With spring training and the 2013 Major League Baseball season right around the corner, the Seattle Mariners may continue making national headlines this off season.
The team is reportedly deep in talks with three-time All-Star Felix Hernandez on a lucrative and lengthy contract extension that would likely make the ace pitcher a Mariner for life.
However, initial reports indicating that Hernandez and the Mariners had reached an agreement on a seven-year, $175 million deal through 2019 or a five-year, $135.5 million contract extension starting in 2015 have were premature.
Hernandez originally signed with the Mariners as a gangly 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela after catching the eye of the team’s scouts. He signed his first professional contract with the team following graduation from high school.
Hernandez debuted in Seattle during the 2005 season as a flame-throwing, baby-faced 19-year-old with curly hair bursting out of his trademark crooked ball cap.
Since then, the man affectionately known by fans and media alike as “King Felix” has turned into the face of the Mariners and is the namesake for the “King’s Court”, a special cheering section at Safeco Field on days where Hernandez takes the mound.
At 26, Hernandez is now coming off his fifth straight season in 2012 with at least 200 innings pitched.
Hernandez threw the first perfect game in Mariners’ history against the Tampa Bay Rays in August, striking out 12. In 2012, he went 13-9 and finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting with a 3.06 ERA and 223 strikeouts.
Hernandez then received the 2010 A.L. Cy Young Award after posting 13 wins, a 2.27 ERA, and a career-high 232 strikeouts and 249.2 innings pitched.
During his career, Hernandez has achieved 98-76 with a 3.22 ERA, 1487 strikeouts, and 1.22 WHIP in eight productive seasons in Seattle.
Although the price looks steep, locking up Hernandez’s services for the immediate future would be a monumental move for a Mariners franchise, which has a notorious bad record of holding onto its star players.
The Mariners should not allow Hernandez to join the likes of Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. as home-grown talent and future hall of famers that left Seattle because of failures to reach terms on contract extensions.
Without a contract extension, Hernandez could test free agent waters following the 2014 MLB campaign.
He would without a doubt be the hottest commodity on the market, and the Mariners would have difficulty retaining him.
Hernandez has proven an endearing figure to baseball fans in the Emerald City from day one with his passionate displays of emotion and dominating presence on the mound. The fact that he has openly expressed his desire to stay put despite playing for one of baseball’s very worst teams over the course of the last decade speaks volumes to his character.
“I like Seattle and I want to help the Seattle Mariners win a World Series,” Hernandez said at a news conference before the All-Star Game last year. “I believe in the organization. I believe we’re going in the right direction. We’ll be better.”
Much like Griffey, Mariners fans have taken pride in witnessing a young teenager emerge from the depth of the team’s minor league ranks and develop into a budding star.
From supremely talented young teenager to one of the game’s elite players, it’s easy to speak for all Mariners fans in the sense that it has been a tremendous pleasure to have watched Hernandez take the mound at Safeco for the past eight years.
Here’s to hoping the Mariners do everything in their power to keep Hernandez in blue and teal and out of the reach of the vulture-filled free-agent market.
After all, the Mariners are a franchise that hasn’t participated in post-season baseball for over a decade.
They owe it to their fan base to lock-up a fan favorite that just so happens to double as one of the game’s premier players.