Felix Hernandez has never pitched in the postseason, but we can hope his time is coming later rather … [+]
If the Baseball Gods are fair, just and the least bit empathetic, Felix Hernandez will get his due come the fall.
On Monday, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that Hernandez, the former Seattle Mariners ace, had signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves for what could amount to $1 million if he can make the big league roster. That is far from a sure bet as Hernandez is coming off a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts for Seattle.
If any active pitcher deserves to pitch in October, though, it’s Hernandez, who wallowed in Seattle during some of the best seasons any pitcher of his generation has put up. Unfortunately, he’s never thrown a pitch in the playoffs.
The Mariners could not build a capable roster around him, so Hernandez never got to display the can’t-miss show he was in his prime during the postseason. And that is a certain shame for all MLB fans as he was one of the most entertaining, electric athletes to ever take the mound in the last decade.
While Hernandez is nowhere near that pitcher anymore – hence the minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training – it would be a nice bookend to a wonderful career if he were able to be introduced in a postseason game. The Braves look like a playoff team again, and maybe they are the vehicle to drive The King to the postseason.
Then again, even if he ends up in the majors with Atlanta, it’s not a guarantee that he ends up on the playoff roster. Teams rarely need a fifth starter in October, and right now, that’s probably the best status we could hope for when it comes to Hernandez. Maybe he ends up in a bullpen role, but that just would not have the same tribute impact as him taking the mound as a starter.
For the Braves, this deal is virtually no risk and all reward, even if that reward would be modest on the field. Off of it – in the clubhouse, on the back fields in Peoria, Arizona during February and March – the dividends might be different and not necessarily apparent for fans.
Felix has always had a reputation as a respected teammate, and while he might not have anything left in his once-dominant right arm, he has plenty of wisdom in his head.
The Braves have young pitchers like Mike Soroka and Max Fried who could benefit from a veteran like Hernandez – and Cole Hamels – in their ears. Also, Hernandez, from Venezuela, has always had an easy connection with other Latinos in the Mariners’ clubhouse. That could really help someone like outfielder and fellow Venezuelan Ronald Acuna Jr., a player with immense talent but who’s had trouble keeping his hustle and focus on the diamond.
For Hernandez, he’ll happily mentor and give words of advice to younger players in exchange for another opportunity in the majors, something that wasn’t assured coming off that terrible 2019.
For the rest of the baseball world, we’ll be hoping those Baseball Gods shine their light on King Felix for one last go around and into October. Considering what we’re having to endure with the game’s latest scandal, we deserve that much.