Hultzen, Mariners, and Trading Roadblocks


July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; USA team pitcher Danny Hultzen (21) delivers a pitch in the third inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

A post from writer David Schoenfield today explained, essentially, what every Royals fan already knows. If the Royals can find a way to pitch better, they have a chance of winning. He does a good job of explaining the details to a mass audience though, and he also proposes a trade possibility that not too many have explored yet: Mariners pitching prospect Danny Hultzen.

Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft after spending three years at the University of Virginia. He is often thought of as a very polished pitcher who, if not for a poor stretch in AAA, may have made his MLB debut in 2012 at the tail end of his first professional season. Some compare him to Cliff Lee, though it’s not clear that Hultzen has ace-level stuff at this point.

During his first professional season, Hultzen had a Jekyl and Hyde type performance. In AA, he pitched like a person deserving of the second overall pick. In 13 starts he went 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA, 79 strikeouts, 32 walks, 38 hits, and just two homeruns allowed in 75.1 innings. Simply put, he was incredible … for 13 starts in AA. In AAA, the wheels came off, and though the statistics point to how the wheels came off, why they came off is unknown to me. Lauded for his command, Hultzen started walking everyone under the sun. In 12 starts in AAA, he walked 43 hitters in 48.2 innings. His ERA was 5.92, though that wasn’t helped by a .351 BABIP. His FIP was a more respectable 4.29, but still not something a team wants to see from a potential ace.

Personally, I think the stint in AAA was a fluke. Hultzen’s FIP and his crazy high walk rate make me think he will rebound in 2013. Maybe he won’t put up the insane numbers he did in AA, but that’s bound to be the case as he faces tougher competition. I also think he’ll be ready for the big leagues very early in 2013, maybe May or June. And honestly, he’ll be ready to crack a terrible rotation like the Royals’ to start the season.

With all that in mind, the question becomes should the Royals attempt to trade for Hultzen? Schoenfield seems to think so, as do others. The offsetting weaknesses and strengths of the Mariners and Royals seems to make them natural trading partners. I must say that I’d love to have Hultzen pitching for the Royals in 2013. The sticking point? The price.

Schoenfield and others forward the name Billy Butler as the price for Hultzen. That is, of course, ridiculous. Hultzen hasn’t thrown a major league pitch, and Billy Butler is an All Star and maybe one of the 10-15 best hitters in the league. That means the Mariners would either need to throw in more or be willing to take less. They could throw in Erasmo Ramirez or Taijuan Walker, but I doubt they’d be willing to give up two high-end pitching prospects. Another possibility is James Paxton, a lesser prospect who still has some potential.

Really, the value swap of prospects is the roadblock to a trade between the Mariners and Royals. Butler is too valuable to trade for Hultzen or any of their pitching prospects straight up. But the Royals don’t really have any other hitters who are major league ready who they can live without (except maybe one). They could trade Wil Myers for Hutzlen, essentially straight up, but then the Royals are left with this gaping hole in right field (this hole has a name, Jeff Francoeur). Alex Gordon is too valuable. Eric Hosmer has too much potential.

The one hitter who might satisfy this imbalance is Mike Moustakas. It hurts me to say it because I love Moose, but he’s just good enough to be valuable to the Mariners and just not good enough to force them to give up two major prospects. The Royals would struggle to find a replacement, but Irving Falu or Tony Abreu or both might be able to fill that gap. If all else fails, they could try to sign a serviceable third baseman and hope that the pitching upgrade makes up for the loss of Moustakas.

Really, there aren’t any great answers. The Royals need pitching and in order to get it, they have to weaken their offense (in a trade scenario anyway). Hultzen is a good target for them, and the Mariners are a good trading partner. But there are as many impediments as there are reasons to get a deal done.