MLB Trade Scenario: The Red Sox & Mariners Should Do a Deal for Felix Hernandez
Hear me out on this one before you dismiss it out of hand.
I know that every previous offer for right-handed starter Felix Hernandez has been rebuffed by Seattle, and he supposedly wants to finish his career there, but here’s a road map for getting a deal done.
Seattle’s greatest strength is its starting pitching, starting with King Felix and followed by Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas. In the minors they have a gaggle of arms that many consider to be major-league-ready, or close to it: James Paxton, Danny Hultzen (the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft) and Taijuan Walker. Mauricio Robles and Dan Cortes are also in the wings.
However, Seattle has an abysmally bad offense, so bad that many superb pitching efforts are wasted. This year they were dead last in all of MLB in most offensive statistics: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBI, runs scored, hits and OPS.
In the process the Mariners set the franchise record for worst-ever team batting average (.233), breaking the previous record, set in 2010, of .236.
Their .292 on-base percentage followed a .296 OBP in 2010, making Seattle the first team to have an OBP of under .300 since the mound was lowered in 1969.
By contrast, the Red Sox hit .280 in 2011 and have hit less than .260 only once in the last 39 years (.246 in 1992).
The Mariners have holes at DH, left field, third base and shortstop, and they need to fill those holes with good sticks—preferably left-handed hitters who can take advantage of the short porch in right at Safeco Field. To get such bats, and provide more balance in their lineup, Seattle must give up some pitching.
As mentioned above, some say that Felix is now part of the fabric of Seattle and that he does not want to leave.
As the Red Sox know, Adrian Gonzalez had a similar situation in San Diego, his birthplace. As well ensconced as he was in that city’s Hispanic community, he was still traded when the business of baseball demanded it. At the same time, Gonzalez knew that coming to Boston gave him a chance to compete for a ring every year—in addition to the nice contract extension and salary bump.
Hernandez does have a contract which allows him to veto a trade to 10 teams. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, Felix blocked (in alphabetical order) the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers (along with two other unknown teams).
Just looking at the list, one thing pops out: all these teams are large-budget franchises. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Hernandez would not want to play for any of these teams; in fact, the opposite may well be true. Such a no-trade clause could be used as leverage to obtain a significant contract extension for Hernandez to agree to the deal.
I guarantee you that Felix will leave in a New York minute when his contract is up in 2014 if the Mariners have not become a competitive team with a chance to go deep into the playoffs.
Interestingly enough, the best way for that to happen is if Hernandez is traded away now to get the necessary bats for Seattle to make a run.
The slides to follow outline one way a deal could get done.
1. Red Sox Start with Including Star Power in the Deal: LF Carl Crawford
The Red Sox need to include someone in the deal who has major upside, and could deflect the potential wrath of the Seattle fan base resulting from the departure of Hernandez.
It is possible that Carl Crawford may have a breakout year in 2012, making everyone forget about his disastrous 2011.
I have a feeling, however, that such a banner year is more likely to happen away from Fenway Park, the Red Sox clubhouse and the city of Boston.
Crawford would fill a major Seattle hole in left field and significantly upgrade the Mariners offense. The eminently reachable right-field porch beckons to a left-handed hitter like Crawford. With his gap power and speed, I can envision doubles and triples galore to the other fields. He has hit a robust .347 in 35 career games at Safeco.
However, since one of the main goals of this trade is to free up money for Seattle, the Red Sox would also commit to pay a negotiated portion of Crawford’s remaining contract ($120 million over six years).
2. As a Condition to Getting Hernandez, Red Sox Accept Ichiro Suzuki in the Deal
Ichiro had a sub-par season in 2011, he is 38 years old and he is due $17 million for 2012, the last year of his contract. While the Mariners will be careful not to diss one of the best players in franchise history, they would welcome the chance to get out from under Ichiro's huge contract.
As a 10/5 player (10 years in MLB, five with the same team), Ichiro can't be traded without his consent. But the opportunity to win a World Series before he retires may cause him to accept a trade.
Dealing Ichiro would require Seattle to do it in a way that saved face, both for Ichiro and the team, especially since the principal owner of the Mariners is Japanese. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the largest shareholder in Nintendo Corporation, would have to be able to justify the trade.
The solution to that problem is…
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka Also Goes to the Mariners.
By including Daisuke in the deal, the Red Sox could soften the blow to the large Japanese community in the Pacific Northwest. Matsuzaka is also in the final year of his contract, under which he is due $10 million.
Daisuke has started 6 games in Seattle and has posted an ERA of 3.05.
Yes, he is on the disabled list, but that is not an obstacle to a trade. So long as the receiving team is willing to accept a disabled player, the commissioner's office can approve the deal.
