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Trading the King: What A-list deals bring

5/12/2011

Where Felix Hernandez is concerned, it’s easy to ditch hope and faith and start demanding the Mariners get down to business and resolve what their King’s ransom is. Jim Caple responded to those calling for Seattle to trade its ace by suggesting its time everyone stops treating the bad clubs like they're farm systems for the rich teams. Plus, those who think Seattle is better off trading Hernandez might want to be careful what they wish for. Consider the packages received from this short, non-comprehensive list of A-list exchanges from the last decade:

2010

  • Phillies trade Cliff Lee to the Mariners for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies: This was for a full year of Lee. Nobody’s a slam-dunk deal-winner more than a year later. Aumont should be a good reliever someday, but Gillies is still struggling with hamstring woes that have kept him from becoming the leadoff prospect he was made out to be. Ramirez is putting up good numbers in a repeat spin at Double-A, but his slider’s MIA, taking his strikeout rate with it (nine in 32 innings).

  • Mariners trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers (with Mark Lowe) for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Matthew Lawson and Blake Beavan: The Mariners were only dealing away a few months of Lee’s time before free agency, but were also surrendering the draft picks his departure would inevitably bring. Lawson’s already gone (dealt for Aaron Laffey), but Smoak’s living up to his billing as a top prospect, and Beavan should help round out a rotation someday. Lueke’s off-field jail time and on-field struggles have made him a source of embarrassment. A merely decent package for a three-month rental of an ace.

  • Astros trade Roy Oswalt to the Phillies for J.A. Happ, Brett Wallace and Anthony Villar: Houston paid for the privilege of making this deal happen, giving the Phillies $11 million to offset Oswalt’s 2011 salary, because this wasn’t just a season-ending rental. This was a humiliatingly bad deal, even if Happ sticks as a mid-rotation filler for the four seasons he’s under Astros control, and even if Wallace winds up being an adequate bat for first base. Villar is hitting in Lancaster in the Cal League.

  • Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay to the Phillies for Michael Taylor, Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek: A reasonable exchange, because the Phillies could put together a financial package to make Doc happy, while the Jays got at least one premium talent. Drabek looks like he’ll be a quality big-league starter for years to come, while d’Arnaud is a 22-year-old strong-armed receiver dealing with the tough jump to Double-A. Taylor was swapped for Brett Wallace, who was subsequently converted into outfield speedster Anthony Gose to help the Astros’ end of the Oswalt exchange.

2009

  • Indians trade Cliff Lee to the Phillies for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Lou Marson: Donald and Marson make for little more than nice reserves, so this deal boils down to the two pitchers’ upside for a year and a half of Lee. Knapp came over with a bum shoulder that needed repair, but has been excellent in the Sally League this spring, while Carrasco’s a reasonable mid-rotation starter.

2008

  • Twins trade Johan Santana to the Mets for Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Carlos Gomez: An unmitigated disaster, but Santana’s role in forcing the Twins’ hand via his no-trade rights to get himself the multi-year deal he coveted with New York was a critical factor. Mulvey and Humber are both out of the organization, the toolsy Gomez (now with the Brewers) may never hold a regular job in center and Guerra may never get past Double-A.

  • Indians trade CC Sabathia to the Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson, and Rob Bryson: Not a lot of wow in this exchange, because LaPorta seems to have recovered enough at the plate to kill the Brad Komminsk comparisons as a potential all-time washout, while Brantley’s a serviceable outfield starter. All this for almost three months of Sabathia, and no draft picks? It makes the Mariners’ trade of Lee last year look good by comparison.

2005

  • Diamondbacks traded Randy Johnson to the Yankees for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and cash. This was equal parts about the Big Unit’s cost and the dissatisfaction with Vazquez after his initial flop in the Bronx, but the Snakes got some payback by getting Chris Young from the White Sox in their own Vazquez package deal.

2003

  • Diamondbacks traded Curt Schilling to the Red Sox for Brandon Lyon, Jorge De La Rosa, Casey Fossum, and Michael Goss: In retrospect, this salary dump didn’t turn out as badly for the Snakes as it looked at first blush, but that’s mostly because De La Rosa did eventually establish himself -- six years later, and on the Rockies’ watch. Lyon has a career, but Fossum was a top prospect who didn’t pan out.

2002

  • Indians trade Bartolo Colon (and Tim Drew) to the Expos for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Lee Stevens, and the ubiquitous Cliff Lee: A flat-out disaster, but from the other side of the equation. Omar Minaya grabbed for headlines without landing an actual ace, at the low, low, low price of handing the Tribe a trio of blue-chip talents. Every team trying to trade an ace can dream of getting a package this good, but a deal this awful comes along once in a generation, and there are no more Expos to keep alive the memory of the other side of this disaster, let alone entertain Clevelanders with their lamentations.

The good news for the Mariners is how Hernandez is not like these others: He's under contractual control through 2014, so he’s not a rental, and at the age of 25, these next four seasons should be prime campaigns worthy of a real premium. His $58 million salary for 2012-2014 might seem like a deterrent to getting a deal done, but that’s still below the coin it would have taken to buy a King on the open market in any of the recent starter-starved pools of free agents.

If anything, to get a sense of what Hernandez might bring in a deal, you might want to compare the King’s value to that of Matt Garza. The Cubs traded a five-player package of worthwhile prospects to the Rays to acquire three seasons of a talented pitcher in the middle of his career. That’s what Jack Zduriencik would have to use as his measure, because if history’s any guide, the M’s GM shouldn’t be interested in moving his ace, just to move the expense of employing him.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.