Nov
03

Why the Mariners won’t trade Felix, redux

By

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It’s been a ritual for the past few years, and it’s not going to stop any time soon. The off-season is a time to dream on what the Yankees can become, and normally those dreams start with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation. The Mariners finished in the AL West cellar for the second straight year, and that will lead people to believe that they’d trade their ace — who is perhaps the AL’s best pitcher — in order to start a rebuilding effort. If the Mariners ever made Felix available, the Yankees would likely stand in front of the bidding line.

Last winter, following a flurry of comments and emails suggesting the Yankees pry Felix from the Mariners, I wrote a post on why the Mariners will not trade him. Predictably, he remained in Seattle all year. But after another last place finish will the Mariners finally part with their ace and start a true rebuilding process? Unfortunately, I am here to rain on the parade again. The Mariners will again retain Hernandez’s services this off-season.

The Mariners Situation

It’s easy to look at the Mariners and write them off as a team in need of a rebuild. Again, they’ve finished last in the AL West for two straight seasons and can’t seem to muster any semblance of offense. It might seem as though they’d benefit by trading their most tradable commodity in exchange for some high-end bats.

At the same time, the Mariners do have some reinforcements. Dustin Ackley established himself with a fine rookie campaign and will likely hold down second base, and a premium lineup spot, for years to come. Justin Smoak flashed his potential at the outset in 2011. Guys such as Kyle Seagar and Trayvon Robinson could provide support. The Mariners also have a good crop of pitchers — even after trading Doug Fister their starters ranked 8th in the majors in WAR — with more help on the way.

The pitching-heavy nature of the franchise might suggest an arms-for-bats trade, but, as we’ll explore in further depth, Felix is not the guy to get the job done. He’s the guy they want out in front of the kids as they come up through the minors and eventually help the big league club.

Felix’s Contract

In 2012 Hernandez enters the third year of the five-year, $78 million extension he signed with the Mariners. That means he’s theirs for the next three seasons, though he’s not quite a bargain anymore. The Mariners will pay a little more than $60 million for his services. Again, wouldn’t a bad team want to shed that kind of contract and rebuild?

For a player of lesser ability than Felix that might be true. But for the Mariners, Felix’s contract can actually be seen as a blessing. On the open market he’d surely get the highest average annual value and greatest overall package of any pitcher in history — think seven years and around $170 million. That is, the Mariners are getting him at a discount of around $12 million over these next three years.

Make no mistake: the Mariners can spend. Their payroll reached its apex, $117 million, in 2008. If they’re contending it can approach those levels again. While Felix’s salary would still constitute a significant portion of such a high payroll, he’d still be worth it. There just aren’t many pitchers who can provide his kind of value. The Mariners also find themselves in a favorable payroll situation. They have only $59.5 million committed to 2012, and after the season Ichiro‘s deal expires. That leaves them with plenty of room to not only house Felix’s salary, but also to add free agents around him.

Felix’s Preference for Seattle

Had Felix not signed his extension in early 2010, he’d have just hit free agency. That is, he was just two years away when he signed his deal. Surely the long-term security of a $78 million deal played a large role in his decision. But he’s also professed a desire to continue pitching in Seattle. That could keep him up there for not only the three remaining years of his contract, but for many years after that.

That’s not to say that the’ll give the Mariners a significant hometown discount. They’ll have to pay top dollar in order to retain Hernandez. But, again, given his rare abilities combined with Seattle’s ability to spend, it’s not hard to imagine him spending the rest of his career in the Pacific Nothwest. Given his preference for his current team, he could certainly walk the same path as Cliff Lee, taking “enough” money from the Mariners while spurning slightly more lucrative offers to move east. Remember, unlike Lee, and many other free agent pitchers, Felix will already have earned over $80 million by the time he hits free agency.

Even if the Mariners sign him to the aforementioned seven-year, $170 million contract, they’ll still be getting a pitcher in his prime. Hernandez turns 26 around Opening Day, meaning the seven-year contract will cover his age-29 through age-35 seasons. While any long-term pitching contract brings risks, paying for a pitcher’s prime years mitigates some of that risk.

