room for error.

    You know what would help the Mariners become good even sooner? If some combination of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Jesus Montero, and Hector Noesi develop as expected. That’s a lot of potential. Every one of those players is 25 or under, and every one of them comes with a solid pedigree. If some of them take steps forward, then the Mariners could make a solid run.

    Now, the second problem; Schoenfield’s idea that you can trade Hernandez because he’s expendable with three good starters. That is absolutely true; the question is, where are the three good starters making King Felix expendable? I already said of the three prospects he mentioned, maybe one will be solid. There’s one. I mentioned Noesi. He’s maybe a half, since, as stated, he hasn’t developed as expected so far. Who’s number three that isn’t Felix? Kevin Millwood? Jason Vargas? Both of them should be gone come August for prospects, let alone three years from now. There are plenty of teams looking into innings-eaters like them. So how exactly is Felix excessive?

    Schoenfield is probably right when he says that Felix’s trade value is now at its peak. There are other starters who will come cheaper (everyone from Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke to Millwood and Vargas), but teams generally become more willing to trade at the deadline. It probably comes close to a wash.

    But saying the Mariners will not compete in the next two season? I pointed out that there’s still a lot of potential on the team. What if you make this trade and next season, Seager, Ackley, Montero, and Smoak all put it together? That’s great, but the rotation is suddenly led by Hector Noesi. The three probably won’t all put it together at the same time. But sudden turn-arounds are possible. No one expected the Mets or Orioles or Dodgers to compete this year, or the Pirates or White Sox to lead their divisions. It’s baseball. Weirder stuff has happened.

    Point five is more or less true also, I suppose. We still have little idea how pitchers develop or get injured. Hernandez may get injured in the next few years. He may not. We can’t be sure.

    He’s right about the difficulty in catching the Angels and Rangers. But, at the same time, those teams are probably both set for the next five years at least. Do you just keep punting every season until 2017? On top of that, there are two Wild Cards now. As silly as the idea was, there’s a very good chance that something like 88 wins is now enough to make October, and anything can happen from there.

    Now, for the reasons not to make the trade. These trades do, in fact, rarely work out. Schoenfield points to the three Cliff Lee trades, the CC Sabathia trade, and the Zack Greinke trade. Together, those five trades have made almost no difference for their teams. There are more like that; the two Matt Holliday trades have led to Carlos Gonzalez for the Rockies, a player who is about as good as Holliday right now, but with the added factor of a huge home-road split (1.155 OPS at home vs. .777 on the road*). There’s the Johan Santana trade, in which the Twins ended up with nothing but broken prospect dreams. Dan Haren’s two big trades more or less resulted in Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson for the A’s, and Joe Saunders and promising prospect Tyler Skaggs for the Diamondbacks. For Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays got promising prospect Travis d’Arnaud and disappointing sort-of-still-a-prospect Kyle Drabek.

    *Coors Field probably accentuates the split, but I think it’s a fair question of how much of Gonzalez’s game is due to his park.
    But Schoenfield tries to cover for it by pointing out the times it works. Yeah, occasionally, you get a Bartolo Colon-to-Montreal or Mark Teixeira-to-Atlanta type trade in which the selling team is set up for years, but the more realistic expectation seems to be maybe a player who’s as good as the one you gave up.

    The other two points are a little more abstract. I’ve often wondered how necessary it is for a team to have a franchise player. Attendance will probably dip immediately after the trade, but if it works, it will go up in the long run. That’s probably the safest answer. And for Felix’s comments, as a Cardinals fan, I would like to point out that Albert Pujols said similar things while he was in St. Louis.

    Speaking of the Cardinals, he proposes sending Felix to St. Louis. His proposed package? Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, and Tyrell Jenkins (maybe). I would shoot that down in a second. That’s something like three of our top four prospects. A similar Mariners package would be Danny Hultzen, Taijun Walker (two of those starters Schoenfield was so high on), and Nick Franklin, possibly even more. Expecting that type of haul for Felix Hernandez is pretty close to a pipe dream.

    And why do the Cardinals have any motivation to do this? Their rotation already includes Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. Jaime Garcia will be back from injury before the end of the year, and is signed long-term. Kyle Lohse has been solid this year (although his contract expires at the end of the season). And then they have their own trio of promising pitchers, in Miller, Jenkins, and Carlos Martinez. If they need help anywhere this year, it’s the bullpen.

    In short, I don’t see Felix Hernandez moving anywhere at the moment, much less this year or to St. Louis.

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