Talking About Risk With Felix Hernandez

I feel like this extension is just about universally beloved by Mariners fans.  The casual Mariners fans have nothing but elation for this thing, knowing that their favorite player (and, really, he has to be EVERY M’s fan’s favorite player, because he’s Felix!) will be around for the next 7 years.  The more hardcore Mariners fans out there, though, like to temper their excitement with real world pragmatism.

OK, let’s get pragmatic.  $175 million is a lot of money to spend on ANY player, even if he is King Felix.  People like to argue about how you can spread that $25 million per season into 2 or 3 quality guys.  Except, I don’t buy it.  You can believe that if you live in some sort of fantasy world; but in the REAL world, where there’s such a thing as Supply & Demand, know that you’re not finding any kind of quality on the free agent market for $8 million a year.  You know what you get for $8 million?  You get one of your own middling free agents on a salary arbitration deal (a la Jason Vargas), or you get a veteran near the end of his Major League career (a la Joe Saunders).  Now, you tell me:  would you rather have 1 Felix Hernandez, or would you rather have 3 Jason Vargases (Jason Vargi?)?  I think we all know the answer to that.

The next knock on this deal has to do with the money per year.  $25 million.  Which, if the Mariners keep their payroll under $100 million, as is to be expected, equates to greater than 1/4 of your total salary on one guy.  Geoff Baker has a valid argument when he brings this up, just as his argument was valid when the Mariners were paying $27 million to Ichiro and Figgins.  When so much salary (percentage-wise) is tied into so few players, then the odds are pretty strong that you’re not really doing much of anything to supplement your superstar with the talent required to win consistently.  Now, where the roads start to diverge is:  Ichiro and Figgins were struggling when they represented over 1/4 of the team’s payroll.  I would expect Felix to be the same ol’ dominant ace of this staff for years to come.  Aside from injury (knock on wood), I can pretty much guarantee it.  He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher in the prime of his career; he’s got at LEAST 7 more dominant years.  If he’s anything like Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez, he’s probably got twice those years left on his arm.

The biggie, though, is his profession.  Felix is a pitcher.  People and teams are generally reluctant to give such big contracts (both in money and in total years) to pitchers because incidence of injury is so common.  Once a pitcher injures his shoulder or his elbow, forget about it.  Stick a fork in him!  I don’t think the years scare people because they think Felix will magically turn into Barry Zito.  I think they scare people because they worry he’ll turn into Erik Bedard or Mark Prior or some damn thing.

Which, okay, I’ll buy that.  I’ll buy that to a point.  But, it swings both ways, my friends.  The Mariners were CONVINCED that Randy Johnson’s back problems would linger for the rest of his career and make him a prohibitively worse pitcher going forward.  Mind you, this was back in 1998, a couple years after he was lost for most of 1996.  Felix … has NEVER been injured.  He’s spent time on the DL, but not to a significant degree.  No surgery, nothing that kept him out for more than a month.  So, there’s no track record to worry about with Felix.  But, even if there was, remember the Mariners traded The Big Unit in 1998.  He would go on to play 11 more seasons!  He would go on to win FOUR Cy Young Awards with the Diamondbacks!  Was there risk in signing Randy to a long-term extension?  Absolutely.  Who was rewarded for assuming that risk?  Not the Seattle Fucking Mariners, that’s who.

I can’t see into the future.  I make predictions all the time and I’m frequently wrong.  Saying what I’m about to say might be the biggest whammy of them all, but I don’t give a damn:  I think Felix is one of those guys who is worth the risk.  I think he will remain as healthy as he’s ever been, and I think he will only continue to refine his craft and get better as a pitcher.  I think he will go on to win multiple Cy Young awards and I think he will eventually lead this team to the playoffs.

If this front office does the right thing and puts the right players around him, that is.

An investment like Felix doesn’t come without risk.  Of course, ANY investment where you’re building around a $25 million-a-year guy is going to come with risk.  You can mitigate that risk considerably by filling in the team around him with quality guys.  Whether that’s via free agency, trade, or having your own young guys take the next step to superstardom.

One thing is for certain:  the pressure is off of this team just a little bit.  It’s no longer 2014-or-bust.  We now have Felix thru 2019.  Now, that doesn’t mean we can push things back and call it 2019-or-bust!  If we go another seven years consistently bottom-feeding in the American League, we might not even get those seven years.  I finally believe that Felix loves this city and loves being a Seattle Mariner, but everyone has a breaking point.  There’s nothing to say that he won’t one day demand to be traded out of this win-never dump.

So, let’s get our shit together, huh Mariners?  I’m counting on you!

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