If I’m Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, I’m calling my Yankees counterpart, Brian Cashman, and saying, “Sure, I’ll talk about Felix Hernandez.”
Then I’m rattling off names:
Jesus Montero, who last summer was the centerpiece of the Yankees’ offer to the M’s for left-hander Cliff Lee.
Left-hander Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances, either of whom eventually could replace Hernandez as the Mariners’ ace.
Right-hander Ivan Nova, who could slot immediately into the major-league rotation.
And two others from the Yankees’ talent-rich grab bag. Maybe right-hander Hector Noesi. Maybe infielder Eduardo Nunez. Maybe second baseman David Adams, whose right-ankle injury helped torpedo the Yankees’ attempt to acquire Lee from Seattle last June.
Five for one. As rich a 5-for-1 as Zduriencik can imagine without being ridiculous. Actually, seeing as how Hernandez is A) the reigning American League Cy Young winner; B) about to turn 25; and C) under contract through 2014, I’m not sure any request would be ridiculous.
However, Zduriencik will not even initiate a conversation. He is adamant that he is not shopping or trading Hernandez. And unless he is posturing — few GMs would ever publicly acknowledge a willingness to move a pitcher of Hernandez’s caliber — he is making a mistake.
Granted, Mariners ownership might not want to rebuild with Ichiro Suzuki under contract for two more seasons, or trust Zduriencik to pull off a Hernandez blockbuster after the difficulties the GM experienced in his second season. Neither excuse would be sufficient.
My initial thought was that if the Mariners traded Hernandez, they might as well cease to exist. It’s not as if they’re a low-revenue team, needing to move their most expensive talent.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the planets are perfectly aligned for the Mariners to exploit the Yankees’ desperate need for starting pitching.
It’s just a guess, but Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Co. probably are not going to be the answer for everyone’s favorite $200 million underdogs.
The Yankees do not want to trade Banuelos for a starter such as Twins
lefty Francisco Liriano, who got off to a rough start this spring and
remains an injury risk.
But for Hernandez? Are you kidding?
True, the Yankees might still be ticked at the Mariners for the breakdown in the Lee talks last summer. But trust me, the Yankees would develop amnesia quickly if they could get their hands on King Felix.
That limited no-clause of Hernandez’s, which includes the Yankees as one of 10 teams he must approve, according to a major-league source? Not a problem. The Yankees gladly would buy Hernandez’s love with a lucrative contract extension.
The addition of Hernandez would more than compensate for the Yankees’ failure to trade for Lee, then sign him as a free agent. A 1-2 combination of King Felix and CC Sabathia not only would terrify the Red Sox, but also trigger a new wave of fear and loathing for the Yankees with the sport’s labor agreement expiring at season’s end.
The Mariners’ only concern should be the Mariners. Their current plan, to build around Hernandez, is not illogical. Right-hander Michael Pineda projects as a worthy No. 2 to King Felix. Left-hander James Paxton, a recently signed fourth-round pick, could develop into another top-of-the-rotation starter. And the M’s could grab another elite young pitcher with the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft.
If all that happens, a turnaround could happen quickly. But it still would not be enough.
The Mariners need players. Lots of players. The prospects they would get for Hernandez would join Pineda, second baseman Dustin Ackley and first baseman Justin Smoak to form an impressive young core.
“He is King Felix,” one rival executive says. “But he has no castle to rule over in Seattle.”
Never mind the major-league club, which lost 101 games last season. Baseball America lists the Mariners only 18th in its most recent organization talent rankings.
No question, the franchise possesses the resources to bounce back — it spent $6.47 million on international amateurs in 2010, more than $1 million more than the next-highest club, the Yankees. But only one question matters: Which strategy would better position the Mariners to recover? Keeping Hernandez for four more seasons or completing a 5-for-1 that would give them a combined 30 years of control over their newly acquired prospects?
As one rival executive rightly points out, Hernandez is “barely older than some of these prospects we all fawn over.” True enough. But the Mariners survived, and thrived, after trading Ken Griffey Jr. and losing Alex Rodriguez to free agency within 10 months at the start of the 2000s.
The current edition would not be as well-equipped to compete, no matter which players the M’s acquired for Hernandez. But history has taught us that if you’re going to rebuild, don’t go halfway. Tear the sucker down.
The Mariners might not want to give up on the season before it even starts, which is understandable. But let’s see if their position changes when the team is 20 games out in June — and if Montero blows past Smoak, as many rival clubs suspect he will, increasing Zduriencik’s desire for a do-over with the Yankees.
Hernandez’s salary this season is $11 million. In the next three seasons it jumps to $19 million, $20 million and $20.5 million. His trade value might never be higher than it will be come July.
I know Mariners fans don’t want to hear it, but Zduriencik is in position to collect a historic bounty for Hernandez. He has a dream suitor, one willing to meet almost any price.