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Felix is looking for a King's ransom, and he probably deserves it

INDIANAPOLIS -- Superstar pitcher Felix Hernandez's intention to request about $100 million for six years in contract talks might surprise some folks in that other young star pitchers have sought far less. Zack Greinke took a $38 million, four-year contract with the Royals and Josh Johnson was reported to request about $45 million for four years from the Marlins.

But King Felix is a special case. And baseball people understand that.

"The Mariners should sign up for that right now,'' one baseball executive at this week's winter meetings said of the $100 million figure.

"That number is too low,'' one competing agent said (although, admittedly, competing agents always think the other guy is settling).

The thing is, Hernandez is only 23 years old, he went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA last year, and his overall numbers were only a smidgen behind Cy Young winner Greinke's. And that's at an age when top prospects are often just breaking into Triple-A or still in Double-A.

The way Hernandez's camp arrived at the $100 million figure is that the ace right-hander should get roughly $10 million this year in arbitration, then maybe $15 million the next year, followed by four free-agent years at around $20 mil. The $20 million is calculated by taking the $23 million salary of baseball's best-paid pitchers, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, and shaving off a few million.

That would come to $105 million. But since Felix made $3.8 million last year, he could probably be enticed by the flat $100 mil figure.

Trading Roy Halladay still isn't going to be easy a half-year later. Complications include his no-trade clause, a contract that expires after this year, the understandably high value placed on him by the Blue Jays and the rising value of prospects in the game.

With that in mind, the Blue Jays might consider dealing Halladay at the trade deadline this summer if they can't get it done over the winter. Halladay's agents set a deadline of spring training in order to avoid the distraction that last year's public selloff inspired, and that makes sense from their perspective. Last summer was no fun for Halladay or his teammates. But the reality is that the new Jays regime, headed by 32-year-old GM Alex Anthopoulos, intends to be much quieter than the previous one, so quiet, in fact, that Anthopoulos might be able to pull off a trade without last summer's circus-like atmosphere.

Fairly little is known about the Halladay talks thus far (that's the new Jays leaders being quiet), but Toronto has particular interest in pitching, a shortstop and a catcher, and there are believed to be four main contenders. The Mets are also known to have checked in (but no one believes that Halladay would approve a trade to the Mets, considering the season they had last year). These are the frontrunners right now:

1. Yankees. The Jays like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, neither of whom is solidly a starting pitcher for the Yankees (both have been told that they'll prepare this spring as if they'll start), and also catcher Jesus Montero and outfielder Austin Jackson. The Yankees have the money and the inclination to trade for Halladay.

2. Red Sox. There's a sense that some of their people might actually prefer to spend on free-agent pitcher John Lackey and perhaps use their big chips, including right-hander Clay Buchholz, to trade for a productive hitter such as Adrian Gonzalez. Offensive production has to be their first priority, especially until they can fill left field (Jason Bay and Matt Holliday are the best free-agent options there). The Red Sox are having Casey Kellyconcentrate on pitching full-time, and they don't appear anxious to trade him. "He has a chance to be special as a pitcher,'' one scout said.

3. Angels. Word is, a Halladay trade could revolve around lefty Joe Saunders. The most natural assumption is that the Jays prefer prospects, but the reality is that they will consider the deal that brings the most "value.'' Catcher Mike Napoli could also interest them. The Angels absolutely will not do a deal without an extension, and it's uncertain whether Halladay wants to lock himself up long-term for a team that trains in Arizona (his winter home is in Oldsmar, Fla.).

4. Phillies. Bullpen is their main priority, but they are an aggressive team with a lot of loot coming off the books (Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins and Brett Myers). One person connected to the Phillies says that they won't trade Cole Hamels, who turns 26 this month, for the 32-year-old Halladay (and they made clear that they won't give up a package of Dominic Brown, Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ, either).

One extreme longshot team in the Halladay derby is the Rays, who kicked tires with the Blue Jays about their ace. A person familiar with the talks said it's "extremely unlikely" that Halladay ends up in Tampa Bay.

