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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 8, 2013 at 3:12 PM

UPDATE: Felix Hernandez to skip World Baseball Classic

There’s word today out of Venezuela that Felix Hernandez, reportedly on the verge of signing a huge contract extension with the Mariners, will skip the World Baseball Classic.

And here’s a new story with confirmation of that fact, and more details on Hernandez’s pending contract extension.

Hernandez’s withdrawal from the WBC is big news in Venezuela, which is expected to field a very competitive team. The loss of Hernandez from their pitching staff would be a major blow.

Fernando Arreaza, a Latin sports journalist, tweeted this earlier today at @arreazaortega: “Ya es oficial, producto de su nuevo contrato y presiones de Seattle Felix Hernandez no jugara con Venezuela en el Clasico Mundial de Beisbol”

That translates to: “It’s official, as a result of his new contract and pressure from Seattle, Felix Hernandez will not play with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.”

(I had a native Spanish speaker in our office help with the translation).

I e-mailed Jack Zduriencik, who deferred comment to Hernandez, MLB executive Paul Archey or the Venezuelan team.

“We are supportive in the WBC and in whatever Felix chooses to do and if he is not participating, at this point it should be his/their announcement,” Zduriencik said.

None of the above could be immediately reached for confirmation. An MLB spokesman said via email that they had not heard Hernandez was pulling out of the WBC, adding “the decision to play or not play remains Felix’s.”

But it’s being portrayed as fact in Venezuela. I got this email from a Venezuelan journalist colleague,Augusto Cardenas:

“Right now, there’s a lot of frustration in our country because of that and because the Government announced a currency devaluation today as well. I won’t be lying if I say that for some people Felix skipping the WBC is the worst news today.”

I sympathize with the frustration of Venezuelan fans. Check out this roster — with players like Miguel Cabrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Elvis Andrus, Marco Scutaro, Carlos Gonzalezand Martin Prado, they can compete with any team in the world. But without Hernandez, the pitching is a little thin, with Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez heading the starting rotation.

But to be honest, I can understand why the Mariners, after committing $175 million to Hernandez for the next seven years, might be reluctant to have him bearing down to pitch for his country as early as March 7. That’s when Venezuela plays their first game, which happens to be against their top rival, the Dominican Republic. Think the adrenalin would be flowing for that one? Felix is one who likes to round slowly into shape, arm-wise. Remember the panic last year when Hernandez’s velocity was sharply down in Cactus League games? Well, by the time the season got under way, the miles per hour were back up where they should be. Having him crank it up in early March seems a little dicey. That’s one of the problems with having an international tournament during spring training. The same risk and issues exist for every pitcher, of course. But not every pitcher just agreed to the largest contract in history for a hurler in annual value.

I can also understand why Hernandez might now feel obligated to throw his total dedication to the Mariners, despite what I know to be strong feelings of loyalty and patriotism to his country.

This reminds me of the first incarnation of the WBC, back in 2005, when the Mariners successfully kept Hernandez, then a 19-year-old elite prospect, from pitching for Venezuela in the WBC.

The Mariners were concerned about his arm then, and I’d assume that’s the case now. And with a pitcher who has piled on the innings like Felix has, and is expected to keep doing so for at least seven more years, can you blame them?

(Oh, yeah: Chone Figgins signed a minor-league deal with the Marlins).



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