When the news broke last year that Félix Hernández was signing with the Atlanta Braves, many of us around here breathed sighs of relief. Obviously it was going to sting wherever Félix landed; obviously it was going to be sad. The Marlins felt like an ideal fit, but Atlanta was somehow even better—a good team where Félix could hang out as a fifth or sixth starter, get carried along to the playoffs, maybe even get a ring. Even better, Atlanta isn’t in the AL, and Seattle fans wouldn’t have to deal with seeing a franchise icon suit up against the Mariners. Early reports were Félix was pitching well with Atlanta in Spring Training and angling for a spot in the rotation.
Then, pandemic, and Hernández opted out, and long-time Mariners fans could push the specter of their King wearing a different country’s colors firmly off-screen. But that also made a reunion with Atlanta a little trickier, and today the news broke that Félix is in agreement with the Baltimore Orioles for a one-year, one-million dollar minors deal. This is bad, for these reasons:
- Unlike Atlanta, the Orioles are a bad team. Félix will almost certainly make that rotation, which means he will have to pitch in the AL East ballparks; not a great place for a pitcher who carried a HR/FB% rate of over 20% in two of his past three seasons. If Hernández’s goal is to burnish his resumé for potential Cooperstown consideration, this threatens less to “burnish” and more to “engulf with flames.”
- Not only are the Orioles a bad team, they play in a good division. One of the only enjoyable parts of seeing Félix depart is the hope he would be able to finally get into the playoffs after failing to single-handedly drag bad Mariners teams across that threshold. Yet by going to Baltimore, that dream appears to be torn asunder by the titanic forces of the Rays and Yankees, and their heated, Hatfield-v-McCoy rivalry in the quest for dominance of the AL East.
- Unlike Atlanta, the Orioles play in the American League. This means that after a year of avoiding it, Mariners fans will be forced not only to see King Félix adorned in Lord Baltimore’s atomic orange threads, but will likely have to see him play our very own team, an outcome that seems almost guaranteed as the Mariners open the season early on with a four-game series at Camden Yards in the first full week of the season, and then host Baltimore at T-Mobile Park for another three games in early May. These are games that promise to feel bad no matter who wins, and I am already dreading them.
Lots can happen between now and early April. Maybe the Mariners are playing unexpectedly well, or the Orioles, and this is just a little blip on the radar of a long season. Maybe Félix doesn’t make any starts, although that would be a pretty big stretch considering it’s seven games total. It’s possible Félix doesn’t even make the team, although unlikely given Baltimore has just traded Alex Cobb and their rotation is, uhhh....John Means and a bunch of question marks. Maybe Félix pitches really well, or at least decently, and gets traded to a contender mid-season—hopefully one in the NL. My mom always tells me not to borrow trouble, so despite the amount of Chicken Little-ing in this blurb, I’m going to try to avoid that sense of dread indulged in the above paragraph. Hopefully by the time early April rolls around the young-and-fun Mariners will have given enough things to be excited about that we can balance out the heartbreak of seeing Félix installed in another kingdom, and all the memories that invokes of his wasted potential. And we know that Mariners fans will show up to give their King a proper reception when he appears at T-Mobile, a reminder that the fanbase never did him wrong, even if the team did.