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King Felix should be untouchable

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The Yankees are free to inquire on Felix Hernandez, but the Mariners do not figure to move a pitcher who is under contract for four more years - and, ahem, coming off his first American League Cy Young award.

The Red Sox, Yankees and Rays reportedly all pushed for Hernandez at the 2009 non-waiver deadline, when he was 2-1/2 years from free agency.

The Mariners, who balked at trading him then, should be even less interested in moving him now.

True, the M's are in something of a rebuilding mode, and the Yankees are in a near-desperate position after losing free-agent lefty Cliff Lee to the Phillies.

But Hernandez, who does not turn 25 until April 8, signed a five-year extension last January. He can block trades to as many as 10 clubs annually. It is not known if the Yankees are on his list.

His salary next season, in what would have been his final year of arbitration, will be $11 million. After that, his annual numbers will jump to $19 million, $20 million and $20.5 million.

The total sum -- $70.5 million over four years -- is a bargain for a pitcher of Hernandez's age and caliber.

At this moment, it's difficult to imagine how the Yankees could put together a package strong enough to even tempt the M's. Perhaps things will change by the deadline or by next offseason, when Hernandez's bigger salaries are looming.

But why should they?

The Mariners are not the Pirates, Indians or some other low-revenue pawn. If they trade Hernandez, they might as well swap identities with the Portland Beavers.

Build around him, not without him.

Possibilities for the Cubs Right-hander Carl Pavano is the best remaining free-agent starting pitcher.

The trade market offers more numerous options, and we're not just talking about the Royals' Zack Greinke and Rays' Matt Garza -- or even the Phillies' Joe Blanton, who is suddenly expendable due to the signing of you-know-who.

Consider the Cubs.

They boast enough starting-pitching depth in the minors to put together a package for a veteran such as Garza.

If they pulled off such a deal -- and combined it with a move of talented youngster Andrew Cashner to the rotation -- they then could trade one of their back-end major-league starters.

Lefty Tom Gorzelanny and righty Randy Wells aren't as exciting as Greinke and Garza. Neither is righty Carlos Silva, whom the Cubs owe $6 million next season, with the Mariners paying the other $5.5 million.

Still, given the large number of teams seeking to upgrade their rotation, the Cubs could put all of those moving parts in motion.

The team also remains willing to trade right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, who is set to earn $13.5 million in the final year of his contract.

As with Silva, the Cubs almost certainly would include money to facilitate a deal. But keeping Fukudome, even though he is overpriced, would not be the worst thing, either.

New manager Mike Quade made good use of his four-man outfield rotation after replacing Lou Piniella in August, finding at-bats for Fukudome, Tyler Colvin, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano.

Byrd faded in September. Soriano requires occasional days off. Trading Fukudome would compromise the Cubs' depth, and actually could do more harm than good.

The Reds: too quiet? If not for their apparent payroll restrictions, the Reds might be a team to watch, maybe even a favorite to land Greinke.

It would be difficult for the Reds to satisfy the Royals' desire for up-the-middle players. But the team seemingly has enough pitching and corner talent to figure out something.

The problem is money.

The Reds are expected to field a payroll of roughly $80 million in 2011. They've already got $55 million committed -- and that's before going to arbitration with first baseman Joey Votto and righties Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.

Greinke will earn $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, a rumored (and only rumored) Reds target, will earn $11 million in the final year of his deal.

The Reds do not appear to be in financial position to trade for either right now.

"They're stretching it at $80 million," one rival executive says. "They're tapped out."

The markets for Beltre, Soriano A major-league source says free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre remains a "focus" for the Angels, who have yet to address their offense.

Which other clubs are in?

Good question.

But in an offseason of surprise suitors -- the Nationals on Jayson Werth, the Red Sox on Carl Crawford, the Phillies on Cliff Lee -- it would be dangerous to jump to conclusions.

For now, the Rangers are more inclined to re-sign designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero and perhaps add a right-handed hitting first baseman to pair with Mitch Moreland than renew their quest for Beltre, sources say.

The A's, who never have confirmed or denied their reported five-year, $64 million offer to Beltre, could pursue options, if they aren't already.

Guessing the market for free-agent closer Rafael Soriano, the other big unsigned Scott Boras client, also is tricky.

Some rival executives believe that Soriano could be targeted by a second-division club seeking to make a splash, the way the Reds did with closer Francisco Cordero in the 2007-08 offseason.

Among the Lee losers, the Rangers are unlikely to spend big for a reliever, even if they move righty Neftali Feliz to the rotation. But one rival exec thinks the Yankees could target Soriano as part of their post-Lee recovery program.

The Yankees could pay Soriano closer money for three or four years, effectively buying insurance for Mariano Rivera while putting his successor in place.

Kerry Wood, another free-agent candidate for the Yankees, is seeking a two-year, $12 million deal, according to one source.

Tulo: a bargain! Troy Tulowitzki's 10-year, $157.5 million extension remains the richest contract awarded this offseason. But it actually looks better by the day.

Tulowitzki's salary will peak at $20 million per season from 2015 to '19, when he is between the ages of 30 and 34.

His salary declines to $14 million in 2020 and $15 million on a club option in '21, though each of those figures could increase by $6 million based on his finishes in various awards races.

Around the horn -Pavano wants a three-year deal with an average annual value in the $10 million to $11 million range, according to one GM.

The Brewers and Nationals do not want to go beyond two years, sources said. The Twins remain the front-runner, but their offer could hinge on the outcome of their negotiations with Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

The Rangers are not on Pavano, sources said.

-The Phillies want to trade Blanton to clear payroll for Lee, but do not plan to move left fielder Raul Ibanez.

Ibanez, who will earn $11.5 million next season in the final year of his contract, is working out and hitting every day in Philadelphia. He was not fully recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia in the first half of last season.

-The Nationals are at an impasse in their quest to land Greinke, according to two major-league sources. The holdup is the Nats' reluctance to include right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, one source says.

The Rangers, too, have yet to make substantial progress on a deal for Greinke.