Felix’s Rare Ability

While I’ve soured on WAR for a number of reasons, one big reason is that it understates the value of high-WAR players. That is, players worth seven wins over replacement per season are exceedingly rare. They are worth far, far more than double a 3.5-win player, because 3.5-win players are far more common. To take this further, a team with one 7-win player and one 0-win player is in a far better position than a team with two 3.5-win players. The first team can replace the 0-win player, but the second team will have trouble finding reasonable, and reasonably priced, upgrades over the 3.5-win players.

In the last three seasons Felix easily ranks as a top-five pitcher in the bigs. His 18.5 WAR, in fact, ranks fifth. He has thrown the second-most innings and ranks fourth in ERA and eighth in FIP. The only pitchers who compare to him are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. That’s some pretty elite company. That actually brings us into the next point.

Get Value Now, Trade Later

If the Mariners do plan to trade Felix, why would they do so now? We’ve already seen that there is simply no way they could get anything approaching equal value right now. They could get a prospect who has the potential to produce seven-win seasons. But prospects bring no guarantees. Chances are they’d get a package with a number of high-end prospects. But chances are they’d be looking at two 3.5-win players, rather than a single seven-win player.

If they can’t get equal value right now, and if they don’t have payroll issues, why trade him? Why not wait until later, when they can still pluck a premium prospect? In the meantime they could still make a run. If they, for instance, signed Prince Fielder this off-season there’s a chance they could make a run for the AL West crown in 2012. Why trade Felix now when that chance is potentially on the horizon?

The Mariners know Felix’s trade value first hand. Look at what they got for Cliff Lee at the 2010 trade deadline. He had just a half year of team control remaining, and they managed to trade him for the No. 13 prospect in the game. At the trade deadline in 2014 they could pull similar haul for Felix. If they traded him the winter prior they could get an even larger haul. Teams, especially rich teams like the Yankees, can afford to pay premiums for rare talents such as Felix.

In Sum

If the Mariners had payroll issues this might be a different story. But they don’t. If the Mariners had a barren farm system they might reconsider. But they don’t. If Felix was heading for free agency after the 2012 season maybe they’d seek to trade him. But he isn’t. If Felix were a solid No. 1/No. 2-type pitcher they might find an attractive package of prospects from another team. But he’s not. All of these factors conspire to keep Felix in Seattle.

The Mariners have a rare commodity on their hands, rarer still because he’s so young in addition to being so good. There is no way they can get anything resembling equal value for him right now. They could get a few gambles, but the chances of them landing even one future seven-win player, never mind multiple, are slim to nil. At the same time, they could likely get a considerable return for Felix in a few years time. Why would they trade him now for what they could probably get in a year or two?

As Yankees fans we dream of the elite. The very best is all that will do. Felix certainly ranks among the very best. We’d all love to see him on the roster for 2012 and beyond. Unfortunately, he is property of a team that has no incentive to deal him right now. Perhaps in the future the Yankees can pry Felix away from the Mariners. But right now, as a 26-year-old with three years remaining of team control, he’s staying in Seattle.

Categories : Hot Stove League

75 Comments»

  1. Tom Zig says:

    Psh King Felix is so last year. Clayton Kershaw is the new “it” guy.

  2. Joe this is good and all, but if Dave Cameron says that the Mariners can get Votto AND Grandal for just Pineda, League, Halman, Figgins (with SEA paying $16M of the $17M left on his deal) and Triunfel, then I dont see why we can’t pick up Felix with relative ease. Just add up the WARs, man. Just add up the WARs.

  3. bg90027 says:

    I don’t think the mariners are going to trade King Felix but I think they probably should. Starters as good as King Felix have a lot more value to a team with realistic playoff aspirations than they do to a team struggling to reach .500. The Yankees or Redsox would salivate at the idea of handing the ball to King Felix every 3rd or 4th game in the playoffs and would be glad to “overpay” based on any trade calculator computed value for the ability to do so. He’s as wasted on that team as a top closer is on a losing team.

    To the extent that keeping fans in the stands is an issue, they’d be better off building around young stars that play everyday than a pitching star that takes the mound every fifth day. If you really believe in their young talent enough that you think adding a Prince Fielder would make them into a playoff team, then I see your point. I think the Mariners are much further away than that.

