Aug 3, 2009, 5:18 PM EDT
Sure, the Red Sox would have loved to add Roy Halladay had the price been right, but it seems clear now that he was never their No. 1 pitching target. As usual, while the media looked one way, the Red Sox thought outside the box and set their sights sky high. In this case, that meant targeting Felix Hernandez.
While I may have argued differently a year ago, Hernandez clearly trumps Halladay as a property now. It’s largely due to contract status and cash. When I ranked the top 50 pitchers for 2010-14 back in May, I had Halladay third and Hernandez fourth. However, money was left out of the equation then and it was close anyway.
The contracts play a huge roll. Halladay will earn $15.75 million next year and is eligible for free agency at season’s end. King Felix will ask for a huge raise from his current $3.8 million in arbitration, but he still probably won’t clear $10 million next season. Also, he’s under control for 2011.
The Mariners never seemed to have any intention of trading Hernandez now, though the return would have been impressive. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported that they could have had Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Michael Bowden from the Red Sox. I can’t think of a trade that ever brought a team a greater haul of young pitching. I’m not convinced that Baker has the list exactly right; my guess is that if the Mariners wanted both Buchholz and Bard from the list of eight players, then a couple of the other pitchers would have been ruled off limits. Still, in terms of quantity and quality, the Mariners would have faired quite well.
Alternatively, they apparently could have had Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres, along with Buchholz, though that would have required them surrendering three of their top youngsters in Brandon Morrow, Carlos Triunfel and Phillippe Aumont. Under the circumstances, the two-team deal with Boston seemed like the better option.
The Red Sox, and probably other teams as well, will again approach the Mariners about Hernandez this winter. There’s still not going to be any urgency to trade him, but they might be more open to it if another round of contract talks fails to result in a long-term agreement. While most of the game’s top young starters have been willing to give up a year or two of free agency in order to guarantee a lifetime of financial security, Hernandez has declined to sign a long-term deal. It’s turned out to be a smart strategy for him; in the wake of his breakthrough season, he’s in line to negotiate far better terms now than he might have a year ago. It might take something like $80 million for five years to lock him up now, and it’s possible that Hernandez would still prefer to wait and see if there’s a $200 million offer awaiting him in free agency.
The Mariners should have the cash to play ball with Hernandez, but they can’t risk having him depart in return for just two draft picks. The plan should be to make him a generous offer this winter and then consider moving him if he doesn’t take it. With so few elite free agents available this winter — particularly on the pitching side — there probably won’t ever be a better time to trade him.
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