Monday, January 19, 2009

Class of 2011: Should the Yankees (Hypothetically) Consider Felix Hernandez?

According to Jayson Stark, the Seattle Mariners avoided arbitration with starter Felix Hernandez.

While this, itself, would be interesting for mariners fans, perhaps the more interesting nugget is that Hernandez will be a free agent in 2011--at the tender age of 25.

This would, of course, make King Felix prime fodder for a long term deal, and if we suspend reality for a moment and pretend that the Mariners will have no inclination to re-sign him (the Mariners' payroll last year was +$100 million, which means they're not exactly strapped for cash), we can consider whether or not the Yankees should be interested in signing him.

Now, I've been told to be wary of statistics, and there is good reason for this.

For example, Hernandez was 9-11 last season, but that doesn't take into account the fact that he played on the very last place Mariners.

What's more important, though, is that in each of the past three seasons, Hernandez has pitched 190 innings or more, and that includes last year after hurting his ankle in a game against the Mets.

Fanball's 2009 Fantasy Guide offers this take on King Felix:

Twenty-two. That will be King Felix's age on opening day...People tend to forget that fact and look at him as some type of failure over the past three seasons. But think of it this way: Felix is two years younger than Tim Lincecum, but he's made 46 more appearances. Hernandez is one of only seven hurlers with at least 165 strikeouts in each of the past three seasons, and his career 8.01 K/9 mark is superb. One negative is that he walked far too many batters in 'o8...but as pitchers age they generally learn how to put away batters. Moreover, Felix owns a tremendous 2.33 career G/F rate, and power pitchers who keep the ball on the ground can become legendary...
(p 135)

Young pitchers are certainly a gamble. The Yankees discovered this the hard way with Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, but the three years between now and when Hernandez would become a free agent (again, we have to suspend reality for a moment) is a long time. Hernandez could blossom, bust or get hurt, but the fact is he's only two months older than Phil Hughes and no one is suggesting that Hernandez ought to start the 2009 season in the minors.

Most people tend to not pay attention to players on a last place team, and the only mention you might remember of Hernandez last year was when he hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana.

It's obviously too early for the Yankees to make any tangible plans for 2011; anything can happen between now and then and they will have other, more pressing concerns, such as where to place Jeter, should his defense at short no longer be adequate and most importantly, trying to replace Posada and Rivera (you can't). However, "anything's possible" does, in fact, mean that anything's possible, and if there's a top-quality pitcher, that even has a chance, no matter how small, of becoming a free agent at age 25, the Yankees would do well to keep an eye on him.


  1. I take issue with you calling young pitchers a gamble. They are a gamble when just looking at one year. Patience is required. Think back to Roy Halliday's early struggles. He's just one example. Signing older pitchers is a much bigger gamble than trying to develop good young pitching.

  2. David: I don't disagree with you. However, planning for something three years from now or assuming that a player will be able to perform up to expectations over the course of a long term contract is ALWAYS a gamble.