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Felix Hernandez And Protective Language

Talking a little bit more about the situation reportedly surrounding Felix Hernandez's elbow, as he and the Mariners approach a contract extension.

Otto Greule Jr

In theory, for a patient, a full-body scan is a wonderful idea. In the patient's mind, a full-body scan can reveal anything major that might be wrong, and if such a scan is reviewed and cleared, then the patient can rest assured that he's probably quite healthy. In reality, the reality isn't the theory. See, people have these anomalies, these abnormalities -- and by people, I mean everyone -- and though almost all of them are incredibly harmless, a full-body scan could cause them to be identified and investigated. If you get a scan, and someone finds a spot, they're going to want to check that spot out, and all of a sudden you're going through some medical stuff to look at something that's probably nothing. For the record, I am not a medical professional, but I have watched Scrubs so I feel like I'm speaking from a position of authority.

You've heard by now what's going on with Felix, or at least what's supposedly going on. Here's what's been reported:

  • The Mariners and Felix Hernandez are on the verge of a seven-year contract agreement
  • But the contract negotiations have hit a speed bump due to concerns about Felix's elbow

Here's what the Mariners have said:

  • Nothing is about to happen
  • Felix is fine

If we believe the reports, the Mariners and Felix agreed to a framework, then Felix had a physical. The physical was supposed to be something of a formality, but with pitchers, are physicals ever really a formality? Here's a tweet from the guy who first broke the news of Felix's rumored extension:

It seems like Nightengale is clued in, here. I can assure you that no one previously had any concerns. Over the course of the offseason, the thought was that Felix was at 100 percent, and you'll recall that last year he rebounded from his early velocity dip. There was no hesitation in engaging Felix in long-term contract talks, and even now, Felix is supposedly going to work out like everyone else at spring training. Even after Felix's physical, the Mariners aren't planning to hold him back in workouts. The Mariners wouldn't treat Felix like they're treating Felix if they felt like he was on the verge of blowing up.

But the fact of the matter is that, over his career, Felix has thrown almost 25,000 regular-season pitches. He's thrown countless more in bullpens, and in spring training, and in the minors, and in his youth. Just as a full-body scan is probably going to turn up something weird, a look into a veteran pitcher's elbow or shoulder is probably going to raise some concerns. I'd be shocked if a pitcher didn't have some fraying. It comes with the job, and it's a big reason why pitchers don't pitch when they're 50.

Based on reports, it wouldn't be fair to say Felix is at 100 percent. It might still be fair to say Felix is at 100 percent relative to other pitchers his age or with his history. There's greater risk, and this just helps to confirm something we would've already suspected. Better the elbow than the shoulder, right? At least we haven't heard anything about Felix's shoulder.

We don't know what's going on in there. We do have a pretty good idea that Felix and the Mariners are going to continue working toward this extension agreement. Probably, what we're going to see is the inclusion of some protective language, sparing the Mariners in the event of a significant injury. Protective language is something of a newer phenomenon, and people have already made references to the language built into CC Sabathia's contract. I'm personally pretty interested in John Lackey's contract. In 2008, with the Angels, Lackey went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. In 2009, with the Angels, Lackey went back on the disabled list with an elbow injury. Lackey would sign a big free-agent contract with the Red Sox, and here's a thing:

5 years/$82.5M (2010-14), plus conditional 2015 option

2015 club option at Major League minimum salary if Lackey misses significant time with surgery for pre-existing elbow injury in 2010-14

John Lackey is on the way back now from Tommy John surgery, on his throwing elbow. By the terms of his contract, then, the Red Sox will have the option of keeping Lackey in 2015 at the big-league minimum, even if by that point he's healthy and effective. You can think of it as a swap: Lackey would pitch a year at the minimum in 2015, after getting paid millions to not pitch in 2012. So in theory it would kind of balance out.

That's just one other example of how protective language can work. You'll note that Lackey did indeed go on to have problems with the problem spot that was identified. Not every player does, and Lackey showed worrying signs in 2008 and 2009 with his DL visits. Nothing's gone wrong in Felix's elbow recently, and I don't know how his protective language might be written. I wouldn't be opposed to a clause like Lackey's, but he could end up with something like Sabathia's, or something else. That is, assuming a contract agreement is eventually reached. They say they're most of the way there, even accounting for this hiccup.

We didn't learn that Felix Hernandez is hurt. We learned that Felix is showing signs of wear and tear, which we already could've guessed. We learned that Felix could get hurt in the future, which we already knew. We learned that matters aren't worrying enough to derail negotiations, and we learned that, at least, the concerns are about Felix's elbow and not Felix's shoulder. If Felix were to need to undergo an operation, I know where I'd prefer it to be, of those two options. Better to think about a potentially lost year than a potentially lost career.

Here's what we've really learned: in the age of Twitter, we find out about things sooner than we used to. There's a reason teams and players aren't big fans of leaks. Makes you wonder who's out there, doing all the leaking.

Odds are, before long, Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners will agree to terms on a contract extension. At that point, we'll all cross our fingers that Felix is able to stay on the mound, just as we would've without this report. Like you, I would've preferred to not worry about Felix's elbow, but don't go jumping off any bridges quite yet. Unless you dropped your wallet. You need what's in there!