Since reeling off 19 victories and an ERA of 2.49, Felix Hernandez has constantly been the focus of trade rumors, most of them having to do with the New York Yankees.
I'm here to tell you, and every Yankees "fan" out there (I use the term fan loosely due to the fact that, like the Lakers, most Yankee "fans" are only fans when the team is doing well), why Hernandez isn't going to be traded by the Mariners anytime in the immediate future.
After the 2009 season, the Seattle Mariners signed Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million contract extension, which keeps him in Seattle until after the 2014 season.
This deal was extremely team friendly for the Mariners because it allowed them to buy out his last year of arbitration and extend him for four years at a reasonable price. Next season, his salary will be $19.5 million, which is still a lot of money, but King Felix could have refused and opted to enter free agency after the 2010 season, and his contract extension would be just a fraction of what he would have earned.
Never before has an ace starting pitcher coming off the first Cy Young award of his career hit the free agent market at the age of 24. Had he refused to sign the extension, that would have been the platform for the most lucrative contract ever given to a starting pitcher and possibly to any player in the history of Major League Baseball. Hernandez and his agent both were aware of this (obviously not that he would win the Cy Young, but that was just icing on the cake), and Hernandez made the choice to stay in Seattle at a steeply discounted rate.
That being said, the only teams that can afford to pay him what he is earning are all blocked by the no-trade clause in his contract. That means that, unless the Mariners decide to trade him AND pay a lot of his salary, they can only trade him to teams that are on his no-trade clause, probably for a lesser package of prospects, unless Hernandez waives his no-trade clause. It goes to reason that teams that have struggled for decades would be the more loaded franchises, prospect-wise, and the worse a team does the more likely it is to be strapped for cash.
The second reason Felix Hernandez will more than likely not be traded is the fact that the Mariners lack incentive to trade him.
Hernandez is 25, signed to a long-term deal and he is a bona fide ace. Players at Felix's age are rarely aces of their respective staffs. Hernandez is not only the ace on his staff but could probably be the ace on any team other than the Phillies. He's the second best pitcher in baseball and the best pitcher in the American League.
Everyone says the Mariners will trade him because they aren't contending this season. What those rumor mongers fail to point out is that the Mariners were never expected to contend this year. In fact, they were never expected to do as well as they are right now.
Contrary to popular belief, the Mariners are in a good position to contend in the near future—at least before the end of Hernandez's current contract. They have their second baseman for the long term, their first baseman for the long term and prospects that can fill many of the holes that exist on the current roster before Hernandez's contract expires. A few free agent signings (and make no mistake, the franchise has money) and they could contend as soon as next season.
The future of the Mariners is bright, and the brightest part appears to be the pitching staff.
With Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda already making a formidable one-two punch, Jason Vargas being an inconsistent but good No. 3 starter, Doug Fister possibly set to become the best 20-game loser in the last 20 years and Blake Beavan filling in very nicely for the injured Erik Bedard who also has been pitching out of his mind, the Mariners are set for starters this year.
Add in the fact that Taijuan Walker is looking like a potential No. 1 pitcher (it's early, but 83 strikeouts in 62 innings is no joke no matter what level you play at), James Paxton working his way up the minors and Danny Hultzen about to join him the Mariners rotation could be exceptional for the next decade.
By 2013, the Mariners could have a pitching rotation like this:
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Michael Pineda
3. Danny Hultzen
4. Taijuan Walker
5. Blake Beavan/James Paxton
Not only is that a good, solid rotation top to bottom, but it is also cheap, making other players on the current staff expendable. Vargas, Fister and Bedard won't bring in as much as Hernandez would, but it gives the team the added bonus of keeping Felix.
Pitchers who pitch in good rotations perform better than pitchers who constantly have the pressure of ending a losing streak or keeping the team in contention on their shoulders. There's no reason Felix Hernandez wouldn't want the luxury of heading a rotation like the one above.
The general consensus of every rumor about Felix Hernandez is that he will be traded to the New York Yankees for a package consisting of Jesus Montero and a few other prospects.
What baffles a lot of Seattle fans is that a lot of the rumors expect the Mariners to trade Hernandez to the Yankees for virtually the same package they turned down when they traded Cliff Lee last year.
Why is that baffling? Because Cliff Lee is 32, and he was a half-year rental. Why on earth would a team refuse a trade for a player who is a half-year rental and then turn around and accept the same package as was previously offered for a 25-year-old pitcher who has three years left on his contract? How does that make sense to so many Yankee fans?
Montero is a player without a position, which means that, more likely than not, he will be a career DH because his only value is in his bat. He's a two-tool player: He makes good contact and has good power. He can't stick as a catcher because defensively he's no good. He could be a first baseman but the Yankees are set there (and so are the Mariners, for that matter).
Then there are the "untouchables" of the New York Yankees farm system: Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, both of whom project to be good pitchers, possibly No. 1 pitchers. The problem with that scenario is that—more than any other top prospects—pitchers more often than not don't work out. Injuries are a part of that, since an arm injury is much more career threatening and career altering for a pitcher than it is for a position player. Not to mention that most Yankee fans want to hang on to one of these pitchers, meaning the M's would only get one of them.
The rest of the package is mostly filler and B prospects.
Nothing that the New York Yankees have is something that will help the Mariners contend any sooner than what they already have. They have pitching prospects who project as aces. They have players with no position who haven't yet proven they can hit big league pitching. They have a whole slew of B prospects at their disposal.
What's the incentive to send the best pitcher in the AL to the Yankees?
As hard as it is for some people accept it, Felix Hernandez wants to be in Seattle. If he didn't want to be here, he wouldn't be here.
King Felix has stated over and over that he wants to stay in Seattle.
He, unlike most professional ballplayers, makes his year-round home in the same city he plays in. He and his wife are deeply involved in the community, participating in local events, fundraisers and charities. They enjoy the city that has embraced them, the city that helped him become a star.
Hernandez has wanted to be in Seattle all along. As an international free agent, he was being pursued by many different teams as a 16-year-old throwing 96 mph in Venezuela. The Yankees were among the teams who pursued him and eventually offered him a contract. He refused, instead taking the offer of the Seattle Mariners, even though it was worth less money.
He refused to test free agency, knowing full well that he would likely get more money that way, instead opting to re-up with Seattle. Speculation has abounded that he will leave after this contract, but during the 2011 All-Star break Hernandez stated that he wants to be in Seattle for the long term, even going so far as to say that he would like to re-up with the team for another five years after his current contract.
If that doesn't show confidence in the direction the Mariners are headed, I'm not sure what does.