The Felix Hernandez Promise

remember when this happened

Today was already going to be a day dedicated to Felix Hernandez, as he's starting tonight against the Indians and as Safeco's unveiling the Supreme Court. The first 34,000 fans will receive special t-shirts and K-cards, and the Mariners have already sold well in advance of 34,000 tickets. The last home game the Mariners played on a Tuesday night drew 17,065. I wasn't sure how well this game was going to draw, because it's still a Tuesday night game and it's still against the Indians, but it turns out an awful lot of people have recognized this as the awesome promotion that it is. No matter how the game goes, at least at the beginning Safeco is going to be insane, for the first time in entirely too long. This will be a Mariners home game with an electric atmosphere.

So anyway, today was already all about Felix, and then Felix went on the radio and said he promised he wouldn't leave Seattle. The host was asking Felix about his contract situation, and while it was the host who first used the word "promise", Felix repeated it, and as much as promising something on sports talk radio is less than binding, it seems pretty significant. The way Felix has acted all along, and the way the Mariners have acted all along, there's no indication that either side is looking to part from the other. After all of this build-up, a split could be devastating, for however much that would matter.

Because we're all sensitive and unsure why anyone would love us, these Felix statements of loyalty and devotion are always welcome and reassuring, and I could just wrap myself up in Felix's promise and wear it as a cozy robe. No, words don't matter a whole lot. Yes, only actions matter, and to date there hasn't been much action. But then, the Mariners have never acted on trading Felix even though God knows the opportunities have been there, and the words are powerful. It's easy to believe that Felix is being sincere, even though sometimes it's hard to understand why he would feel the way that he says that he does.

This latest promise, and the way the Mariners acted around the deadline -- it makes me wonder if contract extension negotiations have already begun. This is pure, 100 percent imagination on my part, and I don't have any inside knowledge, but maybe they're already talking, and maybe they're already close. It's very reasonable to think about trading Felix if you only have him for two more years after this one. The equation changes if you have him for more years than that, and, who knows? If the sides were talking, would we know about it? I don't want to lead you on because maybe they haven't talked at all, but it's one way to connect the dots.

There would be some precedent for signing an early extension. Felix is already guaranteed more than $20 million in 2013, and more than $21 million in 2014. In April 2011, the Brewers signed Ryan Braun to a five-year extension, even though he was already under contract through 2015. It's different because Felix is a pitcher and pitchers are more dangerous, but the Mariners don't need to wait to approach this, if they haven't approached it already. Clearly, they're willing to roll the dice on Felix. So they'd probably be willing to make a commitment stretching into the future.

I don't know what kind of commitment it would take. A big one, obviously, since Felix is amazing and is already guaranteed a lot of money the next two years. But superstars are worth big-money contracts, and Felix is a superstar. He's one of the league's biggest superstars, and the Mariners are a team that needs stars to go with the effective role players already on the roster. If there's any pitcher you're willing to build around, Felix is that kind of pitcher.

Headed into a big offseason, we can see the importance of the Mariners playing well. Right now, Felix is still riding the high of pitching a perfect game, just as we're all riding the high of having watched it. The feelings on all sides right now are the most positive they've ever been. This is what a honeymoon probably feels like. Felix feels amazing. We feel amazing. Why would Felix ever want to leave this place? Why would we ever want Felix to leave this place?

The perfect game feeling will fade, but outside of the perfect game, the Mariners are playing really good baseball, and they're a young team. They've been tremendous since the All-Star break, nearly unbeatable outside of that one skid, and if the Mariners continue to play well through the end of the season, there's going to be a lot of optimism going around. Felix has always said publicly he believes the Mariners are on the right track; now the Mariners can try to prove it. A strong finish could convince Felix, and everyone, that the Mariners' bright future is nearer to the present. Felix signed his last contract after the Mariners went 85-77 in 2009. If the Mariners could vault from 67 wins to something in the neighborhood of 80 with such a young core, Felix might really see the promise. He might see something he wants to see through.

What's tricky about this is that we're on the outside and we're given no glimpses of what's really going on. We don't know what the Mariners are thinking, we don't know if Felix is really thinking what he says he's thinking, and we don't know what role Felix's representation might have. All we can do is try to connect dots that are deliberately constructed for public consumption. Superstars have said one thing and done another before, and the same goes for front offices. In terms of the truth, we don't actually know anything.

But it sure feels like we do. It sure feels like Felix is here for the long haul, and it sure feels like that could be made official before much more time passes. Maybe Felix is a two-faced liar. Maybe Jack has just been waiting for the perfect opportunity to trade him away after making every other general manager salivate. Maybe it's all been an act, and an admittedly effective one. I prefer to see the good in people. There's a lot of good to see in Felix Hernandez as a Seattle Mariner.

This should be a special night. It'll be a real special night for a real special player, a player who might go on to be one of the very most special players in Seattle sports history.

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