Felix Hernandez Plays for Atlanta Now

marc w · January 20, 2020 at 3:47 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

This day was always coming. Yes, it felt jarring at first to see Jon Heyman report that Felix signed a $1 million minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves today, but I honestly think I prefer it to Felix going unsigned, and unceremoniously forgotten. The fact that he couldn’t get a big-league deal shows that possibility wasn’t *too* far away, but realistically, someone as competitive as El Cartelua was never going to slink off into retirement in 2020.

Felix butted heads with M’s coaches and that experience probably impacted his desirability to other clubs, but the Braves have some experience here. A bit over 3 years ago, in January of 2017, the M’s jettisoned prospect Luiz Gohara, who’d spent four years in the M’s system. He seemed to turn a corner in 2016, in what was, admittedly, his third go-round in Everett, but after the move east, he shot through the Braves system rapidly, making his MLB debut in 2017. This is baseball, so there are rarely true happy endings; he was off in 2018, belatedly diagnosed with a shoulder issue, and then quietly released (then signed by the Angels), so this isn’t purely a “why do they always get better” lament. But I think it helped the Braves front office get over any qualms they may have had about Felix’s health and issues responding to coaching. They’ve seen something similar before.

Is this Felix’s best pathway to MLB playing time? No, of course not. You could make a case that the M’s might offer that, but so would the Royals or Tigers. The Braves young rotation is led by MIke Soroka and Max Fried, but also includes Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, and presumably Sean Newcomb (who worked mostly in relief last year). That’s not even getting into the fact that the Braves still boast a solid assortment of pitching prospects including Touki Toussaint and Ian Anderson. Still, it’s near Felix’s new home in Florida, and he’s working with a player development group that’s managed to get quite a bit of big-league production out of their pitchers.

That said, they’ve made some high-profile missteps, as with Kevin Gausman in 2019, and the career trajectory of ex-Brave Julio Teheran looks quite Felix-like from afar. Like Felix, Teheran lost velocity each year for many years, and saw his walk rate climb higher at the same time. This shouldn’t be a surprise: there is no silver bullet in player development. For all the grief I give them, the M’s really shouldn’t be expected to put every player on an effective improvement plan that works for each player’s strengths and personality. All teams can do is maximize their “hit” rate, and a big part of that is being flexible, and listening when a player says something isn’t working. The Astros’ player development successes have been accompanied by a ton of failures, as you’d expect – not just the big JD Martinez misses, but the dozens of players who’ve washed out there and turned up later in other orgs. Felix was often seen as a haughty big-leaguer who thought he was somehow above putting in time with coaches and trainers. I’ve disagreed, but again: the biggest part of player development is really getting that initial buy-in from the athlete. The M’s seem to have struggled with this at times, though by all accounts this is changing. I’m not sure what Atlanta does differently, but it is striking that they’ve brought in pitchers and prospects from different orgs, meaning they’re dealing with a wide array of habits, previous coaching techniques, and raw abilities. They seem to make it work about as well as any other org, with the asterisked exception of the Astros.

I suppose I’m glad he’s not pitching for an AL West rival, but I’ve got no real affinity for the Braves. I just hope this works, and that he’s got enough left in his right arm to make it up as a swing man, or that he’s first up from Gwinnett when a big league rotation member goes down with injury.


3 Responses to “Felix Hernandez Plays for Atlanta Now”

  1. Westside guy on January 20th, 2020 11:35 pm

    Good luck, Felix. Thank you for everything.

  2. Stevemotivateir on January 22nd, 2020 7:06 am

    How could anyone not wish the best for Felix? I hope he can rediscover himself and play another 5 years. I just hope that Seattle has new faces representing the franchise before too long.

  3. schwingy on January 22nd, 2020 9:59 pm

    God Speed Felix, thanks for the memories!
    Can anyone find out how many games he left with the lead after 5 innings or 7 innings in which he got a no decision? Or what percentage of games he started in which he left tied or with the lead?

    King’s corner put to rest is a sad chapter
    One of my top 5 Ms of all time. He did it right, aged appropriately, met Father Time, and just did not have the franchise behind him in his prime. How many years was Felix the ONLY draw? No matter what happens I am a Felix fan!

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