Moore: What should the Mariners do with Félix Hernández?
What should the Mariners do with Félix Hernández? If you’re general manager Jerry Dipoto, which option would you pick?
• Let him continue to start every five days and hope he can find some consistency.
• Put him in the bullpen and hope he becomes a better pitcher in low-leverage situations.
• Come up with some sort of bogus injury and put him on the disabled list while you let him work out his issues without costing the Mariners.
• Give up on him, cut your losses, release him and understand that you still owe him more than $40 million, but better to pay him for doing nothing than causing harm to your playoff chances.
If I had a vote, I’d flip a coin – if it comes up heads, I’ll say he’s got a strained UCL and put him on the DL. Tails, I release him. So, yes, one of the last two options. I don’t like the idea of trotting him out there every five days anymore, and I don’t think he’s going to agree to being a reliever.
Then again, if you’re still a firm supporter of the King, you could argue that he deserves more time for everything he’s done for this franchise in the past. I’d have a hard time completely disagreeing with that. You could tell me about other veteran starters who have reinvented themselves when they lost their velocity, and that Felix, with all of the movement on his pitches, could make the transformation too. Only problem is, we keep waiting for that transformation and see glimpses of it, just not any signs of a successful overhaul yet.
And I go back and forth wondering if he’s fully on board with becoming the pitcher the Mariners want him to be. Every time you think he might have done it, such as solving his first-inning troubles or looking brilliant in his previous start, Félix will look like he did Saturday, giving up five earned runs in three innings to the same team that scored just one run off of him in eight innings last week.
After the 2-1 win over Tampa Bay at Safeco Field, Dipoto raved about the fire he saw in Hernández, thinking a more-animated Félix was beneficial. And then it was followed up with another lackluster performance, inflating his ERA to 5.70. His post-game comments suggest that he’s delusional. He thought he had pretty good stuff and was making good pitches but had some tough luck.
I don’t know what we’re going to hear about Félix this week, but it will be something else that pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre wants to try. I would think he’s running out of possible solutions because I feel like we’ve heard them all already. Let’s face it, if Félix Hernández were Joe Blow, he’d be gone by now. If he were making less than $10 million, he’d be gone by now.
But you don’t just dump a legend like that, and the Mariners, showing precedence by the way they dealt with Ichiro, will treat him with respect. Question is, how can you make a classy move when it involves getting rid of or demoting one of the best players in franchise history? Dipoto has a hard decision to make, maybe the hardest in his time here, if Felix continues to struggle. The cruel irony here is that the one pitcher, the one constant, in the Mariners’ sporadic success over the last decade-plus is the same guy who is now a detriment to your playoff chances.
In his next two starts, he’ll face two of MLB’s most potent lineups with the Red Sox and Yankees. The Felix we saw in Tampa Bay will get lit up by those AL East juggernauts. But this is where the Félix supporters will remind you that he generally gets incredibly hyped and performs at his best when the spotlight’s the brightest. Because of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners win in his next two starts, and we’ll return to thinking Félix is back again.
Don’t let it fool you. In the start after that at Baltimore, against a bad Orioles’ team on June 25, Félix will not have his velocity or command or both, and manager Scott Servais will say something while shaking his head, and Dipoto will be back to wondering what to do.
If they keep Félix in the rotation, what will they do if Dipoto acquires a starter at the trade deadline? You know you’re not going to replace James Paxton and Marco Gonzales. The way Mike Leake has pitched over the last month, he’s a lock to stay too. And Wade LeBlanc? I guess he’s the most expendable, but he’s been so much better than Félix that I’d be laughing if I were him as I headed back to the bullpen.
Even if Dipoto doesn’t trade for a starter, we keep hearing rumblings about the return of Hisashi Iwakuma, and Erasmo Ramirez can’t be far off either. Heck, from what we saw of Christian Bergman in one spot start, you could make a case for him being a better option than Hernández at this point.
Again, I have no idea what I’d do if I were Dipoto. There are so many things to consider. If you gave me the choice between Félix turning the corner and turning the page altogether, hate to say it but I’m ready for a new chapter.