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Hernandez would be King in Boston

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 30, 2012
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SEATTLE — There’s always talk, and that’s all it has ever been, about the Mariners needing to deal Felix Hernandez, for whatever reason.

There’s the strategy of getting a bounty of players to take care of other needs. There’s the reason that after his contract runs out in 2014, he may not re-sign with the Mariners, even though he appears to love it here.

That’s neither here nor there.

After watching him pitch Thursday night, it doesn’t take Dr. Charles Steinberg’s great vision, or Ben Cherington’s great baseball mind, to understand that King Felix fits perfectly with Boston.

The best part of it is that the Red Sox and Mariners would make terrific trading partners.

The Sox have two guys from the Northwest — Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury — who would probably love to come home. The dropoff from Hernandez to Lester isn’t overly substantial, and the gain of Ellsbury, a player who would electrify the Mariners’ offense, would be significant.

And don’t tell me there’s no money to sign Ellsbury long term in Seattle. You’ve got that recluse Japanese owner, who has tons of money. He could make Ellsbury and agent Scott Boras very happy. Ellsbury could go home, getting away from that intense Boston scrutiny and having people like myself question how long it takes to come back from five broken ribs and a subluxation of a non-throwing shoulder.

And the Red Sox would have their new Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens.

Hernandez would get run support. His numbers would get better and his true value would show.

Hernandez, 91-72 for his career with a 3.23 ERA and 1.223 WHIP, is still just 26. This is his seventh full major league season, but there doesn’t seem to be much wear and tear.

He would be the King of Boston.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said before Hernandez's fantastic performance against the Red Sox that while he allows Hernandez to pitch deep into games, “I’m very mindful of all the innings he’s pitched for this franchise over the years.” He threw 128 pitches Thursday and it looked as if he could have thrown all night.

There’s no question that Mariners fans would be distraught over the loss of Hernandez, but as great as he is and as outstanding as he was Thursday night, only a little more than 20,000 showed up at beautiful Safeco Field to watch him pitch.

If he pitched in Boston, it would be the hottest ticket in town every five days.

The Mariners may want to think they’re rebuilding for down the road, but having an elite player such as Ellsbury adds instant credibility to their offense, especially with an aging Ichiro Suzuki, who may not be back next season.

The Red Sox would probably need to get a little more in return for giving up their No. 1 pitcher and last season’s runner-up for American League MVP. The Mariners could be kind and throw in Franklin Gutierrez or Michael Saunders.

Or the Mariners could get greedy and say, “OK, we’ll make the deal, if you take Chone Figgins.”

This would be a hard deal for the Red Sox to make as well, because Lester and Ellsbury are homegrown players. Lester beat cancer, won the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, and has become a good pitcher, though not an elite one.

Ellsbury is a terrific talent, but if you’re the Red Sox you have to wonder whether he would really want to re-sign in Boston or whether the Red Sox think it’s good business to re-sign a player who gets hurt so much.

With Jackie Bradley at Double A Portland, it appears he isn’t far from making a splash in Boston.

When he arrives, he could be their center fielder for a long time. So why not roll the dice and figure that between Bradley and Ryan Kalish you have two pretty good options to replace Ellsbury?

Lester, 28, is 81-39 (a .675 winning percentage) with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.295 WHIP. His contract runs through 2013, but there’s an affordable $13 million option for 2014 and he earns $11.625 million next season.

Lester just can’t electrify the crowd like Hernandez can.

That’s evident, given what at times has been a disinterested fan base, even though this Red Sox team is actually pretty fun to watch. They hustle. They give it their best every game. They have added youthful enthusiasm from Will Middlebrooks and Kalish, and pitchers Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales. It’s even been fun watching the bullpen, especially Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves at the end of games.

There’s something missing, however, and what’s missing is a pitcher of star power.

There’s no Justin Verlander. There’s no CC Sabathia. And there’s certainly no Hernandez.

When Martinez pitched for the Red Sox, it was an event, not just a game. There was an electric atmosphere.

After Clemens pitched his first 20-strikeout game, against the Mariners April 29, 1986, there was excitement every time he took the mound. It was a must see.

No Red Sox pitcher brings you to that level anymore.

Over the past few days many of you in Red Sox Nation have asked and/or suggested what it might take to get Hernandez. After watching his performance Thursday night, you’re reminded of his great talent and what an acquisition he would be.

He’s also expensive, earning $18.5 million this season, $19.5 million next season, and $20 million in 2014.

But worth every penny.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has had to respond to rumors over the years, and emphatically state he’s not trading Hernandez. But there have been times through the years when he’s listened, such as when Theo Epstein tried on two occasions that we know of to obtain Hernandez, offering four of his best prospects, and was rebuffed.

Zduriencik would probably shoot down this proposal as well.

But he’d have to think about it, wouldn’t he? After watching Thursday night’s performance, I had to imagine what King Felix would be like in a Red Sox uniform.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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