Yankees on Felix’s no-trade list

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are one of ten teams listed in Felix Hernandez’s no-trade clause. Others include the Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, and Phillies, so Felix clearly can’t handle the pressure of a big market. Am I doing this right? That’s how it worked for Zack Greinke, no?

Anyway, the reason big market teams are on everyone’s no-trade clause is because they are the clubs that can offer the most in exchange for waiving it. If a player wants an extension or an option picked up as a condition of accepting a trade, well the big market teams can give it to them. It’s that simple, it’s all about maximizing leverage. Should the Yankees and Mariners ever get in serious talks about Felix, the NTC will be the smallest of obstacles.

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Why the Mariners won’t trade Felix Hernandez

(Amy Sancetta/AP)

The No. 1 question we receive every day is some variant of, why don’t the Yankees trade for Felix Hernandez, or the Yankees should trade the farm for Felix. This is an understandable reaction to a rough situation. Many fans had so vividly imagined Cliff Lee in pinstripes that the reality of him going to Philadelphia has caused a bit of a blinder. The most prominent such blinder is the thought that Seattle might trade Hernandez to the Yankees.

The reason the Yankees won’t acquire Felix, at least in the near term, relates more to Seattle than it does New York. After all, they’re the one that holds the prized player. They have a number of reasons to hold Felix rather than cash him in for prospects. Given Felix’s ability and contract, along with the team’s overall situation, I can’t see them making a trade any time soon. I won’t go so far as to guarantee it — baseball is a weird game — but I’m confident that Seattle will hold onto Felix through at least 2013.

The first and most obvious reason for Seattle holding onto Felix is his ability. Whether or not you think he deserved the AL Cy Young Award, he is still a top five pitcher. He’s probably a top three pitcher. In the past two seasons he’s shown improvements in both his strikeout and walk rates, and now has the lethal combination of 8-plus strikeouts per nine and a 50-percent-plus ground ball rate. Only four pitchers in the majors accomplished this in 2010. Oh, and he’s only 25 years old. It would take quite the set of circumstances for any team to consider trading such an elite young pitcher.

Considering his performance and service time, Seattle has Felix signed to a team-friendly contract. After the 2010 season Felix has five years of service time, meaning he’d have been a free agent after the 2011 season had he not signed an extension. What kind of contract would Felix command if he hit the free agent market as a 26-year-old? I imagine he might have become the first $200 million pitcher. Yet he signed an extension with Seattle that covers five years and pays him $78 million. That will cost the Mariners just $10 million in 2011 before it jumps to $18.5 million in 2012 and gets to $20 million in 2014. He is the consummate bargain, even at $20 million annually.

Seattle can easily afford this contract. They’re not the Marlins; they’re not the Pirates; they’re not the Indians. They play in a fairly robust market and can certainly afford to keep elite players under contract. Their payroll is actually a bit down now, $91 million in 2010 after approaching $120 million in 2008. Furthermore, they have few large commitments in the future. The 2012 payroll has just $54 million committed, mostly to Felix and Ichiro, and after that their only big obligation belongs to Felix. Why, then, would they trade an elite pitcher? They can clearly afford him.

At this point we can turn to Zack Greinke to answer the previous question. The Royals could afford to keep him, but instead traded him to the Brewers. Kansas City is a bottom dwelling team, but has a big set of eyes on the future. Their farm system ranks as the best in baseball by no small measure, and they could start seeing those players pay off in 2012. Even then, it’s tough to expect a crop of 20- and 21-year-olds to bring a team into contention. The more realistic impact year is 2013, and at that point Greinke would have been a free agent. Trading him now, then, theoretically provides Kansas City with the best return, since they’re providing two years of Greinke at a below market rate. This is not the same situation Seattle faces.

Yes, the Seattle offense was historically bad in 2010 — often bad enough to negate the benefits that Felix brought. But this won’t always be the case. As with the Royals, the Mariners will rebuild. They might not have the same caliber system, but it still has a few strong prospects at the top. In June they’ll draft second overall, and they figure to have another decent pick in 2012. This will help them reload the system. Given their current young talent, their talent on the farm, and the talent they can afford on the free agent market, I imagine that Seattle will be back in the contention conversation before 2014. If they plan to contend before then, they have even less of a reason to trade Felix.

