MLB Rumors: Felix Hernandez’s Record-Breaking Deal With Seattle Mariners In Jeopardy?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The seven-year, $175 million deal that the Seattle Mariners and Felix Hernandez reportedly agreed to, once finalized, would be the largest contract ever handed out to a MLB pitcher.

It could also be the biggest deal to ever fall apart.

The rumblings started only a day after details of the extension were made known to the public, with team representatives being oddly adamant in making a point to reiterate that no such extension was coming in the immediate term.

Today, Buster Olney of ESPN found out more: the team may have identified an issue with the health of Hernandez’s elbow, and it’s something that has surfaced as a significant roadblock to the parties completing the deal.

It’s something currently still being discussed, even if there are some serious concerns:

https://twitter.com/BNightengale/status/300704215444103169

The two sides, as Olney writes, are “not close to finishing an extension”. That’s a stark change from what was supposedly a done deal by Thursday, but considering that the team would have been committing potentially a quarter of its payroll to a franchise pitcher over the next seven years, it’s not surprising that they would want to make sure that they’re not saddled with a bad deal for a significant part of those years.

I’ve previously written about whether the workload might affect King Felix’s ability to stay at an elite level over the next seven years, but the most telling fact here is that his velocity has seen a significant decline over the last two seasons, with his fastball dropping from a 94.1 mph average in 2010 to 92.1 in 2012. Although his excellent secondary pitches and control means that a little less heat did not negatively affect his results, Hernandez still relies on his fastball over 55% of the time, and a continual decline will eventually show up in his counting numbers.

Baseball fans have already seen this in 2012 with Tim Lincecum, whose effectiveness was adversely affected in part due to losing a couple of notches off his fastball. The San Francisco Giants were in a spot for extension talks with their ace, but that they didn’t get a deal done may ultimately end up being the right choice, even if Lincecum will be a free agent at the end of 2013.

The Mariners are in a similar place now, with a different pitcher that has a similar arsenal of tools.

Though they undoubtedly want to keep Hernandez around, each day that a deal is not finalized makes it seem increasingly likely that the record-breaking framework that was reported may be reworked. It wouldn’t be the first time this off-season where that’s happened (Mike Napoli), but it could mean a lot of money out of Hernandez’s future paychecks.

How that will affect the relationship between the M’s and their ace is something that will be in the spotlight, as Spring Training approaches.

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