MLB Trade Rumors: Mariners' Felix Hernandez May Stay, but Not Due To No-Trade

Stephen MeyerDeputy MLB EditorMarch 22, 2011

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has been one of the hottest stories of the MLB offseason, but not resulting from his 2010 Cy Young or his actions on or off the field.

Trade speculation has been rampant and relentless regarding the American League’s best pitcher, as Hernandez’s Mariners team walks the tightrope of adding payroll or starting from scratch in a rebuild.

FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi recently revealed eight of the 10 teams in Hernandez’s much-discussed no-trade clause, and all of them were high-profile and high-payroll organizations.

The list included the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs—which inevitably caused outcry for the “King Felix to the Yankees” talk to stop for good.

The problem with that logic is a clear misunderstanding of the no-trade process and why a pitcher of Hernandez’s skill set would construct one in this framework.

Are we to believe that King Felix, a man with ice water running through his veins and an unrelenting competitiveness, would suddenly get cold feet about large-market baseball?

Additionally, we’re to take seriously the notion he would all but eliminate every MLB team that could pay the astronomical salary he’ll command when the time comes for an extension?

This no-trade construction is simply a savvy move by an agent that is doing his job—maximizing the earning potential of his best and most desirable client.

The Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox and Cubs of the world are included not because Hernandez would never pitch there.

These teams are instead chosen for two key reasons:

1. The larger payroll markets are most likely to not only afford Felix’s salary in the short and long term, but also pursue a trade for him in order to make a run at a title.

2. Players with no-trade clauses in their contracts have the ability to be “compensated for forfeiture” of that right in order to complete a deal. As a result, Felix can essentially be “bought out” without losing a dime of his contractual value ($20.03 million per year from 2012 to 2014).

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has repeatedly shot down any rumors of the situation and he has no motivation to do otherwise.

It is far too early to even consider moving your franchise player—especially in the most wide-open AL West in recent memory.

Felix is happy in Seattle, the Mariners are thrilled to have him and they have every reason to believe they’ll contend in the near future.

Do I believe that a trade is imminent in 2011? No, absolutely not.

Do I believe a third season in four years of between 60 and 65 victories could begin to sway that opinion after 2011? Yes, I do.

If Seattle struggles as a franchise until the July 2012 trading deadline, they will be forced to reevaluate the future of the organization—including Ichiro Suzuki in his contract year and Felix representing about 50 percent of current 2013 payroll obligations.

They will have plenty of money to spend and prospects to groom over the next 12 months, but much like LeBron James in Cleveland, they’ll have to show Felix he can win a title there…and soon.

The odds of Hernandez ending up in pinstripes—or any other MLB uniform—is very slim in 2011. They are not even one percentage point lower, however, than they were before word of his no-trade reached the news wire.

If Felix stays a Mariner for the duration of his contract, it will be because they build a team around him, maintain a stable financial position and establish the groundwork for a World Series contender.

It will not, however, be based on a disinterest in pitching for large-market teams or a devout commitment to his no-trade clause.

It is important to first understand the real reasons behind a no-trade before assuming a player’s motive.

Felix would not prefer to pitch in Cleveland or Kansas City as opposed to New York or Chicago, but that does not mean he will move out of Seattle in the near future, either.

One thing can be said for certain amidst all of the speculation and frustration: Interested teams will never stop trying to change Seattle’s mind.

The Mariners would demand a player ransom that could make the Twins feel like they got fleeced in the AJ Pierzynski deal, but this would be one occasion where a US organization would negotiate with terrorists.