Those of you listening to my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio KJR this morning and to the segments before that know that Felix Hernandez gave host Mitch Levy a “promise” that he has nothing to worry about when it comes to the pitcher potentially leaving Seattle.
That’s good news. Because no matter how much a pitcher says he likes a particular city — standard fare for any pending free agent in any sport — it’s a different matter when a guy starts promising he’s going to stay. Takes that commitment to a whole different level. Sure, the athlete can still do whatever he wants, but if he goes back on said promise later on, it thrusts things into the LeBron James mode where a player becomes Public Enemy No. 1 in the city he winds up jilting.
We’ll ignore, for a moment, the fact that Hernandez is a huge Miami Heat fan and just assume he doesn’t want his relationship with Seattle to deteriorate into what happened between LeBron and Cleveland. We’ll assume he’s serious and ready to sign a long-term deal with the Mariners.
Two things on that.
No. 1, get ‘er done. This winter.
You need to get Hernandez’s signature on a piece of paper. And if you don’t get that done this winter, then you are taking a risk as a ballclub. Because if something happens later on and Hernandez doesn’t sign, then you lose potential trade return value on him with each season that goes by.
In theory, the latest you can wait to trade Hernandez and get maximum value for him will be by next July 31, because the team dealing for him will have Felix for two potential playoff runs instead of one.
Just remember, this is a two-way street. And nothing is settled until you get that signature on a piece of paper. Both parties might by all lovey-dovey in public now, but as I said on the air this morning, if Hernandez slips in the shower this off-season and hurts his throwing arm, you can bet the Mariners will not be offering him any five-year contract extensions.
That’s as far as loyalty goes in pro sports. It’s as good as your next morning’s shower.
The Mariners would abandon long-term contract plans in a heartbeat if anything were to happen to Hernandez before that signature is on the dotted line. And as a player, Hernandez and his agents will recognize that and factor it into their own loyalty meter. I believe that Hernandez is being sincere when he promises Mitch Levy that the team has nothing to worry about.
But what happens if, say, the Mariners go out next season, lose 100 games and fire everybody in sight, including Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik? Think it can’t happen? I have news for you: it’s happened twice already in the past four years after the Mariners went into the 2008 and 2010 seasons hoping to contend. It can easily happen again.
If the Mariners don’t have Hernandez’s signature on a contract this winter, do you think he’d still be willing to stick around if everything falls apart and there are different faces running things 13 months from now? Maybe he will and maybe he won’t.
That’s not a chance you can afford to take as an organization. If you’re the Mariners, you have to sign Hernandez this winter while he’s enamored with the idea of staying here. And it will cost you a pretty penny because he has a great shot at winning his second Cy Young Award ahead of time.
Second order of business once you get Hernandez signed?
You have to build a better team around him.
The Mariners cannot simply sign Hernandez to a multi-year extension — at between $25 million and $30 million per season — then wash their hands of any further additions and simply wait for rebuilding player pieces to continue their development. Do that and this team won’t contend for several more seasons.
Yes, I know the Mariners are on a winning roll right now. Tell you what, if you felt this team was doing enough 10 days ago, when they were losing six of seven on the road in New York, Baltimore and Anaheim, then I can understand why you wouldn’t mind staying the course now.
But if you were clamoring for change back then, then a handful of series wins since should not have changed that view.
This team has already spent the first three of a five-year, $78-million extension last given to Hernandez playing irrelevent baseball. That trend cannot continue. You don’t keep locking up the best pitcher in the game today in order to have him finish in last place every season. Or third place.
You sign Hernandez because you are serious about taking a run at things next season and in 2014. Not in 2015 and beyond.
And as bad as the Angels have played this month, they are not going away anytime soon. They have a very talented roster that is going to be largely the same for years to come, as will the Rangers. If the Oakland A’s are for real, they are going to be hanging around, too.
So, if the Mariners want to do more, they have to add some proven bats to this team in order for it to play meaningful baseball before the All-Star Break. So that it can keep playing meaningful baseball and have playoff odds of better than 3 percent with five or six weeks to go.
What’s happened the past few weeks has been fun. But it’s not enough.
It especially won’t be enough if the Mariners go out and back another Brinks truck up on to Hernandez’s lawn.
The time for talk is coming to a close. Want to shut the East Coast pundits up? Stop talking and get Hernandez signed this winter. Then, go out and make the moves that will justify locking him up that long. Moves that will make him more than just a pretty bauble on a baseball afterthought team.
Sounds like he’s ready to sign. And it’s now time, once again, for the Mariners to put their money where their mouth has been. We’ll soon see whether, this time, the team’s ownership will be ready to step up to the plate.