The Red Sox could include a performance clause to protect Seattle in case Matsuzaka does not come back as hoped from Tommy John surgery. If he does come back, Seattle will have gained another, younger, Japanese icon with some upside.
4. The Red Sox Also Take IF Chone Figgins and His Burdensome Contract
The Mariners would also love to move Figgins, who has done little to earn the four-year, $36 million deal he signed in 2010.
Figgins is owed $17 million over the next two years, with a $9 million option for 2014 that vests if he gets 600 plate appearances in 2013.
Despite his abysmal year, there is every hope that a change of scenery could prove 2011 to be an aberration. If not, well, OK. But taking him could be part of the price the Red Sox would have to pay for Felix Hernandez.
5. Seattle Also Gets SS Jed Lowrie, 1B Lars Anderson and OF Josh Reddick
Reddick and Anderson are young left-handed hitters with some pop. Lowrie is a switch hitter who could provide a relatively inexpensive upgrade at shortstop, as well as infield depth.
To get such bats, Seattle needs to move some more of that pitching depth.
6. Seattle Adds RP Brandon League to Its Side of the Package
While Brandon League has performed well out of the bullpen (37 saves in 2011 with a 2.79 ERA), some people think that a closer on a team buried in the cellar isn’t pitching under pressure. The Mariners know that League would be viewed elsewhere as a setup man, thus reducing his value.
Including him in a package like this gives the Mariners the highest potential return.
7. Why This Deal Makes Sense for Seattle
To recap, here's the entire package. Seattle trades Felix Hernandez, Brandon League, Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki for Carl Crawford, Lars Anderson, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Daisuke Matsuzaka and cash.
Even with Hernandez gone, Seattle will still have an excellent rotation, led by Michael Pineda, who many think will eventually outperform King Felix.
Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are both left-handers with great upside. With Jason Vargas, that would give Seattle three lefty starters, which makes a lot of sense given the hitter-friendly right field area. The growth of this young staff should be a key factor in the Mariners' willingness to let Hernandez go.
Hernandez is also an $18.5 million pitcher this year. The entire team payroll is only $86.5 million, so Felix eats up more than 21 percent of it.
Seattle would save $35 million on the Ichiro and Figgins deals this year. Subtract the Hernandez salary, add in the cash sweetener the Red Sox would provide on Crawford's contract and Seattle would be incredibly well positioned financially to compete for one of the major left-handed, free-agent bats.
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik must have his eye on 28-year-old Prince Fielder; Zduriencik was the director of scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers when they drafted him seventh overall in 2002. Doing this trade would ensure that Seattle would have enough money to sign him
They would also have more than enough to pay Jason Vargas, who will hit a home run in arbitration this year.
So, one way to look at this deal is Hernandez for Fielder and a number of left-handed hitting prospects—with the added bonus of getting rid of two burdensome contracts.
8. Why This Deal Works for the Red Sox
To help overcome the bitter taste in the mouths of Red Sox Nation, the Red Sox should make a play for at least one highly ranked star. J.D. Drew and his five-year, $70 million deal will finally come off the books this year.
Factor in raises for Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and a big arbitration bump for Ellsbury, and the Red Sox should still be about $52 million better off this year salary-wise than last year, so there is conceivably room for at least one big acquisition.
With Gonzalez firmly in place at first base, pursuing Fielder, Pujols or Votto makes little sense. A stud starting pitcher should be the Red Sox target.
Obviously, the key to this deal is getting Felix Hernandez, a true ace who can dominate at Fenway. In his career, Felix has a 2.59 ERA in Boston, striking out 39 in 42 2/3 innings, and holding Red Sox batters to a .220 average.
Virtually everything else in this deal is structured to give the Mariners fair value for Hernandez.
While taking Ichiro is somewhat of a risk, it’s no worse than the Marlins trade that netted Josh Beckett. The Marlins insisted the Red Sox take an allegedly aging and overpaid Mike Lowell as part of the deal.
And how did that work out?
Ichiro has had only one sub-par year, and chances are that he can bounce back. He would be a great defensive outfielder in Fenway, and if he were patrolling right field for a year or two that would not be a bad thing while Ryan Kalish develops.
Yes, he is a left-handed bat, but including Crawford in the trade opens up left field for a right-handed free agent power hitter, such as Josh Willingham.
Chone Figgins killed the Red Sox when he played for the Angels. [NOTE: I’m assuming in this scenario that Boston is also parting ways with Kevin Youkilis in a separate trade for bullpen help, a fifth starter and/or a right-handed hitting outfielder.]
Figgins, who has a career batting average of .290 at Fenway, could be slotted in at third, but he can also play second and the outfield.
Brandon League is a decent reliever who could be moved into the 8th-inning slot, assuming Daniel Bard is given a shot at starting.