Will the Mariners Trade Felix Hernandez?
For a club that sits four games under .500 (at 64-68) and occupies the American League West basement, the Seattle Mariners sure are drawing a lot of interest from opposing teams at today’s trade deadline.
To be eligible for the postseason, a player must be on a team’s active roster by today, so chances are some names will be wearing new uniforms by tomorrow, when clubs can also expand their rosters to as many as 40 players.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, three Mariners starting pitchers are eligible to be traded. Veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (who is 4-11 with a 4.28 ERA in 25 starts this season) has cleared waivers and can be dealt to any team. Morosi also reported that 29-year-old left-hander Jason Vargas and uber ace Felix Hernandez were claimed on waivers. The Mariners could work out a trade of both arms with the respective teams that claimed them, but that is not likely, Morosi said.
Earlier in August, Baseball News Source wrote about the pros and cons of trading Hernandez who is so highly regarded across baseball he is simply known as “King Felix.” There are valid arguments to keep Hernandez, and there are credible reasons to deal him. Mariners executive vice president and general manager Jack Zduriencik could be swayed one way or another by his team’s impressive performance since the All-Star break which has seen Seattle long a 28-17 record.
Hernandez, who will receive $19.5 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014, is 13-5 with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 27 starts, limiting opposing batters to a .218 average and allowing 156 hits in 196.2 innings. Over his last 10 starts, he is 7-0 with a 1.23 ERA, including a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since Hernandez is under team control through the end of 2014, the Mariners could opt to keep him and fill in the rotation with three of the top starting pitching prospects in baseball – Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.
A supplemental first rounder out of high school in 2010, the 20-year-old Walker was ranked fourth overall on the Baseball America Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List and appeared in the Futures Game this summer. At Double-A Jacksonville, he is 7-9 with a 4.31 ERA in 24 starts. Those are not overwhelming numbers, but Walker has ascended the Mariners farm system rapidly playing at three levels in less than two professional seasons, and he is one of the youngest pitchers in Double-A.
One spot below Walker on Baseball America’s list is Hultzen, a 22-year-old left-hander who was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Virginia and also a 2012 Futures Game participant. Hultzen was 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA and a .151 batting average against at Jacksonville this season before earning a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, where he is 1-4 with a 6.09 ERA in 11 starts.
A fourth round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2010, the 23-year-old Paxton is a left-hander who was a 2011 Futures Game participant. He has a 9-4 record and a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A Jacksonville.
There is a chance that, at some point in 2013, all three pitchers will make their Major League debut, depending on what the Mariners rotation looks like next season.
The 37-year-old Millwood, who can become a free agent this off-season after signing a one-year, $1 million deal earlier this year, will likely not be retained. Vargas, who is under team control for another season, could be traded since he has value as a left-hander in the midst of his prime. In 2012, Vargas is 13-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 28 starts. He could have value to a team that needs additional starting pitching for September. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a possibility.
Though the Mariners insist they want to keep Hernandez, they could part with him if enticed by an attractive package of prospects and younger Major Leaguers under team control.
It is possible that the Boston Red Sox, which need a frontline starter and recently acquired top starting pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster from the Dodgers, could assemble a group of players that would interest Seattle. Left-hander Jon Lester is from Washington, and Jacoby Ellsbury is from Oregon.
They would be a fan draw because of their Pacific Northwest ties. Of course, Ellsbury would have to be signed to a long-term contract since he is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. Ellsbury is a possibility because the Mariners desperately need offense. The Red Sox have appealing bats in their farm system like Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley.
Zduriencik will be approached by several teams seeking the services of Hernandez. He must decide whether to create a rotation around the once-in-a-generation starter or trade him for a bounty of prospects and/or young Major Leaguers who could fill the myriad of holes that exist across Seattle’s lineup. While it appears that Hernandez will stay, likely Millwood and Vargas will pitch elsewhere, as early as tomorrow.