So, yeah, the response to Wednesday’s “Seattle should probably trade Felix Hernandez” column wasn’t entirely positive. I understand it was a case of raining on the parade, and I’m sorry about that. Still, it was an angle of the story that needed to be covered.
Now that I’ve had a day to think more on the subject and read all of the comments posted in response, I have to say that I’m more firmly in the “should trade” corner than ever.
This is not a team that is a couple of quick fixes away from taking on the Rangers. There is some talent around, but the only likely position player star in the organization is Jesus Montero. While I still think Dustin Ackley is a long-term regular, he has regressed this year. Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino will be nice complimentary pieces, as might some others. But the team needs some star power in the field.
The pitching side is more promising. With prospects like Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen perhaps ready to contribute alongside King Felix next season, the Mariners could quickly assemble one of the AL’s best rotations. Or perhaps not. Even the best pitching prospects are no more than 50-50 shots. If either Walker or Hultzen becomes a No. 2 and the other flames out, the Mariners should still consider themselves lucky.
And that’s why I just don’t see how the Mariners are better off with Hernandez than they would be with the three or four pieces they could get for him. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they could take a step forward next year and then find themselves in serious contention in 2014, but it would take a serious stroke of luck.
The Mariners have had Felix for eight years now and still haven’t made the playoffs. Here’s what stands out to me: since the beginning of 2010, they’re a combined 48-44 when Hernandez starts. Even when they’re throwing one of the game’s three best pitchers, they’re still barely better than a .500 team.
The Mariners don’t need to trade Hernandez for financial reasons; they need to trade him because they simply need more talent. If they can get a premium young shortstop and a couple of more promising bats for him, they’d be a better bet going forward than they are now. The current one-man team isn’t going to take them anywhere.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.