Until it isn't, Seattle is Felix's Kingdom
Mariners fans and their team's ace pitcher can rejoice in perfect game
Felix Hernandez's perfect game had an air of inevitability. The guy's stuff is superb, and he's wowed us with it -- even if the early results were a bit uneven -- since he was 19 years old. He was never "Prince Felix, Duke of Safeco." He was always "King Felix," and it took a flawless afternoon against a Rays team victimized by three perfect games in four seasons for that title to take on added meaning.Of course, the other inevitability, borne out of Hernandez thrusting himself into the national limelight as his Mariners play out the dog days of August, is talk of what this pristine performance will mean for King Felix's already robust trade value. This was illustrated in the aftermath, with general manager Jack Zduriencik holding his cell phone to his ear in the midst of some media members and jokingly saying, "No, we're not trading Felix."
Naturally, that won't stop fans in the Bronx or at Fenway from salivating over the vision of prospects changing hands so that their club can reel in one of the game's biggest fish this winter.Actually, forget "biggest fish." The more accurate term, as it applies to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, is "white whale," because Cashman has long been known to have Hernandez atop his wish list (he settled for Felix Lite, better known as Michael Pineda, last winter), and the Yankees quite often tend to get what they want. Well, allow me, if I may, to speak on behalf of Mariners fans when I say: Drop it. Let the man and his long-suffering fans soak in this moment for a while. I get the well-intentioned tone of the endless trade rumors. I get that trading Hernandez would be a meaningful opportunity for a Mariners team short on bats to inject its upper levels with a talent haul. I also get that Zduriencik can change his mind at any point and decide that the time is right and ripe to part with Felix for the good of the franchise's future. Hernandez, however, is only 26. And he's under contract through 2014. Granted, the rate -- $39.5 million over the next two seasons -- is hardly a bargain. In fact, it's sneaking into the neighborhood of what Hernandez would likely claim in an open market. But the Mariners envision a competitive future in which Hernandez remains the centerpiece of the rotation, and so it should surprise no one that Zduriencik hasn't been all that interested in listening to offers. For Mariners fans, it's a tired topic. It probably tires them as much as the recent results of a club that's trending toward its seventh losing season in nine years. That's why what happened Wednesday was so special for Hernandez and the Seattle faithful. Hernandez has been in the Mariners' system since he signed out of Venezuela in 2002. He has a year-round home in the Seattle suburbs. Hernandez has never had the chance to take his talents to the grander stage of the postseason, but he is proud of his role on the club and in the community. "I'm happy here," he has said, too many times to count. So, finally, Hernandez had a moment of magnitude with the Mariners, a moment in which his superb stuff reached its loftiest level yet, and the fans had reason to rejoice. And don't think this moment won't register in the minds of the American League Cy Young Award voters when it's time to cast ballots. As it stands, Hernandez has posted a 1.56 ERA over his past 15 starts to firmly thrust himself into the conversation for what would be his second Cy. Maybe that, too, is inevitable. But the broader conversations revolving around Hernandez will always include the trade talk. And it doesn't matter how many times Hernandez conveys his happiness or Zduriencik repeats his resistance. You'll continue to have reports like the one in the New York Daily News on Thursday morning. "I don't care what Jack is saying right now," an AL executive told the newspaper. "I think he'll listen to offers next winter. I know the kid says he wants to be in Seattle, but do you really think he'll re-sign there if they're not a contender?" The executive has a point, to a point, as the Mariners' competitive chances seem slim, looking ahead to 2013, and that's because the offense remains redundantly unproductive. Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, the three supposed lynchpins of the future, have hit a combined .228 in the Majors this season, and the stifling effects of Safeco have probably played some part. But Montero and Smoak were, of course, highly touted trade acquisitions -- Montero in the Pineda trade, Smoak in the Cliff Lee swap with the Rangers in 2010. And that just goes to show how dicey these deals can be. Little wonder, then, that Zduriencik would rather try to build a winner around King Felix. He'd rather Hernandez serve as the anchor of a rotation that could one day include Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Doing so in the AL West, and in a ballpark that is simply unattractive to free-agent hitters, is clearly a challenge, but the success of the A's this season shows that there's no telling a team's timetable. Prime pitching covers a lot of holes, and the Mariners have one of the best pitchers in the profession. On Wednesday, we saw, once again, just why the Mariners value their King so much. We saw, once again, why he has become the face of a franchise that parted with an aging Ichiro last month. How long King Felix will remain that face is anyone's guess. But, for now, Mariners fans deserve the chance to relish in this impressively inevitable performance.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.