Felix Hernandez is the Seattle Mariners' best player and it really isn't close. The young talent on the major league roster -- such as Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero -- hasn't taken the step forward in 2012 that the Mariners and their fans had hoped, so the health of the Mariners franchise would be best served by dealing Hernandez now while his value is sky-high to try and get more young, cost-controlled talent to balance out the roster and get a better handle on the finances of an organization whose attendance numbers and revenue sources are dwindling.
That is the opinion of Sports Illustrated Senior Baseball Analyst Tom Verducci in his latest column. Verducci isn't alone in his thinking. FOX Sports Senior Baseball Writer Ken Rosenthal has long advocated the move, and he revisited the thought again just a few weeks ago, painting a picture of the type of value the M's could get in return for such a trade.
Trade Felix now, when his value is at its highest -- because of a contract that carries him through the end of the 2014 season -- they say, and the franchise will get better much faster than it could by hanging on to the 26-year-old right-hander.
Their arguments certainly have some points to consider. Particularly Verducci, who opines that the Venezuelan-born hurler may not be as invincible as we think. He cites results from 14 pitchers prior to Felix that logged 1,500-plus innings by age 26, as Hernandez has, as references. Those results, including the fact that five of the 14 pitchers couldn't even muster 10 more wins after turning 30, are certainly alarming, but look closer at the list and you can see a few reasons why Felix could be the outlier. Most notably, the list of players only includes one pitcher -- a big league teenage phenom in his own right in Dwight Gooden -- that was a starting pitcher in the last 20 years. And I think it is safe to say that his post-30 struggles had nothing to do with his early career workload or even his talent level. The rest of the pitchers from Verducci's sample were from bygone eras. They weren't Felix Hernandez. Felix is different. Different than all of the names on the list. Felix has command, stuff, poise and a confident impertinence. Besides, after 30? Felix won't be 30 for four more years. Again, Felix -- in his eighth major league season for Seattle -- is just 26. Do the Mariners really need to operate out of fear of an impending falloff that is four years away and sell?
Could his stuff take a step back in the next four or five years? Sure it could. Some would argue that it already has -- or at least that it had at the beginning of this 2012 baseball season. Felix went through a rough stretch of three or four games about a month ago, but before that -- back when his fastball was 90-91 and his change-up was 88-89, how was he doing? Pretty good, right? The King was still The King even when his fastball was only 90% of The Artist Formerly Known as The King. And now that the velocity is back to the 93-94 that we're used to seeing? I don't see a 30-year-old wall in his future.
Another point that each of the writers who have trumpeted such a move constantly point to is Hernandez's contract: he is due roughly $40 million over the final two years of his contract. Yes, that is a lot of money for a so called "mid-market" team like Seattle, but as Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker has reminded Mariners fans time and again this season on his blog, it just so happens that the M's are sitting in good position to get a huge financial boost around the time that Felix's contract is expiring in the form a new cable network deal. A deal that very well may already be in the works. New cable network deals in Major League Baseball are the big new source of revenue that teams such as Anaheim and Texas have negotiated as 20-year, $3 billion deals, enabling them to move into a new tax bracket when it comes to player payroll (see: Pujols, Albert and Darvish, Yu). The Mariners get themselves a TV deal along the same lines and Felix's next contract -- which could very easily shake out as the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher -- doesn't seem like such a handicap.
But not only is Felix a unique young talent playing for a team poised to have large financial gains at the perfect time to extend him, but one more detail seems to get missed a lot: Felix Hernandez loves being a Seattle Mariner. Manager Eric Wedge and General Manager Jack Zduriencik have talked time and again about how great a teammate he is, how great a leader he is, and how much of a Seattle Mariner he is. It is easily visible to anyone paying attention that Felix Hernandez -- all 26-years of him -- is the Mariners heart and soul, their leader, their "veteran presence". The emotional leader. And with apologies to Munenori Kawasaki, Felix gets his teammates pumped up like no one else can. Hernandez is all-in for the Mariners. And the Mariners are doing their best to make sure that they can go all in for him and with him. Yes, of course, he wants to win. But he wants to win here. He wants to be part of the club that lifts the City of Seattle up -- even more so, he personally wants to be the one to do that.
And there really is no reason to believe that an extension won't happen. Not because Seattle hasn't done it before, and not because the team keeps losing. The financial situation with this club in two years will be very different. Felix is different. Felix is a Seattle Mariner. And trading him away wouldn't strengthen the club; it would break the city's back. It would rip out its heart. And Felix has a passion for this team and this town.
Silly to talk about things like "heart" in a business like baseball, you say? Probably in most cases. But I argue that the current GM sees the connection that is here and realizes it is bigger than dollars and cents.
Felix Hernandez isn't like the 14 players on that Tom Verducci list. And it isn't inevitable that he will leave Seattle -- be it by his decision or by that of the dreaded Mariners ownership group -- when his deal expires in two years. Thinking that way is understandably the product of a scorned fan base, but it is a defeatist attitude rooted in skepticism, not in reality.
Not this time. Not with Felix. Felix is different. Felix is a Seattle Mariner.
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