Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has adamantly refused to listen to offers for ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, no matter the desire of the New York media to stir up trade rumors.
But that was B.A. -- Before Albert.
"It certainly creates a challenge in our division, no doubt," Zduriencik said Thursday after the Angels reached terms with Albert Pujols. "A bigger challenge than had already been there."
Besides Pujols and fellow free agent signee C.J. Wilson, the Angels have young stud Mike Trout ready to make a big impact on the win column. They have Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo still making close to the league minimum salary while providing solid production and likely improvement. They may get Kendrys Morales back. With Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, their rotation now possesses three of the American League's top-10 starting pitchers of 2011.
In other words, the Angels are going to be extremely tough for at least a couple years, before Haren is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, before Pujols perhaps starts declining, and before the young players start requiring contracts that will eat up larger chunks of the team budget.
Meanwhile, the Rangers appear ready to absorb the loss of Wilson -- they'll move Neftali Feliz into the rotation, and they still have a core of players in their primes in Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus. They have money to spend, although some of that will have to go signing Hamilton and Kinsler to extensions. Still, don't be surprised if they win the rights to Yu Darvish, as they seek an ace to replace Wilson.
Add it up and you have to do a lot of funny math to make the Mariners contenders in 2012 or '13, even if they sign Prince Fielder.
That takes us to 2014 -- the final year of Hernandez's contract. At that point, facing years of losing and poor run support in his rear-view mirror, what are the odds Hernandez would sign an extension with the Mariners? He'd still be turning just 29 years old early in the 2015 season, meaning he'd be ripe for a mega-contract before that season from one of the usual big-market franchises (which includes the Angels and Rangers).
The future of the Mariners sits with 2011 rookie gem Michael Pineda, plus pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, all of whom have top-of-the-rotation potential. Outside of second baseman Dustin Ackley, however, the position players don't rate as high, and the guys who do have a chance to impact the major league level (Nick Franklin, Alex Liddi, Vinnie Catricala) need more time in the minors.
That means, realistically, the Mariners are aiming for 2014 at the earliest. By then, Hernandez's trade value won't be as high; and if they are competitive by then, it would be because Pineda, Hultzen, Paxton and Walker are in the rotation ... which, in theory, would make King Felix more expendable.
So do you trade Hernandez now, when his value his highest and his arm healthy? I'm not a fan of advocating trading a superstar, since those trades rarely work out (see: the Indians and Phillies trading Cliff Lee). But sometimes they do, such as when the Rangers acquired Andrus, Feliz and Matt Harrison for Mark Teixeira. None of those players were actually that close to the majors, so the Rangers took a big risk that paid off. If the Mariners would be willing to trade Hernandez, they would want at least one bat that is major league ready with big-time power potential ... plus a lot more.