Let's lay out how and why Félix Hernández should spend the last year of his current contract as the closer for the 2019 Seattle Mariners.
First and foremost, it's a developing / "lost" season. As of right now, December 7 midday, Tradey McGiveAway has temporarily paused the re-everything of the Mariners. But Jerry Dipoto's roster Thanos-snap took out every 2018 reliever. He's going to be putting together a bullpen from scratch, from castoffs and bargains (as he should). Dipoto has traded away the league's leading and possibly rising-star closer, as (sigh) he should, since why does a 75-ish win team need an All-Star Closer?
Why, indeed. But even in a rebuilding season, it logically follows that you'd want someone at closer who would:
- relish the chance to take the ball with the game on the line, every night, if need be
- be un-rattled by anyone he might face, regardless of team
- have enough veteran-ness, talent and/or pride to not 'play down' to the competition or to it being a lost season
- have that "air" around him, the swagger, the fire, the demeanor that you'd want to see from someone in the 9th
Sounds kinda regal, doesn't it? Kind of, King-ish?
Félix can let it fly and just shove, like he's wanted to all along, like he's done all along. No detailed game plans, no morphing into Righthanded Jamie Moyer with guile and speed changes, no suddenly developing new pitches or finding a knuckleball or somedamnthing. His world can narrow down to fastball, cambio, royal curve. He can possibly add 1 - 2 mph on his FB, and with some panting and wheezing he could have it in a 2013-ish 92mph range.
Toss in the Félix Twist, hide that ball, and let him huck it up there hard enough to make his crooked cap fly off again like it did when he was a pudgy 19-year-old wunderkind. (Which I just now initially mistyped as "wunderking", which is some sort of sign I'm sure.)
Yes, a 27 million dollar closer on a 75-win team is... inventive. But unless he's going to magically restructure his contract to extend to 2021 at 9m/year, or otherwise 'give it back', it is what it is. Dipoto wisely said in a recent interview that out of respect to Félix's career, Félix is not going to get released over the winter and should have every chance to be on the team.
Why not acknowledge the financial reality, avoid distracting drama and throw your fanbase a bone (the ones who haven't left after trading Robbie, or after burning down the Maple Grove)?
- The roster space isn't badly needed. If anything, it's "blocking" other potential starters, and taxing the whole bullpen, to run him out there for 5ish innings every 5 days.
- The money won't be recouped.
- If he's more of the same performance-wise then you weren't going to see much value from him anyway.
- If he's starting to figure something out, maybe he can go for one last free agent contract.
- If a miracle happens, trade him to a contender in early August and let the man have one more chance at a ring. Use him!
Karmically, a closer role is something of a farewell tour with Félix's Greatest Hits:
- The man who had entrance music for King's Court, can now have closer's entrance music almost every night at home.
- This day and age is not a great one for masses of people to be chanting "K! K! K!" in public, but it's been part of the Félix Experience and even more fitting now that his job would reduce down to just getting strikeouts. (See point about not trying to be Moyer.)
- During the leanest years of this century so far, a common joke whenever the M's would actually score first would be some variant of "well, one run, there's your run support, go get em Félix". Now he will be guaranteed to be coming IN with a lead, pretty much every time.
- Fairly or no, the M's seemed to put a lot of 2018 on Félix, expecting that a playoff run would in large part come from a resurgence from him. Félix wants responsibility. The M's want a scapegoat. The closer role is about as purely "the game is yours now, we lose it's on you" as you can get in a team game like this.