It wasn’t just because he pitched one of the greatest games in baseball history that Felix Hernandez became a national story last Wednesday. Hernandez was the beneficiary of a scheduling quirk – a midweek day game – that found him throwing his final pitch at 3:03 p.m. That’s 6:03 on the East Coast, about seven hours earlier than a Mariners night game ends.
A story typically buried inside the Friday morning pages of East Coast newspapers made the Wednesday night-Thursday morning news cycle. Hernandez had barely changed out of his Gatorade-drenched uniform when a headline on the New York Daily News’ website informed readers about the possible consequences of the milestone achievement.
Yankees Trading for Seattle Mariners Ace Felix Hernandez Is Not So Far-Fetched
I love New York. I love, more specifically, its Gotham-centric sports culture. A Mariners pitcher completes a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Seattle, and the obvious story angle dwells on – who else? – the Yankees.
Never miss a local story.
It reminded me of watching the Olympics on CBC, the Canadian national television network. As world records are left shattered in the swimming pool or on the track, the broadcasters spend a half-hour gushing over the Canadian woman who just finished 24th in trap shooting.
Anyway, back to Felix. Despite his insistence that he’s happy in Seattle – and he’s happy to the point he’s made it his year-round home – despite his affection for the organization he’s considered a second family since he was 16 years old, despite the success he’s enjoyed and the wealth he’s accumulated and the friendships he’s cultivated with the Mariners, there’s a presumption in New York that he won’t end his career with the Mariners.
The presumption in New York is that he’ll end up with the Yankees, because, well, isn’t this the way the world is supposed to work? The Yankees have the most championships, the most money and the most tradition, and if they covet a 26-year old ace pitcher in his prime, it’s inevitable they’ll obtain the ace pitcher when he’s 27 or 28.
That the Mariners hold the rights to Hernandez through the 2014 season is a small detail, I guess. He’ll grow frustrated with the dearth of run support in Seattle. He’ll yearn for something more than a puncher’s chance at playoff contention. He’ll see the light, and general manager Jack Zduriencik will be left with no choice but to trade the restless superstar.
“ ‘I don’t care what Jack is saying now,’ an anonymous American League executive told the Daily News last Wednesday night. “I think he’ll listen to offers next winter. I know the kid says he wants to be in Seattle, but do you think he’ll really re-sign there if they’re not a contender?
“And really, the decision for Jack will only be a year away after this season. Because he can’t afford to let Felix go into 2014 without an extension, or he’d either have to trade him at the deadline for less than his value, or risk losing him for nothing.”
The anonymous AL executive – I’m going to make a bold hunch he works for the Yankees – is spot-on with his insistence that Zduriencik will listen to offers for Felix Hernandez over the winter. Zduriencik would be shirking his duties if he didn’t listen. No major league player – not even the left-handed Boston Red Sox pitcher who was Babe Ruth – has ever been off-limits in trade talks.
So Zduriencik will listen, sure, and his conversation with New York counterpart Brian Cashman figures to be as brief as your last visit with a Pioneer Square panhandler.
The Yankees are in first place by a comfortable margin, and nobody will be surprised if they go on to win the World Series. But they’ve got nothing to offer Zduriencik, who as the architect of a rebuilding project is disinclined to take on the fat contracts of old players, or the old contracts of fat players.
Prospects? The Yankees have none. Their win-now-and-forget-about-the-future strategy works for a team with a limitless payroll, but it comes at a cost: a minor league system stripped of trading chips.
A year ago, catcher Jesus Montero was touted as a Yankees farmhand capable of stardom, but Zduriencik landed Montero in an offseason trade for Michael Pineda, a starting pitcher sidelined since spring training by a torn labrum.
The depth of the Yankees’ groveling for Felix was underscored by the laughable trade-talk scenario posed in the Daily News.
“Maybe Cashman could start by asking Zduriencik: Any chance you want Pineda back?”
Pineda is a personable young man with an electric arm. He’s also recovering from major shoulder surgery. He started 28 big-league games last year as a rookie, and there’s no consensus on when – or if – he’ll make his 29th start.
Since his first full season with the Mariners, in 2006, Felix Hernandez has yet to start fewer than 30 times. He’s a durable workhorse with an arsenal of swing-and-miss pitches, beloved by teammates, embraced by fans, a one-time Cy Young Award winner assembling numbers in 2012 that could make him into a two-time Cy Young Award winner. And the Mariners will talk about trading him to the Yankees in a discussion that begins with the possibility of reacquiring Michael Pineda?
Dream on, New York, dream on.
If the Mariners retain their ace until his contract expires after the 2014 season, if Zduriencik listens to offers but decides to stand pat, it’s likely Hernandez will start 75 more games in a Seattle uniform. At least 35 of those starts will be made at Safeco Field.
Which is to say, the King has a chance to replicate the magic he created Wednesday 35 times. You don’t trade that for an established hitter. You don’t trade that for a package of elite prospects.
You don’t trade that for anything.