For anyone with even a passing interest in the game of baseball living in the Pacific Northwest, the report that Felix Hernandez is on the verge of signing a seven-year, $175 million dollar extension to stay with the Seattle Mariners should be welcomed as good news provided the details involving his elbow are sorted out.
Following a long winter of discontent, the Felix Hernandez deal may seem like a king's ransom financially to the Mariners. It's not without risks, but essentially it had to be done.
Of course not everyone agrees, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal points out:
The commitment by both the player and team is admirable, as is the passion of the fans. But get back to me in a few years, and tell me if everyone still holds the same romantic view.
I’m sorry, the risk of trading Felix—even when factoring in the possibility that the return might have been disappointing—was less than the risk of signing him for $175 million.
At the same time Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire explained late last week:
Keeping Hernandez in Seattle long-term is also validation of sorts for general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has received a barrage of trade offers over the years but rebuffed them all, insisting he'd keep his ace. It's impossible to judge whether that was the best strategy without knowing the particulars of the trade proposals and whether any of them would have been sufficiently franchise-changing for the quantity and quality offered, but Zduriencik's insistence on holding onto Hernandez certainly looks a lot better given the player's willingness to remain with the club long-term.
From the Mariners' perspective, this extension for Hernandez seems sound in reasoning, given his talent, his age, his history and the marketplace. From Hernandez's perspective, well, it's safe to say it's good to be King.
The fact is we don't know what packages may or may not have been offered for Felix. What we do know is that Jack Zduriencik probably saved himself from being chased out of town with pitchforks. This deal is as much about keeping the city of Seattle appeased as it is about Felix's talent, age and his history.
Those factors are simply icing on the cake of a deal that should help send the Mariners to spring training on a high note.
What's next as we wait for everyone to report for the start of the 2013 season?
It's at this point I suppose some predictions are in order for Felix Hernandez along with the Mariners to gauge what effect his contract may have on this year and beyond.
So without further ado let's take a quick look into our crystal ball to see what the future holds.
For anyone expecting another perfect game or a Cy Young award, forget it.
That's not to say Felix will have a lousy season in 2013 as Fangraphs projects a handful of scenarios which all seem to average out towards 15 wins, 10 losses and an ERA of 3.00 across 230 innings.
When you factor the fences at Safeco coming in and the M's lineup still being a work in progress, I think 15-9 with a 3.20 ERA across 200+ innings seems quite reasonable.
As Felix showed from June onwards last year, he's more than capable of throwing the M's on his broad shoulders and carrying them for nine innings each time out no matter what.
Expect the same this season, especially in the early going based on two factors converging.
First and foremost, pride.
By becoming the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, I can't imagine Felix will grow complacent. If anything, he may try to do too much in the immediate sense as the team searches for its identity in 2013.
However, Felix may feel like he has little to no choice if the offense stumbles early on this season, which is my second concern.
Can the offense hold up their end of the bargain?
Upon hearing the news of Felix's potential deal, I saw that most of the national and local writers agreed with the move. But a point from The Seattle Times Geoff Baker when discussing the Mariners' future caught my attention:
Now, all that remains is for the Mariners to put a better team around Hernandez.
While the Mariners will undoubtedly tout this as a coup of sorts, they did the same thing back in the winter of 2009-2010 and all they have to show for it is some stellar pitching by Hernadez and three consecutive last-place finishes. Right now, the rotation has Hisashi Iwakuma as the No. 2 starter and a bunch of question marks after that.
It also has a payroll that remains well below $100 million. It’s still below $90 million, even with this Hernandez deal bumping it up a bit. That means Hernandez alone will take up over a quarter of the payroll by himself. As we saw with Ichiro, that’s a formula for failure. The Mariners have done little to improve their team beyond the 2013 season, with Hernandez the only committed money after that point.
That will have to change, lest history continue to repeat itself.
Indeed, that is true and shouldn't be taken lightly.
Yet rather than seeing the glass as half empty for a change, I'm inclined to believe this move could serve as a critical turning point.
Beyond the positive sign to all of the younger players in the organization that the Mariners can commit to their best player while keeping him in Seattle, it may also help in a more immediate sense as well for experienced players who perhaps have seen and heard only bad news about the club.
