On Trading Felix Hernandez

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 5: Fans celebrate a strike out by Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners during a game against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

There isn't a lot of Mariners-related content on Baseball Nation for a couple of obvious reasons. First, if you want to read Mariners-related content, you probably know to go to the fantastic Lookout Landing. Second, you don't want to read Mariners-related content. But when you head over to Lookout Landing, note the tagline for the site.

Lookout Landing - Felix is ours and you can't have him.

That's been the tagline for a while. It's a reference to a) the undying love and affection Mariners fans have for Felix Hernandez, and b) the constant, non-stop barrage of Felix Hernandez-related rumors Mariners fans have been subjected to. You might remember such trade rumors as "Felix Hernandez for Jesus Montero", "Felix Hernandez for Jesus Montero," and "Seriously, don't be a dick. Just give us Felix Hernandez for Jesus Montero." For about three years, it was assumed that the Yankees had some sort of divine claim to Felix because the Mariners totally weren't even using him right.

So they're a little touchy about this sort of thing. This comes up now because the esteemed Ken Rosenthal thinks the Mariners don't have a choice:

I’ve written before about the logic of the M’s trading ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, prompting a flurry of "Hands off!" missives from the Pacific Northwest — as if King Felix is guaranteed to stay in Seattle beyond the expiration of his contract in 2014.

Well, trading Felix for the right package still would make sense, given the Mariners’ offensive deficiencies.

If there were any team that might think a prospect-laden package is a good idea, it might be the Mariners. You could almost build a contending team out of the young players the Mariners have traded away for veterans over the past decade. When they trade away players like Adam Jones, Shin-Soo Choo, and Asdrubal Cabrera, they end up as All-Stars, so maybe the Mariners should get on the other end of that conveyer belt for once.

Except that's not how this works. Most of the prospects that change hands in mega-deals don't pan out. For every Mark Teixeira trade that builds up another organization, there are three Cliff Lee trades. No, there were literally three Cliff Lee trades in one year. I'm obsessed with a lot of things, and I know I repeat them ad naseum -- things like the existence of two different Jeff D'Amicos, or the fact that we just accepted "The Big Unit: Randy Johnson" like it was no big deal -- but I still can't get over the underwhelming return that every team received when they traded Cliff Lee. He was Cliff Lee! Every time!

That isn't to suggest that the Mariners should ignore the idea of trading Felix Hernandez because the Cliff Lee trades didn't work out. But it's a good idea to avoid the basket-of-fun trade proposals, in which several decent-to-good prospects come over at once. The odds are that none of those prospects will ever provide anything close to the value Hernandez will provide over the next three years. If the Mariners were to even think about a deal, it would be for mega-prospects.

And to Rosenthal's credit, those are the kind of players he brings up. Jurickson Profar. Manny Machado. Wil Myers. Nuts to the top-100 guys -- those are top-10 types. If someone like that became available, Rosenthal is right. The Mariners would at least listen.

Except those players aren't going to be available. In the past five years, there have been two top-ten prospects traded at the zenith (or close to it) of their perceived value. The first was Jesus Montero, and that was in a very special circumstance -- he was dealt for a pitcher with five years left of team control and who was, in a way, a mega-prospect himself. The second was Cameron Maybin, who was traded for a 24-year-old (!) Miguel Cabrera. Mega-prospects don't move around a lot.

Is Felix the kind of special player who would be the exception to the rule, the kind of player who would make a team consider giving up a top-ten guy? Dunno. Maybe. But with three not-that-cheap years left on his contract, I'd wager he isn't. He'd bring back an impressive gaggle of young players, but I think the Rangers would hang up before the third syllable in "Jurickson", and the same would go for the Royals and Wil Myers.

In short: Felix Hernandez might be available, but only for players who aren't available, which means Felix Hernandez isn't available. The idea of trading Felix Hernandez is a tautology. It almost makes sense, until it doesn't at all. Felix is theirs, and you can't have him.

Edit: Looks like I misread what Ken Rosenthal was implying:

My bad. The overall point of what it would take to pry Felix from the Mariners' cold, dead hands still stands.

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