Felix Hernandez is arguably the best and most dominant pitcher in Major League Baseball, but he is not the solution for the Seattle Mariners.
At 26 years old, Hernandez is the rare superstar without an ego. He's mastered the unhittable combination of changing speeds and strikeout pitches. His power curveball redefines the term 12-6, and it isn't even his best pitch. Hernandez can throw a change-up which makes even the most elite of hitters look silly.
Part of the Mariners organization since he was 15 years old, Hernandez is adored not just for his pitching, but for his humility. He's active in the community and cordial with the media.
The Mariners however, are an organization associated with losing, penny-pinching and poor financial decisions. Awarding Hernandez the richest contract for any pitcher in league history -- valued at seven years and $175 million -- actually shows a commitment to winning that has been missing over the past decade. After all, the franchise hasn't reached a postseason since 2001.
The MLB is unique in the modern landscape of American pro sports. Without a salary cap, massive contracts for individual players don't force owners to make "cap decisions," as the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, for example, just did by trading away Rudy Gay.
If this were the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, and not the Mariners, locking up an ace like Hernandez would be a sensible move. He offers not only a tremendous talent, but is also the team's key fixture after the trade of Ichiro Suzuki last season. As a pitcher, however, Hernandez is somewhat limited in the success he can bring to the whole team. He's surely the Mariners' best player, but only on every fifth day.
On a contending team built for the playoffs, a lock-down starter like Hernandez -- who won the 2010 Cy Young -- is not merely a luxury, but a necessity. Just take a look at the past five World Series champs: The Giants had Matt Cain, the Cardinals had Chris Carpenter, the Giants (again) had Tim Lincecum, the Yankees had C.C. Sabathia and the Phillies had Cole Hamels.
While they deserve credit for trying to do the right thing, Seattle's front office and management is misguided. Just last year, the Mariners finished dead last in the AL West for the third consecutive season, while boasting the league's worst batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. When you can't hit, you can't score runs, and when you can't score runs, Hernandez wins just 12 games despite posting the fifth-best ERA in the American League and tossing a perfect game.
In all likelihood, Hernandez is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's a once-in-a-generation player who, unlike his predecessors Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr., displays impeccable loyalty to the city of Seattle.
The same cannot be said about the Mariners. At its core, the team remains a small-market organization unable to make a run in a division that features the still dangerous Texas Rangers, more dangerous LA Angels and always dangerous Oakland A's. The Houston Astros present some easier wins, but when your best hitter can't get above .260, contending for anything better than the cellar simply isn't realistic.
Quite frankly, Hernandez deserves better, and so do Mariners fans.
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