Felix Hernandez won't be on the trading block yet again, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik has long been adamant about keeping his franchise star, beating back relentless trade rumors over the past couple years. And considering Hernandez's talent, you can't really argue with him, at first glance.
But as the trade deadline nears with all the rumors swirling around starting pitching—and considering just how dismal the Mariners are in the tough AL West—the question has to be asked: why does Seattle stubbornly insist on hanging onto their ace?
King Felix holds enormous trade value in a league where legitimate aces are valued above all else. Zduriencik should know this better than anyone. Just this past offseason, he managed to flip promising, but largely unproven, starter Michael Pineda for one of the most prized hitting prospects in the game in Jesus Montero.
Hernandez would undoubtedly warrant much more on the trading block than Pineda, an infusion of talent that these Mariners desperately need. He's what every GM dreams of: a true workhorse who does nothing but eat up innings and rack up strikeouts. He's also under contract through 2014, a whole lot of team control for contenders looking at pennant races both present and future.
Zduriencik's stance would be more understandable if the Mariners were on the way up, or at least showing signs of life. But the team has finished in the bottom two in the AL in runs scored for the past four years, a trend that will almost definitely continue in 2012. The prospects that were supposed to serve as cornerstones—Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, etc.— have all disappointed so far at the major league level.
Combine that with the fact that Seattle is stuck behind two perennial powers in Texas and Anaheim in their own division, and there's no escaping the fact that the M's are years away from serious contention.
The clock is ticking for the Mariners to capitalize on their ace, and Seattle doesn't seem capable of putting enough talent on the field to contend before Hernandez becomes a free agent at the end of 2014.
They could also wait until his walk year and then offer an extension, but that has a lot of risks for a rebuilding team.
On the free market, Hernandez will command a record-breaking deal along the lines of the 7-year, $161 million behemoth C.C. Sabathia inked in 2009. That's a lot of years to offer a guy with over 1,500 innings on his arm already—remember, he came up as a 19-year old phenom way back in 2005. Very few starting pitchers even get deep into their thirties, and even fewer pitch well enough to warrant a nine-figure contract (I'm looking at you, Barry Zito.) It's not a risk the small-market Mariners can afford at this stage.
Bottom line: the time to part with King Felix is now. I realize it's tough to part ways with the beloved face of your franchise, particularly when your franchise has been pretty terrible, but it's the quickest way for Seattle to start digging themselves out of the cellar. And really, winning games will fill a lot more seats than watching Felix Hernandez take another hard-luck loss ever would.
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