    • JoshTFL says:

      I think Ackley, Pineda and Smoak is an exciting core. Enough for the M’s to want to keep Felix for as long as they can, especially in that division.

      • bankers hours says:

        Smoak sucks, he has a hole in his swing, the Mariners screwed up trading lee for him.

        • jayd808 says:

          Ditto Smoaks sucks and also the animosity between the Yankees and the Mariners which is the biggest reason the trade may not happen. I’m still pissed over the Cliff Lee thing a few years back.

          But if I were Jack Zduriencik, I would throw it all to the winds for solving my catcher problem and getting Brett Gardner for my cf. Toss in a front line pitching prospect (which the Yanks have a couple) and I’d cut bait with Felix in a heartbeat.

          You simply can’t make a blanket argument for no-trade for any one player when your team sucks. This reader doesn’t buy it anyways. The only not-for-trade situation I can think of is a contender’s #1 SP, a true “stopper.” Seattle is not a contender, more of an mayhap accidental first place team that would be out in the first round of the playoffs. Great franchise, great city — they need to get back in it.

          The Yankees, on the other hand, still need to replace Andy Pettite in the post season.

  4. UncleArgyle says:

    You forgot to mention that Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik apparently has some Ax to grind against the Yankees and Brian Cashman and is not intrested in negotiating trades with them seriously.

  5. Mister Delaware says:

    All good points Joe, but what if we offered Gardner, one of Noesi or Nova, Adams, Mitchell, Romine and Nunez? But I’d say no to Banuelos and Montero. And Williams. And some other guys I’m partial to that the Mariners would reasonably expect several of in a deal.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      Oh, also, they should throw in League.

    • JAG says:

      I’m reminded of the Pepsi One commercial where the guys just responds to everything by saying “…and?” and people just give him stuff.

      The Mariners would be saying “…and?” at least one or two times to make this deal plausible. No one in that group is a top-ceiling prospect, and the guys you’ve said are untouchable are the exact thing missing. I’m pretty sure if any deal for Felix is even possible, it starts with Banuelos, Montero, and probably Betances and builds from there.

  6. UYF1950 says:

    Don’t disagree with anything in the article. Just a thought in the meantime. Over the past 3 years attendance at Seattle games has dropped about 13.5% from about 27,100 in 2009 to 23,400 in 2011 that’s less than 50% of capacity. If Felix can get the Mariners players via a trade that would make them more competitive and let’s be fair exciting to watch. They wouldn’t they draw more fans make more money, draw more fans, make more money draw better players to sign and the cycle goes on.

    Also, for the past couple of years I keep hearing how the Mariners have money to spend. Then why aren’t they. In 2009 their payroll was about $98M in 2011 about $86.5M that’s an 11.5% drop.

    I’m sorry but everything so far leads me to believe the Mariners with their current way of thinking are going to be mired in mediocrity for some time to come. That’s just my opinion.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      Just analyzing payroll isn’t a good way of determining theory. Like had they not signed Figgins, you could show an even more dramatic drop, right? Playing in the AL West, they can stall for a year or two without doing something drastic then take the whole thing. Really, add two bats with power (not even big name like Fielder, although that would be awesome, but guys like Napoli could do wonders for that lineup) to their pitching and they can compete in the AL West.

      • UYF1950 says:

        Mister Delaware, I’m not disagreeing with you. But so far all I hear from everyone that attempts to justify Seattle’s position speaks of theory in reality none of those theories have been put into practice. Seattle is still a team with very good to great pitching and NO offense. In fact for the last 3 years their offense has been at or near the bottom in every meaningful category for all MLB teams. And while fans say Seattle “can” or all they need to do is “this” the reality is they haven’t. And there is no reason to think they will at this stage. That’s all I’m saying.

    • We are not getting Felix dammit says:

      Seattle is owned by nintendo, it wouldn’t matter if they had 0 people in attendance, they have a very powerful financial backer that can afford anything and everything.

  7. FL yankee fan says:

    Don’t athletes from an early age simply play because they want to win? So why I ask does Felix seemingly have no desire to win? He seems content to hide in Seattle his whole career at the cost of ever winning. Seems strange to me, somethins up with that kid. Scared of a big market? Maybe!

