The Seattle Mariners made headlines when they announced that Felix Hernandez would not be their starter on opening day. This marks the first time the king will not be on the mound to start the season for Seattle since 2008, ending Felix’s streak at 10 in a row, which ranks 10th all-time. The end of this steak also marks the beginning of what promises to be the end of Hernandez’s tenure in the Emerald City. Felix’s sharp decline in recent years has left him a shell of his former self and the long term direction of this team points to the inevitability of Seattle not bringing him back once his contract expires at the end of this season if they don’t release him along the way.
The returns had been declining for Hernandez since his career year in 2014, with his earned run average falling from 2.14 to 3.53 just a year later in 2015 and by the time the 2017 season finished, his average had jumped all the way up to 4.36. As high as his average may have seemed in 2017, it was actually right around the league average, meaning that while he was far and away not the guy he used to be, he was still a serviceable starting pitcher in the league, then 2018 happened. In a year where Seattle was legitimately competing for a playoff spot for the majority of the year, Felix hit a wall and imploded with an ERA of 5.55, nearly an entire run and a half higher than the league average. Along with the horrifying ERA, Hernandez tied a career high in losses and a negative WAR. For those who don’t know, WAR stands for wins above replacement and it measures the additional value a player brings to their team compared to the player that would be playing in their place in the form of wins. Posting a negative WAR is the ultimate indicator that a player is doing more harm than good and that has become the case for Felix.
Hernandez performance aside, the Mariners have gone from a team on the fringe of making the playoffs to a full-fledged rebuild in 2019. They have traded away every all-star and core player from the 2018 season in return for promising young prospects to hopefully do what the previous regime never could and actually develop a star. Current M’s skipper Scott Servais made his way up the league through player development and he had to manage some incredible personalities in his first few years which made it hard to establish a new culture, but now with a new crop of talented young guns to guide and mold, the possibilities are exciting. The flip side of all the youngsters coming to town, however, leaves less room for veterans on the roster and every inning Felix pitches is an opportunity that could have gone to developing the future. To be frank, the only reason Felix was not shipped out of town along with half the roster, is because of his massive contract and his aforementioned descent.
We have seen Seattle bring back Ichiro and he has become almost like a mentor to the younger guys and a great presence in the clubhouse and the dugout, perhaps we could see something like this take place down the line, but not any time soon for Hernandez. Felix is competitive enough that he will want to continue playing on another team, even though he is on his last legs, and there will be some time between any reunion once they part ways between now and September.