Let’s just imagine for a moment that Seattle’s target contention year is 2014, the final year of Felix’s contract. Might they then decide to trade him and fortify the team for a run that year? Again, I don’t think so. No player they can acquire will provide the impact that Felix himself can. They might be able to shore up multiple parts, but they’ll be left weaker at starting pitcher. That brings me to the final point: Seattle can, in all likelihood, sign Felix to a mega deal once he hits free agency, or perhaps before. He’ll be just 29 at the time, so he’ll probably be in line for a Sabathia-like deal if the current baseball economic structure holds up. Why wouldn’t Seattle give it to him? In fact, if they didn’t I’d suspect that they know something that we don’t, and are holding off on a big offer for that reason.

When an opportunity arises to trade for a pitcher of Hernandez’s age and ability, any team will jump all over it. They might even empty the farm. It would be a justifiable move. But there’s a reason that pitchers of Hernandez’s age and ability typically do not become available in trades. Seattle has little reason to trade him. Maybe if they catch a few terrible breaks he’ll become available in a couple of years. But right now the team simply has no reason to trade him. I’d love to see him in Yankee pinstripes as much as the next guy. But let’s be realistic. It’s just not happening.

Felix takes home AL Cy Young Award

Felix Hernandez was named the AL Cy Young Award winner today, receiving 21 of a possible 28 first place votes. CC Sabathia received three first place votes and finished third in the overall voting behind Felix and David Price. Hernandez was either first or second in the league in baseball everything, including ERA (2.27) and innings (249.2). He bested Sabathia in FIP (3.04 to 3.54), strikeout rate (8.36 to 7.46), and walk rate (2.52 to 2.80), but not wins (13 to 21). That’s what happens when you play in front of the worst offensive team of the DH era. Congrats to Felix, it’s well deserved.

Buyer Beware……….in 2015

Felix Hernandez recently became the 3rd youngest player since 1950 to reach 1000 career strikeouts.  While the offseason extension he signed may have put a damper on the King Felix to NY dreams, he still will hit free agency at the age of 29.  Next time around don’t expect much of a team friendly deal though, and the Yankees will certainly be in the mix barring a disaster for Felix on the way.

What are the odds of this disaster?  As a young guy with a ton of pitches already on his arm, is he more predisposed to injury or burning out too soon?  I decided to take a look at other pitchers who reached 1000 strikeouts before their age 26 season.  Since 1950, 11 pitchers have done this.  Let’s take a look at who they are and how they performed until they were 25 and how they performed from 29 (when Felix will likely become a FA) to 35.

Future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven is 1st on the list.  While he was still a very good pitcher, he saw decreases in his K/9 rate (to 6.7) and K/BB rate (to 2.79).  Also, his ERA+ dropped from a stellar 132 to a decent 118.  His best years certainly came before hitting 29 but he was very productive into his mid 30’s.

Everyone is aware of Dwight Gooden’s problems and his career certainly peaked early, but if his early workload was a factor(likely), it was only one of many.  Doc certainly battled his demons throughout the years.  Ages 29-35 were not pretty for Doc, with a 6.1 K/9, 1.44 K/BB and a 96 ERA+.  He was done at the age of 35.

Sam McDowell’s last good year as a major league pitcher came at the age of 28 (after a league leading 305 innings at 27).  He was done at 32.  From 29-32 he was bad, with a 6.9 K/9, 1.23 K/BB and 87 ERA+.  After a very solid start to his career, McDowell was out of the game at an age where Randy Johnson had just 104 wins.

Fernandomania is next.  Even though he came along later than most of the guys on this group, Valenzuela still came up in an era where pitch counts were mostly ignored.  While he also battled some conditioning issues, I think the workload certainly caught up to Fernando.  After a stunning start to his career, Fernando’s last good season came at 25 and was less than mediocre after the age of 29.  From 29-35 Fernando had a 4.8 K/9 ratio, 1.38 K/BB ratio and 91 ERA+.  He retired at 36.