    • Rookie says:

      I got the impression from one article about him that he basically doesn’t like the Yankees — that for him it’s the Damn Yankees — that he views the team as being almost evil the way that some in emerging markets view the West as exploiters or many on the left view businesses as being evil and big businesses as being especially so.

      If that’s true (and again it’s only based on my inferences from a single article) it might have been ingrained into him growing up. So maybe all MLB teams are imperialists, but the Yankees being the biggest and most successful are the worst.

      And then again, maybe it’s just because he doesn’t like the way he looks in pinstripes.

  8. Adam B says:

    what I don’t understand is why the M’s won’t even see how far the yankees or any team is willing to go for him. They won’t even consider it.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      They won’t consider soliciting proposals. If Milwaukee came offering Braun, Gallardo and Weeks, do you really think Seattle would turn them down?

      • Adam B says:

        I would hope not, that is the point I’m trying to make.

        • Mister Delaware says:

          But you see why its a good stance, right? You can’t just start taking offers on a guy, that will eventually get out and you risk pissing off Felix and turning it into a media shitstorm. So you say he’s not available, period, and if some team makes an insane offer you just say “this was too good to turn down”. Its not like saying he’s unavailable really does make him untradeable. Its a stance.

    • UncleArgyle says:

      I agree. Personally I think Jack Zduriencik is a bad GM, and the industry gives him WAY too much credit for drafting Price Fielder. That was basically a no brainer, and he has seemingly has been living off that ever since.

      • Mister Delaware says:

        I think Jack Z is a GM who had one exceptional idea (defense as the new OBP and utilizing Franklin Gutierrez to big gains) but has screwed up more than he’s gotten right (Morrow for League, the Lee / rapist debacle, Figgins, etc, etc). I think he figured that out a bit after 2010 but all attempts at power beyond Olivo (Smoak, Cust, Peguero) failed, two of them being relatively unplayable. Although I thought getting LA involved in the Bedard deal to steal Trayvon Robinson was pretty damn clever. But all in all, I think he’s been bad, so I agree.

        (Why do I always want to spell it Franklyn for Gutierrez?)

  9. Rookie says:

    I’m not one of those sophisticated observers of statistics and graphs about pitch composition, velocity, break, etc. But King Felix had relatively pedestrian numbers in the second half — a 3.91 ERA and a .720 OPS according to baseballreference.com: http://www.baseball-reference......1&t=p

    He’s got a lot of mileage on his arm already for a pitcher so young. He three 190 innings at age 20 — which I believe I read has more often than not been associated with pitchers who subsequently have arm problems and shortened careers. And he’s averaged over 240 innings per year the past three years.

    Not to say I wouldn’t want him. But I wouldn’t remotely trade the proverbial farm for him — especially not prospects who I think will be core contributers at very low cost for years to come who will enable me to afford to (over)pay/retain other players including aces in those rare cases when they do become available via free agency or trade.

    Now if he dominates for half a season, I might get seduced along with everyone else to pull the trigger. But I hope Cashman won’t.

    Just my opinion…

  10. Paul in Boston says:

    Kershaw is a better fit.

  11. LiterallyFigurative says:

    The Mariners are a good middle-of-the-order away from being a contender, especially in that division.

    I don’t see them moving Felix for at least the next two offseasons, which would give them time to develop the Ackleys, Pinedas and Smoaks. I like Brendan Ryan too. A big middle of the order FA (Fielder) could change the entire character of that team. They’ve got deep pockets and could take advantage of the Yanks and Sox already having big 1B.

    Sorry Yankee fans. The sure thing we crave for will have to wait a while.

    • Rookie says:

      If I’m the Mariners, I would trade King Felix for three high end prospects in a New York minute — and if he dominates for half a season they could probably get that and more.

      When he’s only months away from free agency, I don’t think they could get anything approaching that. Holding onto him for two more seasons in my opinion would be very, very foolish.

      And as I’ve said, I think trading three high end prospects for him would be equally foolish.

