Per Jon Heyman, Félix Hernández has a second professional baseball club.
King Felix Hernandez signs NRI deal with Braves.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 20, 2020
$1,000,000. Will try for 5th starter
At the outset of this winter, I would’ve believed any of a range of outcomes for King Félix for the 2020 season. $1.1 million MLB deal with the Marlins to guarantee 15-30 starts and be a veteran presence? Would’ve loved it. Non-roster invite with a contender like Minnesota or the Mets with a veteran roster but suspect rotation depth? Totally. Hang the cleats up after an unforgettable career knowing he’s a hero in Venezuela, the Pacific Northwest, and respected league-wide? Couldn’t fault him.
A non-roster deal with a team almost incapable of playing all their young rotation options already, however, I did not anticipate. Typically, non-roster invite (NRI) contracts for veterans include an opt-out for the player. If Félix doesn’t see a spot materializing as Opening Day draws close, he should be able to elect free agency in late March, though he’ll then need to line up a new contract elsewhere. Atlanta only will guarantee the $1 million figure if they add Félix to their 40-man roster, making it essentially a prove-it deal.
The Braves do offer a few potential positives to the King. They’ve won the NL East two years in a row, and have a young core that should improve even further, making them a good bet to return to the playoffs. A move to the NL may not represent the shift it was 25 years ago, but fewer hitters will have years of experience against him - something that helped undercut any remaining deception his once-legendary changeup in his final years with the Mariners. If Atlanta manifests a trade for Kris Bryant, dealing from their deep store of pitching, Félix could see a spot open up on a 2020 juggernaut.
But those are ifs, and the fear is real that on any roster securing a rotation spot would be a battle, much less one where recent top-50ish prospects like Kyle Wright, Touki Toussant, and Bryse Wilson are already on the outside looking in. Atlanta’s bullpen has a few spots for competition, which could fit well if Hernández is able and comfortable, but it’s a trickier fit with the depth Atlanta has. Still, a strong showing in the spring could easily lead to a roster spot elsewhere if injuries or ineffectiveness strike.
It may strike a peculiar feeling in the hearts of some fans, but at least for the moment The King’s quest is not over. And yes, Atlanta does come to Seattle the final weekend in May.