While Don Drysdale is in the Hall of Fame, his late career was not great and he retired at 32.  From 29-32 his K/9 ratio was 5.8 with a strong 3.17 BB/9 ratio and about a league average ERA+ of 105.  Leading the league in starts for 4 straight years from 25-28 (eclipsing 300 innings every year) certainly couldn’t have helped him in his twilight.  He basically did nothing after the age of 28 that bolstered his Hall of Fame chances other than compile a few more wins.

Frank Tanana was a great young left handed fireballer (I’ve heard Jon Lester as a good comp.) who was one of the best pitchers in baseball before he hurt his arm. He came back and  reinvented himself as a soft tosser.  While he was pretty successful afterwards, he never again approached his early career success.  From 29-35 he had ratios of 5.9 K/9, 2.12 K/BB and a 107 ERA+.

Denny McLain had some Gooden like off the field issues, but was out of baseball at 28 primarily due to serious arm problems.  At ages 24 and 25 he threw 661 innings combined and threw just 384.1 the rest of his career.  He appeared to be on his way to the Hall of Fame (114-57 thru 25) but clearly never came close.  He never even reached his age 29 season, but from 26-28 he struck out just 4.3 batters per 9 with a 1.46 K/BB ratio and a 73 ERA+. The workload certainly got to McLain soon after he was old enough to rent a car.

Larry Dierker’s career got started at 17 (and think of how impressive what Jesus Montero is doing in AAA at the age of 20).  Shockingly enough (or not shocking at all), Dierker was done at 30.  At 29 and 30 Dierker had a 4.7 K/9, 1.34 K/BB and an 87 ERA+.  Good thing he threw those 305 innings at the age of 22 though.

Former A and Yankee Catfish Hunter is up next, and while he stuck around long enough to be enshrined in Cooperstown (his worthiness is another discussion) Catfish’s career also ended early and his career as a great pitcher ended as soon as he hit 30.  He actually wasn’t a great pitcher from 19-25 but racked up a ton of innings getting him plenty of strikeouts.  His best years came from 25-29 but was about average after that.  From 29-33 he struck out 4.5 batters per 9, had a 1.84 K/BB ratio and a 103 ERA+ that includes his 144 ERA+ at 29.

Last on the list is Joe Coleman who was done at 32 and threw just 378 innings after 29.  He had a 4.9 K/9 and a 1.25 K/BB to go along with a 101 ERA+.  At 18 he threw 93 innings between the minors and majors.  At 19 it was 208.  Too bad Tom Verducci wasn’t around to save the day.

I didn’t know what I was going to encounter when I started this post, but maybe Nolan Ryan should take a look.   A lot of these guys burned out early and it would be interesting to see what they could have accomplished with today’s workloads and pitching programs.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of these guys were out of the game so early, and none of them could match their early successes.  While I don’t think too much can be culled from these comparisons I think it’s interesting nonetheless.   Clearly Felix has been groomed differently as a big money bonus baby whose every move and pitch has been tracked since he signed.  Still, there is no guarantee he will be healthy down the road, and some believe you only have so many bullets in an arm before its shot.  I hope Felix is sitting there as a big free agent at 29 because that will mean continued health and success for him.  If he ends up on the Yankees down the road, lets just hope he breaks the mold of the list of guys above.

Reports: M’s, Felix Hernandez agree to five year deal

Update (10:20am): Buster Olney says five years, $80M, or basically A.J. Burnett/John Lackey money.

9:30am: Via Keith Law, the Mariners and ace Felix Hernandez have agreed on a multi-year contract extension that is going to buy out at least the righty’s two remaining years of arbitration eligibility. Jason Churchill hears that the deal could be as long as six years with less than $100M guaranteed, but incentives that could push it up in nine-figure territory.

Many Yankee fans, myself included, were already fitting King Felix for pinstripes even though he wouldn’t have hit free agency for another two years. The Mariners are by no means a small market team, so it was just a matter of whether or not Felix was receptive to signing long-term in lieu of cashing in on the open market. The kid doesn’t turn 24 until April, and if someone offers you nine figures at that age, you take it and set yourself and your kids and your kid’s kids up for life.

If the deal is in fact for six years, he’ll still just be 29 when it expires, which is crazy. Also, he’ll hit free agency just as CC Sabathia‘s contract expires, which is rather convienent.