    • Kosmo says:

      Seattle needs to look toward the future. They have huge holes at CF,LF,C,3B,DH. Robinson and Seager could turn out to be an OK players. Ichiro is definitely on the downslide. Ryan is not the answer at SS. Smoak is far from being a polished ballplayer. They need at least 2 good power hitters , a couple of table setters and a bench. Bullpen ? Seattle is going to struggle to reach .500 . If Felix happens to get injured, you can forget about it. Seattle will have to overpay to lure FAs and I don´t see that happening. What seasoned veteran player wants to play baseball in the pacific northwest ?

      • Kosmo says:

        I should say “seasoned all-star caliber veteran player“.

        • Mister Delaware says:

          I actually think your first comment was closer to right. You can get by with guys like Smoak and Ryan if your entire lineup isn’t built around those types. Having two competent power hitters is their need, it doesn’t have to be going out and buying all-stars.

    • CP says:

      The Mariners were the worst offensive team in the AL last year. They scored 69 runs less than the second worst offensive team (the Twins), and over 300 runs less than the Yankees. One middle of the order bat isn’t going to suddenly make them contenders.

      And Justin Smoak hit .234/.323/.396/.719 (104 OPS+) last year.

    • Rookie says:

      I don’t follow the team. But my impression from afar is that the Mariners are a good GM and three to five years away from being a good team.

      Any GM who would take Smoak over Montero…

      I think the Yankees should be forever grateful that he did, but if that doesn’t display terminal stupidity, I don’t know what would.

      And I don’t say any of that because I crave King Felix. In fact, I very much hope if Seattle trades him for a king’s ransom that it won’t be to the Yankees.

      • Mister Delaware says:

        Smoak over Montero, at the time, was hardly a controversial choice. He had a guaranteed position in the field (Montero was a “catcher” who people hoped could handle 1B, not a guy like Mauer that you could be near certain could move down spectrum), a switch hitter and just as pedigreed.

        • Rookie says:

          I couldn’t disagree with you more about Smoak vs. Montero.

          It’s true that Smoak was a position player with a reputation for a good glove and Montero was (and apparently still is) considered unlikely to be able to do the job behind the plate. And Montero had had a very rough stretch in the minors that year just before the trade happened.

          But when you adjust for what the two players accomplished at each level and the age at which they accomplished it, there was no comparison. Montero had dominated years younger at each level.

          Thank goodness Montero was slumping and the Seattle GM made the misjudgement and backed out of a done deal the way he did. No hard feelings, just relief and gratitude… All Yankee fans owe him in a big, big way.

        • Rookie says:

          And to say that it wasn’t controversial is a red herring. It wasn’t controversial either when Minnesota wanted a king’s ransom from the Yankees for Santana and then traded him to the Mets for a bag of used baseballs.

          It’s never controversial anyway when the Yankees’ offer gets turned down for a lesser one. It’s only controversial when somebody accepts the Yankees’ offer. I’ll never forget when some genius baseball pundit accused the Yankees of being “the schoolyard bully” for trading Mike Lowell for three pitchers who never amounted to anything.

          I’ll stick by my assessment that the Seattle GM was extremely stupid and unethical in his dealings with the Yankees — and that the Yankees and Yankee fans everywhere will be forever in his debt and grateful always that he was. And unless Montero winds up being a bust or isn’t a significant part of a package for a stud pitcher in the future who stays with the team more than three months, I’ll feel that way always and be reminded of it whenever I see Montero.

  12. Brian S. says:

    In a red Sox live game chat someone just asked if Lars Anderson and Felix Doubront would land Felix Hernandez. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  13. CP says:

    If they, for instance, signed Prince Fielder this off-season there’s a chance they could make a run for the AL West crown in 2012.

    The Mariners finished 29 games behind the Rangers, 19 behind the Angels and 7 behind the A’s.

    Signing Fielder won’t change that.

    There is (virtually) no way the Mariners contend in 2012, and most likely not in 2013 either. They need to shoot for 2014 and beyond. At that point, Hernandez will likely be pushing 2000 innings pitched in his career. Is it more likely that Hernandez will be productive then or that the pieces they can get for him will be productive?

    • Jesse says:

      I’m saving this.

