Part of this is understandable: King Felix, who won the Cy Young Award last season, has a combination of youth and ability that makes him the most valuable pitching property in all of baseball.
But all of this trade speculation tends to overlook the most basic of facts: There is absolutely no incentive for the Mariners to trade Felix. None whatsoever.
1. He likes it in Seattle.
Seattle has all sorts of experience in dealing with superstar players who did not want to be there; heck, the Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez – the biggest free agent in MLB history – because of that very reason. That does not appear to be the case for Felix, who has consistently said that he likes playing in Seattle and wants to be a part of the rebuilding process. His contract status reflects this very fact.
Had Felix decided to wait on signing a contract extension until after the end of the 2010 season, he would have been the pitching equivalent of A-Rod: a young superstar coming off a season in which he was the most valuable player (in terms of WAR) in all of baseball yet just approaching the prime years of his career. It’s very likely that Felix could have commanded a $200 million contract had he gone to free agency.
Instead, Felix decided to stay in Seattle, forgoing his final year of arbitration and signing a 5-year, $80 million deal. Included in the deal is a no-trade clause that includes such heavyweights like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies (which may be negotiating leverage, but can hardly be taken as a sign of unhappiness).
(It’s also hard to make the case that being in Seattle is holding Felix back; after all, he did win the Cy Young Award last season despite the team’s fortunes. Hopefully, his award was a much-needed referendum on the uselessness of a pitcher’s won-loss record, but that’s another article for another day.)
Seattle now has the most valuable property in all of baseball signed to a below-market deal through the 2014 season.
He is also happy to be on the club. Why in the world would they want to give that up?
2. Seattle is not a small-market team.
However, it’s also important to remember that we are talking about a team that can afford to employ King Felix and other players like him. The Mariners currently rank 16th in MLB with a $86.5 million payroll, and this total is nearly identical to last year’s 14th-ranked total.
However, their payroll is the lowest it has been since 2004 ($81.5 million), and the Mariners are just three years removed from becoming the first team in MLB history to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll ($117.6 million in 2008).
The club has consistently ranked in the top half of MLB payrolls since the opening of Safeco Field in 1999, and since then the team has also been one of MLB’s most consistently profitable teams.
The club also has one of the lowest amount of long-term debt in all of baseball, meaning that the club should remain strong financially for the foreseeable future.
Considering that the Mariners have already gone well over $100 million, there’s no reason to believe that they cannot do so again.
3. He is still very young.
Because Felix has been in the Majors since 2005, people tend to forget that he just turned 25 on April 8th. For example, the past two seasons have been virtually identical for Felix in terms of effectiveness; he finished 2nd to Zach Greinke in the 2009 Cy Young race, then beat out five different starters (David Price, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Jared Weaver, and Clay Buchholz) in the 2010 race.
And Felix is actually younger than all of them.
Teams that are trying to rebuild are looking for players who are both talented and young. Felix is not only the best pitcher in the AL, but also the youngest among his closest competition. Trading a player like that makes absolutely no sense.
4. Seattle might not be that far from contention.
Even after last night’s loss, the Mariners currently sit at 16-18 (tied with Detroit for 8th in the AL) and are just three games out of first place in the AL West. They have done so without the services of Franklin Gutierrez, who has been out all season with a mysterious illness but is the best defensive player in baseball when healthy.
Yes, Seattle lost 102 games last season and had arguably the worst offense in MLB history, but that was due to virtually everything occurring as the worst-case outcome and wasn’t something that was particularly sustainable from year-to-year. Seattle made very small changes to their lineup from last year, yet have improved seven spots on the MLB leaderboard for scoring.
The Mariners also have some of the best young talent in the game: Justin Smoak is already carrying the offense, and Dustin Ackley – perhaps the best hitting prospect in baseball – ready to be called up at midseason.
In short, there is no reason why Seattle can be a contender in the very near future.
5. Michael Pineda is NOT a replacement.
One of the most peculiar arguments I have seen in support of trading Felix is that the emergence of Michael Pineda gives the Mariners a potential ace as a replacement. This argument only works if you believe in the idea that a team only needs one ace starting pitcher or think that Felix and Pineda can start every single day.
First off, while Pineda has been outstanding so far, he is a mere one month into his MLB career and has yet to even face every AL team. He also might not have the arm strength built up quite yet, which is why the Mariners are being very cautious with him (much like they were with Felix).
And second, why isn’t building around a pair of aces a smart thing to do? Seriously… the Phillies have been widely celebrated for putting together a rotation for the ages. Seattle has the ability to do so in a more organic fashion, and people think they shouldn’t do so.
This isn’t the same as trading a lumbering first baseman in order to make way for a top prospect; Felix and Pineda are unlikely to ever pitch in the same game or even on the same day. Why not keep both?
The Seattle Mariners have a fantastic young core to build around, and Felix is a major part of that core. There is no reason whatsoever for the Mariners to consider dealing him.
Sure, I’d trade him in a second if Tampa Bay offered both Evan Longoria and David Price, but then again I’d also buy a new house and car if I won the Powerball jackpot. A Godfather-like situation like that is something that will never happen, and anything short of that makes no sense.
Felix Hernandez is a Mariner. End of story.