The record contract extension that Felix Hernandez was all set to sign with the Seattle Mariners may be in jeopardy. Hernandez and the Mariners are working out what both sides call "issues," but reports have recently surfaced that doctors may have found a problem with Hernandez's elbow during a physical.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, concerns have surfaced over the condition of Hernandez's pitching elbow. Any type of problem with the elbow is more concerning than almost any other injury for pitchers, and the Mariners are taking their time in evaluating their plans for Hernandez's extension. Sources have told Olney that the Mariners are not close to finalizing the deal.
Last week, the two sides had reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $175 million extension. The deal would make Hernandez the highest-paid pitching in history. However, things started to take a turn when Hernandez backed out of the World Baseball Classic - not a surprising move on its own, but troubling considering these most recent developments. He was set to pitch for Venezuela in the WBC and was listed on the provisional roster, but Hernandez backed out of the tournament last week citing the pressure of the new contract he was about to receive.
Hernandez has been one of the game's best pitchers for the last four seasons. He won the American League Cy Young in 2010 with a 13-12 record and a 2.27 ERA. Over the last four seasons, Hernandez has not posted an ERA over 3.47. Last year, he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA.
Some of the concern surrounding Hernandez's elbow may come from velocity drops ESPN Stats and Info pointed out on Twitter today:
Per @buster_espn report on King Felix deal being in jeopardy. Hernandez avg fastball MPH by yr- 2009-94.0, 2010-93.9, 2011-93.2, 2012-92.1— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 10, 2013
A drop in velocity is the easiest and most commonly used tool to determine whether a pitcher is injured. In Hernandez's case, this could simply be the natural progression of pitching eight seasons in the Majors. Or it could be a sign of trouble. Clearly the Mariners are concerned about something.
Hernandez's health is paramount to the Mariners' chances at success. The team may not support him enough to boost his wins total, but Hernandez's WAR indicates that he's been pretty valuable over the years. In his eight years, Hernandez has already amassed 31.5 wins above replacement.