Yesterday, ESPN’s Buster Olney released his top storylines of 2011 to watch. This one, in particular, caught my eye.
8. The Felix Hernandez watch. This is a situation that currently lies dormant, because Hernandez -- who is just 24 years old -- is signed through the 2014 season, and nothing is really pushing the Seattle Mariners to trade the guy who would probably be the first pitcher taken by 30 general managers if you threw all the players into one giant fantasy draft. Hernandez earned a lot of respect for the way he pitched and battled in 2010 despite getting the kind of run support typical of an early 20th century team, and so long as Hernandez doesn't push the issue, it's hard to imagine Seattle seeking a satisfactory deal. But remember: Johan Santana eventually forced his way out of Minnesota; Halladay quietly pushed his way out of Toronto; and Zack Greinke's impatience with the Royals eventually led to his trade to Milwaukee. Those vultures you see circling the Mariners will be the executives of other teams waiting for any sign that King Felix wants to change thrones.
Several members of the baseball media have echoed similar sentiments, but I just don’t see it. In reality, this seems more like a storyline writers want to see come to fruition rather than one that actually will. I don’t blame baseball writers for speculating. The baseball news cycle is incredibly slow, so I understand their thirst for fresh storylines. Still, speculating about the “uncertainty” of a stable situation appears nonsensical.
Olney used Santana, Halladay, and Greinke as viable comparisons to the King Felix situation, but I don’t really think that’s entirely fair. In the cases of Santana and Halladay, both were entering the final year of their contract, and didn’t want the added pressure of pitching out the year without an extension. Since their current teams weren’t willing to meet their salary demands, requesting a trade to a team willing to meet their demands was the only option. As it stands, both pitchers were traded to teams that immediately signed them to the extensions they desired.
With Zach Greinke, the circumstances were a little different. At the time of Greinke’s trade, he still had two years remaining on the four year extension he’d signed prior to the 2009 season. While it’s true Greinke formerly requested a trade, the Royals were already exploring that option, and had been for a few weeks. Their decision to trade Greinke had little to with his demands. If they didn’t trade him prior to the season, he had little recourse outside of retiring or holding out.* If the Royals had been so inclined, they could’ve remained patient, and allowed the demand for his services to skyrocket—even if it meant waiting until the July 31st trading deadline or beyond. Instead, their motivation had more to do with reality that (a) the Royals wouldn’t be playoff contenders by the end of his contract, and (b) they wouldn’t be able to re-sign him due to the going rate of ace quality pitchers on the free agent market. Rather receive nothing in compensation by letting him leave via free agency after 2012, the Royals decided to trade him for four prospects that could help them build a team worthy of playoff contention starting in 2013.
* Retiring is an irrational reaction to a reasonable situation, and likely would end up backfiring. Holding out would result not only in an unpaid suspension and fines, but also in a precipitous drop in his trade value. Obviously, neither of those are good options.
Felix Hernandez’s situation is completely different from the three pitchers named above. Hernandez still has four years remaining on the 5 year $78M extension he signed prior the start of the 2010 season. This gives them an opportunity to be patient. They have ample time to build their farm system, and put together a roster capable of contending when Hernandez is reaching his career peak. Plus, it’s not like he’s going to be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. No intelligent General Manager trades away a player of his talent when there’s not a pressing need to do so. That is, unless he’s able to bring back a King’s Ransom--no pun intended. To date, I haven’t heard of any proposals that would meet that mark.