The love fest that's going on between the Seattle Mariners, ace right-hander Felix Hernandez and the team's adoring fans is one of the coolest stories in baseball right now. Even non-Mariners fans have to be wishing they could be in the King's Court wearing Mariners colors on nights the King is in session at Safeco Field.
That there's the kind of experience you just can't get anywhere else nowadays.
Alas, the question that must invariably be asked is how much longer this experience is going to last. Nothing that good lasts forever, and there's a chance that Mariners fans are only going to be able to adore King Felix for two more seasons after 2012 comes to a close—maybe less if Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik finally succumbs to the pressure and trades Hernandez this winter or any time thereafter.
But King Felix himself isn't about to tell anybody to enjoy the good times while they last. On several different occasions, he's vowed that he's not going anywhere any time soon, thus indicating that the Mariners-Hernandez-fans love fest is going to be everlasting.
He renewed his vows, so to speak, on Tuesday morning in an interview with Mitch Levy of Sports Radio KJR-950.
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Hernandez, via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “I promise.”
Great. Wonderful. Glad to hear it.
But a promise such as this doesn't make the questions go away.
How sincere is he?
Even if he is sincere, is he just trying to sway public opinion?
Most importantly: Will he be singing this same tune two years from now when his five-year, $78 million contract is running dry?
The first question is easy to answer. Of course he's sincere. He couldn't be more sincere. He's as sincere as sincere can be.
King Felix has made no secret of the fact that he loves his kingdom. Several weeks before the trade deadline, he told The Seattle Times that he didn't want to go anywhere and that his top priority was to help the Mariners win the World Series.
That's the kind of stuff all of us have heard before from small-market stars like Hernandez, but no small-market star in recent memory has had such a deep appreciation for the environment around him as King Felix has for Seattle.
You can tell from the comments he made Tuesday night after his latest victory, in which he took the mound in front of 39,000 screaming fans. Hernandez told the Times that he got "chills" before the game even started, and he was still glowing after the game was over.
"I think that's the best game I've ever pitched in here at Safeco Field,'' he said. "In front of these guys, the crowd was unbelievable and they were all yelling 'Felix! Felix!' That's something good.''
So hold your heads high, Mariners fans. If the idea is to convince King Felix that there's simply no place like home, you're doing it right.
The other questions at hand are a little harder to answer.
It can definitely be taken for granted that Hernandez means every word he says when he talks about how much he loves Seattle, the Mariners and the fans. However, the possibility exists that he's only being so open with his feelings because he wants to make sure there will be no hard feelings when he does depart from Seattle a couple of years from now for a pile of money and perhaps a shot at World Series glory that the Mariners may not be able to offer him.
In other words, his promises and his kind words in general could be mere PR stunts, meant to ensure that he'll return to Seattle and get standing ovations rather than boos. He'd rather not get the Alex Rodriguez treatment if he can help it.
But would Hernandez really stoop to this? Surely the King wouldn't deliberately mislead his subjects so the blow is softened later on, right?
I mean, that same trick didn't work out so well for a different king by the name of King James, after all. What makes King Felix think he can get away with it?
There are no good answers to these questions, hence the reason even I'm not totally sold on the idea of King Felix as a scheming manipulator, if we're being honest with each other. As amusing as it can be to read between the lines, Hernandez seems to truly want to stay in Seattle for the next two seasons and beyond.
That's my gut feeling. Take it or leave it as you please.
Whether or not King Felix will be singing this same tune in 2014 is another issue entirely. I'm going to assume that he'll still be a very, very good pitcher and that the fans will still be truly, madly, deeply in love with him, but his future with the Mariners depends on two things.
Cash and wins.
Contrary to the popular opinion outside the city of Seattle, there's actually a good chance that the wins are going to be there. The Mariners are showing promise now with a record of 25-13 since the All-Star break, which is encouraging given the number of young players they have on their roster.
There's more young talent on the way. Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen are two of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, and Nick Franklin is one of the top shortstop prospects in the land. Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in this year's draft, already has 12 minor league home runs and is drawing rave reviews from respected experts like Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.com (Insider required).
By 2014, the Mariners could very well resemble the 2012 Washington Nationals. They could be a very young, very dangerous team led by one of the most lethal aces in all of baseball.
If it comes to this, the only issue will be the money. More wins could prove useful in convincing Hernandez to take a hometown discount. Regardless of whether it comes to that, the extra wins will surely lead to more revenue for the Mariners to use to sign Hernandez.
This is what will happen in a perfect world, where the odds of the Mariners re-signing Hernandez may as well be 1:1.
Last I checked, this is not a perfect world. Zduriencik can't trust that everything is going to work out, and he would certainly be foolish to take King Felix's promise as an actual promise. Talk is cheap.
There's only one way Zduriencik is going to know for sure what kind of game Hernandez is playing, and that's by calling his bluff. He needs to gather as much money as he possibly can, arrange it into a contract extension and put it in front of Hernandez.
The sooner he does this, the better. Hernandez's love for Seattle and the Mariners may never be stronger than it is right now. Why not see if he's willing to put his signature where his mouth is?
Signatures are the only real promises that exist in the sports world. If Hernandez really wants to guarantee he won't leave, he needs to do it in ink.
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