      • Mister Delaware says:

        Same. 2011 Brewers gained 19 games in the win column over 2010 and their only super major acquisition was Greinke. I’d assume Fielder is a bigger game change, add a lesser secondary move, akin to Marcum, and its not a bad parallel.

        • CP says:

          19 more wins puts them at 86 wins. That’s still 10 games back from the Rangers.

          And the Brewers added Greinke and Marcum to vastly improve 40% of their rotation. They also significantly improved their bullpen. They also got lucky and out performed their run differential by 6 games.

          For the Mariners to do the same, they would have to get probably 3 very good hitters (since they’re unlikely to improve their pitching), have their pitching not regress, and get lucky. In that scenario, they might be able to contend in 2012. Too bad it won’t happen.

          • Jesse says:

            The D’Backs won 30 more games in 2011 than they did in 2010 and I don’t recall a major add. Unless, you think J.J Putz is a major add…

            The M’s can pitch. If they add a huge bat in the middle of their order it would be huge.

            • CP says:

              Again, the turnaround happened on the pitching side. Replacing last years garbage at the back end of the rotation with Hudson-Saunders (for the D-Backs) or Greinke-Marcum (for the Brewers) is a huge change. In the D-Backs case, they also completely overhauled their pen (no reliever made more than 35 appearances for both the 2010 and 2012 teams).

              It’s relatively easy to turn around a bullpen without a big time move. Add to that significantly improving 40% of the rotation and you have the recipe for a quick turnaround. To get the same bang for the Mariners, they’d have to add 3-4 big time bats. And not have their pitching regress. It could happen, but is very unlikely.

              • Jesse says:

                They don’t need 3-4 “big time bats” probably two. And it depends what you think a “big tie bat” is. Is Aramis Ramirez a big time bat? What if they add him and Fielder? I say Ichrio has a bounce back year like Jeter, Ackley is pretty good too. They’ll add some other pieces and there’s bound to be someone who steps up that is unexpected. Besides, the Mariners can pitch and they’ve been able to do so for years. The issue is the offense and it’s easily correctable with the talent in the FA market.

  14. Jimmy McNulty says:

    I hear they’re getting Joey Votto and Yasmani Grandal for Michael Pineda, Brandon League, Halman, Carlos Triunfel, and Chone Figgins. So I don’t see how they trade Felix now.

  15. thenamestsam says:

    Like CJ Wilson, I think Felix definitely tests the bounds of what we think we know about how players age. They’re at the very opposite ends of the spectrum: Felix has so many innings for his age and Wilson has so few. One of the biggest challenges in valuing these guys is figuring out how to expect them to age: Yes Felix is only 25, but it’s a lot of innings.
    For that reason, I’d be very wary of giving up the kind of package it would take to get him (obviously in the theoretical situation where he’s available). If it takes say 4 or 5 good young players/top prospects to get him there’s no way the trade can be justified unless he’s a huge part of the team going forward, not for 2 or 3 years, but for 6 or 7. While he’s as close to a lock as possible to be awesome for the next few years weighing the load of those innings vs. his still young age any further out than that is very difficult.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I don’t think that the relationship between innings and health is as direct as you posit. All sorts of guys get hurt, and some pitchers just never get hurt. Pretty tough to say who will be who.

      Innings also aren’t the only factor. Side work, weight lifting, pitches/inning, rest between starts, general physical decline with age… all play roles.

  16. steve (different one) says:

    So you’re saying there’s a chance?!

  17. Rookie says:

    Exactly, thenamestsam. Exactly.

  18. Hardy says:

    I think he is available like all other players without a NTC. The Yankees could offer a choice of any four prospects, that should get it done.

  19. Ted Nelson says:

    There would be one reason and one reason only to trade Felix, like any other player: you get what you consider to be better value in return than what you’re giving up.

    I don’t know exactly what value the Mariners place on Felix, but there is a value. His value is not infinite. It’s certainly possible that some team could surpass that value in an offer. Is it at all likely? No. But it is possible.

  20. Favrest says:

    Seattle hates the Yankees. They don’t want to trade him or anyone to us for that reason.

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  22. seattle L says:

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  23. seattle L says:

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