To both the recently acquired veterans with expiring contracts along with future free agents that Seattle may pursue in the coming years, signing Felix could very well make the Mariners a team worthy of their consideration rather than a bargaining chip in negotiations or a last resort for players who can't ink a deal somewhere else.
Deep down I want to move past the non-deals for Justin Upton and Josh Hamilton and take what we've learned from them to avoid making the same mistakes again next year and in the years to come.
Perhaps this deal can help?
Honestly though, it's the other players on this roster that will likely make the difference.
For now though I think what you see is what you get with the current roster. There might be a few surprises in store for spring training, but this deal doesn't change the number of wins and losses I expect from this team in the coming year.
The question is whether the M's will be able to move forward with a positive attitude following the deal for Felix and whether that will translate into any sort of tangible success.
I predict that we're still at least another year away from seeing that happen.
How long until Brian Cashman can call to ask?
Of course there is a chance that even if Felix is on his way to another Cy Young, the ballclub could still struggle. Any year the Mariners are so much as a single game below .500 by the end of June, we should expect to see and hear rumors.
Believe me, I find it as irritating as anyone else, but this deal isn't going to stop fans and writers from coast to coast from speculating on the possibility.
Fact is, it's quite easy to have a go at it. Simply take any team with a half-decent shot at a wildcard or division title that has a well-stocked farm system and pick a healthy mix of prospects in exchange for Felix.
But what about the money and years on the deal?
Shouldn't that scare both teams and writers away?
Don't think for a minute a deal of this magnitude will quiet everyone for more than a few months, especially if any of the team's young featured players like Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero continue to struggle or if any the top prospects start to falter on their journey to Seattle.
Speaking of prospects, the potential of Felix staying in Seattle means that "The Big Three" probably won't be thrown to the wolves after all.
Rather than being saddled with ridiculous expectations, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker can actually learn from Felix and grow alongside him similar to how Michael Pineda did in 2011.
Felix strikes me as the kind of leader/mentor capable of fostering a relationship with younger players. He's smart enough to see the benefit of helping these youngsters form what could be one of the finest rotations in all of baseball if things come together as planned.
Can you imagine the prospect of having a starting rotation of Felix, Hultzen, Walker, Paxton and perhaps either Brandon Maurer or Erasmo Ramirez at No. 5?
Until last week the idea of that dream rotation was simply that...a dream, especially when you consider that Walker was featured in the failed deal for Justin Upton. Now there is a decent chance of that dream becoming a reality and enough time in place for it to take full effect.
Ideally this will happen sooner than later yet with Felix staying put. No one needs to be rushed or pushed into any position to make this happen before they're ready.
Weeks ago I saw all of this falling apart assuming Felix would be gone before the end of his last contract, but now I'm hopeful there's a chance things will work out.
In a day and age when loyalty seems like some sort of quaint notion found only in books and movies, it was refreshing and endearing to see Felix opt to stay.
Of course it's easy to point out the 175 million reasons why he did, but it would also be naive to believe that that money wouldn't have been available to him at some point some place else.
Up until now though I could never quite tell if Felix was simply being polite when asked of his long-term intentions. Honestly, what could Felix say, "Sure I love Seattle and the Mariners, but once I get the chance I'm going to get paid while playing for a winner"?
Yet when given the choice, Felix chose to stay in Seattle when so many players before him have chosen to leave.
When you factor the franchise's past history of losing superstars, mediocre present and cloudy future it's all the more impressive.
Seattle now, at least for the moment, appears to have found a king worthy of their love and adoration. If he can serve as the face of the franchise during this stretch while putting up Cy Young numbers year in and year out, the love for him will only grow no matter how the Mariners perform.
If they win with him leading the way it will cement his place among the local legends.
If they lose, he will at the very least serve as the steady rock at the top of the rotation while the team enters its second decade of rebuilding.
At some point if Felix tires of the situation, no one will be able to argue that he left Seattle without giving the Mariners a fair shot at building around him.
For today though, I'm staying positive with the hopes that Felix will have a long and prosperous reign as king of the Mariners.
Hail King Felix! Long live the King!