• Bay's most interested suitors appear to be the Mariners, Angels and Red Sox. Boston isn't believed willing to go all that much higher than the $60 million for four years that they originally offered. But Bay loved his time there, so perhaps he would give them a slight discount. The Angels and Mariners are battling on a number of fronts. But the Angels' interest is apparent, especially with them shopping two other outfielders (Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Rivera).

• The Cardinals' one-year deal with Brad Penny for $7.5 million plus $1.5 million in innings-based bonuses startled some folks, who pointed out that Penny was basically released last summer before stepping up his game for the Giants. MLB was not thrilled with this deal at all, while player agents seemed to love it. It's hard to question the Cardinals, though, as they are one of baseball's better organizations. And if pitching guru Dave Duncan sees something there, maybe there is more there than meets the eye.

Carl Pavano, one of three free agents to accept arbitration, along with Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Soriano, had to like Penny's deal. He had a better year than Penny and should now have a chance to top $7.5 million in arbitration.

• Soriano surprised the Braves by accepting arbitration, and Atlanta immediately began telling folks that it may look to trade him now. The Braves can't make a trade without Soriano's approval, but perhaps they can find the right spot for him. In any case, with a $6.3 million salary in 2009, he is due to make at least $7 million in arbitration.

• Astros closer Jose Valverde also surprised some people by turning down arbitration. He did have a big year in 2009, and the market should be better than it currently looks for him.

• Milwaukee is believed to be the leader for Randy Wolf, and there are reports of a three-year offer, but the Mets are still after the veteran left-hander.

• The Mets were startled by Wolf's three-year offer and Joel Pineiro's four-year request. Could this actually cause them to consider an even better pitcher, such as John Lackey? They still seem like a long shot for Lackey, who's drawing interest from the Mariners, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Nationals, Rangers and others. But it isn't completely out of the question.

• The Tigers appear intent on trading Edwin Jackson to free money for other needs. They seek young pitchers in return for Jackson. The Diamondbacks are trying hard.

Ivan Rodriguez probably surprised some folks by getting a two-year deal for $6 million from the Nationals. Pudge went to the Tigers when they were down and was there for their resurgence, and he's hoping history repeats itself.

• The Mets were expected to start talks with Bengie Molina at about $6 million for one year and an option. But the I-Rod contract would seem to suggest that Molina should get a two-year deal. The one issue he has is that the other teams seeking a catcher are either looking for a backup or are small-market teams unlikely to outbid the Mets.

• Execs believe the Mets will trade Angel Pagan. The Royals are a possibility.

• No surprise that Jason Marquis didn't take the arbitration offer from the Rockies, as the sides had a falling out after Marquis wasn't given a playoff start and both parties understood that it was time to move on. Marquis, a solid innings-eater, is famous for a big first half followed by a weaker second half. He is begging the Mets to take him. They are resistant so far.

• The consensus is that the Mariners got a bargain with Chone Figgins at $36 million for four years. Consider that Johnny Damon, a comparably excellent leadoff type, got $52 million for four years when he was a couple months older than Figgins four years ago (Figgins turns 32 next month). Figgins' reps appear to have used Brian Roberts' $40 million, four-year deal as a template. But Roberts wasn't a free agent when he signed that deal.

• The Astros and Rangers might be possibilities for Brett Myers, who is definitely gone from the Phillies.

Kevin Millwood is definitely on the market, as the Rangers have some rare starting pitching depth.

• The Yankees' first offer to Andy Pettitte is believed to be a logical $10.5 million. While that is what he earned last year, he had to reach $5 million in incentives to get there. They couldn't very well offer him a cut. But in this market, that is a pretty reasonable offer.

• The Yankees spent Monday trying to trade for Curtis Granderson. If they acquire Granderson, they may win some leverage in talks with Johnny Damon, who is thought to want to return. The Yankees have yet to make an offer for Damon, and instead asked Damon to make the first offer. Damon declined to go first.

• If Randy Johnson retires (and many think he will), it's been one incredible career. What an era of pitching that's just coming to a close, with him, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens and John Smoltz.

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