Going After The King

Felix HernandezAs the trade deadline approached late last week, we heard that the Yankees were connected to the usual suspects: Jarrod Washburn, Bronson Arroyo, Brian Bannister, middling guys like that to fill out the back of the rotation. But then something crazy hit the blogosphere on deadline day … the Mariners were actually listening to offers for Felix Hernandez. The next day we learned that Brian Cashman and the Yankees were one of the teams to give Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a call about his young ace, but ultimately no deal went down. Theo Epstein sure made a valiant effort, though.

It’s hard to think of many pitchers in baseball with more trade value than King Felix. There’s that kid in San Francisco doing amazing things, but he’s almost two full years older than Hernandez. Zach Greinke is two-and-a-half years older, but is locked up below market value for the next four years. Jon Lester? Two years older. Justin Verlander? Three years older. Heck, Joba Chamberlain? He’s eight months older. Phil Hughes is just two months younger than the King, but far less established.

We’re talking about the Justin Upton of pitchers here, a kid who’s already one of the best players in the game at his position but still has his best years ahead of him. He ranks in the top ten in innings pitched (152.1), FIP (3.11), strikeouts (141), and wins over replacement (4.3) this year, and is only going to get better as he enters his prime years. Scheduled to become a free agent after the 2011 season, when he’ll be just 25-yrs old, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Hernandez will become the highest paid pitcher in history. If things go his way, he’s got a chance at being the first pitcher to crack that $200M plateau.

Since we’re talking about the best young pitcher to come along in years, possibly decades, it would have taken a tremendous package to acquire him before the deadline. We’re talking about a Herschel Walker type of trade for the Mariners, one that sets them up at multiple positions for years. What could the Yankees have offered?

Joba Chamberlain? he’s yours
Phil Hughes? sure thing
Jesus Montero? no problem
Austin Jackson? free shipping
High upside, low level prospect like Arodys Vizcaino? you can have two

That’s the kind of package we’re talking about; several young players in their pre-arbitration years, and I don’t mean the Brett Gardners and Ramiro Penas of the world. A package of Zach McAllister, Austin Romine, and Mark Melancon doesn’t even get you invited to the party. If a team like Texas wanted to get in on the action, they’d have to offer up guys like Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Elvis Andrus, and more. It’s an extraordinary deal that would have made a Roy Halladay trade look like the Joe Blanton trade, given how young and dominant Felix is.

The real question is this: Are you willing to give all that up? Having to part with Joba and Hughes in the same package is really something you want to avoid at all costs, but if you’re going to do it, Felix Hernandez is the kind of guy you do it for. Considering his tremendous performance, about the only concern you can have about Felix is the workload he’s been run through. He’s thrown 1,056 innings since his 18th birthday, and is on pace to throw over 190 innings for the fourth straight year. He’s never been Verducci’d though, with his biggest increase in innings from year to the next coming in ’04-’05, when he went up just 23 IP.

For the sake of this post, I ran Felix Hernandez through Beyond the Box Score’s trade calculator, which says King Felix has a trade value of $38.1M based on my almost arbitrary WAR predictions. Victor Wang’s research says that Montero and Jackson combine for $59.9M in value (one top-10 hitting prospect, one 26-50 hitter), while a low level arm like Arodys adds another $1.9M. Joba’s trade value comes in at $50.6M while Phil Hughes’ registers at $46M.  However, those values represent best case scenarios based on my WAR assumptions, which are far from perfect. The total value of that package is $158.4M, but we have to factor in attrition rate. Felix’s value represents just under 25% of the package’s value, but I honestly have no idea if that is an appropriate flame out factor. This is all just food for thought, and for all I know I just wasted 15 minutes of my time calculating that stuff.

I know we have plenty of Felix fans out there, but would you be willing to give up the package of young players required to obtain him? It’s a lot of eggs to put in one basket, that’s for sure. Remember, Hernandez already turned the Yankees down for the Mariners as an amateur even though the Yanks (and Braves) offered more money, so it’s no slam dunk that he signs an extension to keep him in pinstripes past 2011.

Photo Credit: The Seattle Times