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Not time to panic about reports of elbow concerns with Felix Hernandez

By Shannon Drayer

It wasn’t too long ago that when a deal was reported in baseball, it was a done deal. Today, with more access and ways to get information out we are hearing about deals far before they are finalized yet still taking the initial reports as word that the deal is indeed done.

The initial Bob Nightengale Tweet of “Felix Hernandez on verge of record seven-year $175 million contract with the Mariners that will soon be official” rapidly turned into “The Mariners have signed Felix Hernandez to a 7-year extension,” in countless print and broadcast reports. The deal has been celebrated for the past three days despite the fact that it wasn’t done. Even an ESPNdeportes report that quoted the agent for Hernandez as saying it wasn’t done and that they “had covered about 70 percent of the road” was widely ignored.

I tried to temper this excitement in my initial posts about Nightengale’s Tweets pointing out that the physical would have to be taken before anything was official and also that physical would be much more extensive than the normal yearly physical players take in Peoria.

On Sunday, Buster Olney of ESPN reports that concern for the health of Felix’s right elbow “is perceived by at least one of the parties in the deal as being a possible impediment to the completion of the new contract.”

Bob Nightengale reports that Felix did indeed take the physical last week and that was the reason why he dropped out of the World Baseball Classic.

It is important to note that neither statement above says that there is an injury at this time. In fact, when I spoke with GM Jack Zduriencik this afternoon he sounded very confident that right now Felix is healthy. He has been on his normal throwing program this winter, often throwing at Safeco Field. He will arrive in Peoria tonight and take the field with the rest of his teammates Wednesday.

“He is ready to roll,” said Zduriencik.

Zduriencik also said Felix will take his team scheduled physical with the rest of the pitchers and catchers Tuesday. I asked if he would take the same physical as the others and Zduriencik answered that he will undergo what he needs to undergo.

There is no chance the team would put him out on the field if they thought anything was wrong. If indeed he underwent an extensive physical including MRI’s (which are not normally a part of the yearly physical) in the last week then they know more about him physically now than they did last year when he experienced the drop in velocity. Back then he underwent daily range of motion testing but did not have an MRI. Now they have pictures.

I have little doubt something was found in those pictures. Any starting pitcher with significant innings is going to show at the very least wear and tear in the shoulder and elbow. That is a given. How much is significant? Well I will have to leave that to the experts but no doubt, when discussing a five-year deal worth upwards of $135 million dollars there has to be risk assessment. How that is dealt with in the language, or years or dollars of the contract is up for negotiation. Had word not got out that there was a deal in place, this would have been done quietly. We probably never would have known about it unless there was language in the final contract protecting the club.

Negotiations are ongoing and have been since the physical, if it was taken last week. That is good news. There are no guarantees with pitchers but Felix has been remarkably healthy throughout his Mariners career missing only about a month with a flexor strain in 2007 and another month in 2008 with the ankle sprain. That is it. The flexor strain never popped up again which is very good news.

Should we be worried about the health of Felix Hernandez? Well, we should be worried about the health of any pitcher. Just about all of them have a significant injury at some point of their careers. How does this play into a long term extension? Well it would appear that is what they are talking about right now and have been for awhile. It could be that final 30 percent “of the road they need to cover.”

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