PHOENIX -- The Mariners' king of the hill, Felix Hernandez, might be the most valuable property in baseball. He is 24 years old and the reigning American League Cy Young winner, and he is signed to a long-term contract that's less than onerous considering his ability and record.
Teams call Seattle asking about a trade, just in case they have a brain cramp or something. But the answer remains the same.
"He's not going anywhere,'' Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We've got him. We'll keep him. We're not going to move him.''
Hernandez threw 2 2/3 innings of solid baseball in his spring debut against the A's on Monday, allowing five hits and one run while throwing all his pitches and showing a sense of humor afterward. Quizzed as to whether he was tired after his 53-pitch pitch outing, King Felix answered, "Tired? I haven't pitched since last year.''
Hernandez, who had a 2.27 ERA, struck out 232 batters in 249 2/3 innings and went 13-12 in winning the AL Cy Young award in 2010, is not only perhaps the best pitcher in the game, he's also the youngest ace. Plus, he's a very smart young man and a team player with all the right answers. He said he was pleased the Mariners show no inclination to trade him.
"That's good. I love it. This is the best for me,'' Hernandez said.
But he's also smart enough to realize that it's not completely in his control. "I want to stay here. (But) this is a business. It's not my decision,'' he said.
Zduriencik is getting used to the question of whether or not he'll trade his ace, whether it comes from media members or other general managers. And it will be asked of him even more frequently if the Mariners are lagging behind the first few months again. It's a natural since Hernandez could transform any rotation and the Mariners wouldn't appear to be a contender, at least not for 2011.
Seattle's historically bad offense of a year ago has been enhanced only with the middling veterans Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan and Adam Kennedy. They do have a plethora of big-time prospects, among them Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Johermyn Chavez and Michael Pineda, who threw two scoreless innings Monday and was said to hit 98 mph, five mph more than Hernandez. And with King Felix being so young and under contract for so long (he has four years remaining on the five-year, $78 -million deal with escalator clauses that could take it past $80 million he signed before the start of last season), the Mariners have hope he will still be there for the resurrection.
"We're trying to build this thing,'' Zduriencik said. "We've got some young prospects with exciting ability. We're hoping to get to that next level. So why would we entertain trading him? Every club in baseball has to have that No. 1 (pitcher). We've got that No. 1. So why would we move him?''
The Yankees are the most obvious team desperate to add a big-time starter, though any team with a decent-sized payroll and like aspirations would surely be interested. The Yankees, who tried to sign Hernandez when he was an amateur (he chose Seattle instead), called expressing interest over the winter, but Zduriencik said it's been months since the two teams have talked. The Yankees offered up-and-coming catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners when they tried to acquire pitching star Cliff Lee last summer, and the Yankees have young starter Phil Hughes as well as superb pitching prospects Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, among several other pitching and catching prospects, to dangle. But Zduriencik makes it clear he isn't even looking at other teams' rosters.
"We've talked a little bit in the past,'' Zduriencki said of Yankees GM Brian Cashman. "But we'd be foolish to move [Hernandez].''
In case Zduriencik changes his mind, Hernandez's agents at Octagon Baseball wisely composed a no-trade list of 10 teams that is said to include basically the 10 biggest-revenue teams (not counting Seattle, which is thought to be one). They did this not because Hernandez has any qualms about going to the Yankees (word is he doesn't), but because it brings financial leverage in case there's a trade. Zduriencik said he wasn't even aware which teams are on that list. "I'm not even sure,'' Zduriencik said "because it's not an issue.''
• The Indians continued to make bargain deals when they added Nick Johnson not long after they signed Chad Durbin and Orlando Cabrera. The three of them will make about $3 million total if all are in the majors (Johnson's minor-league deal pays $750,000 if he's in the majors).
• The two most impressive young prospects in Arizona may be Indians lefthanded pitcher Drew Pomeranz and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, according to scouts. Royals games get more exciting after the fifth inning, when Hosmer and Mike Moustakas normally enter. Hosmer has hit two long home runs that have people buzzing in the Cactus League.
• Indians infield prospect Jason Kipnis is impressing scouts, too. "He should be up in June,'' one scout said. For now, the likely Indians' infield will have Jason Donald at third base, Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, Asdrubal Carera at second base and Matt LaPorta at first base.
• Gregg Zaun's sudden retirement due to continuing shoulder trouble leaves the Padres with a catching deficit. Zaun was the likely backup to Nick Hundley. Now it's Rob Johnson. Free-agent Bengie Molina would make sense for them if he wants to come back to baseball.
• Michael Choice, the A's No. 1 choice in last year's draft, has looked excellent in A's camp. He's 5 for 14. The outfielder's ETA: 2012.
• Carlos Silva gave up 10 hits and eight runs in 2 1/3 innings, fresh off his skirmish with good guy Aramis Ramirez. The good news is, he didn't try to hit anyone. Randy Wells is very likely to be the Cubs' No. 4 starter, while the competition is intense for the No. 5 job, maybe a bit too intense for Silva.
• The Indians are committed to Justin Masterson in the rotation. But one scout said, "He can't get lefthanders out. They hit .290 against him."
• One team that will "surprise folks,'' according to one scout, is the Florida Marlins.
• Other teams talk with reverence and awe about the Phillies' starting pitching. No one has a rotation even close to it. But they do have some other issues, like Chase Utley's knee and Domonic Brown's hand (broken hamate bone, out several weeks). So nothing's for sure in this game.