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February 11, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Monday, February 11

by Will Woods

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In Friday’s Roundup, regular rumor rounder-upper Daniel Rathman noted the Mariners’ recent Felix Hernandez extension might impact negotiations for Clayton Kershaw, with a trickle-down effect on other starting pitchers looking for a new contract. Well, Kershaw may want to slowly back his way out of the war room, because it appears that Hernandez’s megadeal—which would have made him the richest pitcher ever and set a high bar for Kershaw’s inevitable extension—appears to be as tenuous as the right elbow that’s currently holding it up.

Hernandez deal in jeopardy?
Buster Olney had the story Sunday evening, with one source saying a possible elbow problem is “an issue” that might prevent the deal from being signed. No matter where you look on this story, the language is vague, and it almost sounds like there isn’t a medical condition at all but rather the promise that fatigue may cause one down the line. Hernandez apparently took a physical with the Mariners on Thursday (per Jon Morosi), and if it had revealed an immediate medical concern, you’d think we’d have heard about it and the deal would be either all the way on or all the way off. Instead we’ve got a lot of hemming and hawing as the media try to figure out just what’s going on, and both Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and Hernandez’s camp have been tight-lipped about the proceedings.

Here’s what we know: 1) as Olney notes in his story, only three pitchers—Bert Blyleven, Fernando Valenzuela, and Dwight Gooden—have thrown more innings before turning 27 than King Felix; 2) Hernandez rather conspicuously pulled out of the World Baseball Classic on Friday; and 3) per Ken Rosenthal, Zduriencik says Hernandez will “take part Tuesday with the entire squad as normal.” The Mariners’ pitchers and catchers are officially due to report Wednesday.

Basically, we know nothing. So let’s dig a little deeper: Here, according to PITCHf/x, are the average velocities of Hernandez’s four-seam fastballs since 2007, sorted by year:

Year Avg. Velo

2007

98.63

2008

96.41

2009

95.28

2010

95.11

2011

94.12

2012

93.07

Interestingly, the King’s fastball actually increased month by month in 2012, a year in which Hernandez finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting, racked up 223 strikeouts, threw a perfect game… and got shelled in September, to the tune of a 6.62 ERA over his final six starts (although the strikeout numbers remained on his normal pace). Hmmm…

Some of that decline in velocity is to be expected of a pitcher who becomes experienced enough in his craft to know he doesn’t need to put everything into every pitch. Still, there's some chance that the drop-off could have stemmed in part from prolonged fatigue. You can’t blame the Mariners for wanting to call the whole thing off; for a franchise that has been so reluctant for so long to shell out big contracts, a concern like this could scare them off completely. Maybe it should scare them off completely.

The good news is that Hernandez won’t hit free agency until after the 2014 season, so it won’t cost the Mariners their savior in the near term as they get a better idea of his future value. And speaking of after the 2014 season…

Mets planning to use real, existing American dollars to sign Michael Bourn?
…that’s when, if everything goes to plan, the Mets will have a good enough roster to make win-now moves like signing Michael Bourn in free agency. Unfortunately it’s February 11, 2013, and the Mets have decided they want a player whose game hinges heavily on speed and who might be closer to 35 than 30 by the time they're contending for a playoff spot.

But! As Daniel noted late last week, the Mets are also trying to pull a little Kansas City Shuffle on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states that the 10 worst teams from the previous season do not have to surrender a draft pick in signing a Type-A free agent. The Mets were baseball’s 10-worst team last year but had their draft position bumped to 11th after Pittsburgh failed to sign its top pick from the 2012 draft; they believe they should keep their pick, as Andy Martino reports, in accordance with “the spirit of the rule.” (Note: I am assuming baseball insiders call this the Kansas City Shuffle because, even though the Royals have rarely—if ever—signed a big-name free agent, they have always been bad enough to keep their draft pick if they ever tried. Also note that I said “big-name” instead of “Type A” to accommodate Gil Meche.)

That we’ve seen all this kerfuffle over a draft pick is rather fitting due to the Mets’ lack of success in previous drafts. Fans will point to the R.A. Dickey deal as having restocked the farm system, but the sad truth, as Jason Parks helpfully noted in his State of the Mets Farm, is that this is still an extremely top-heavy system that’s unlikely to provide any premium offensive talent over the next few years outside of Travis d’Arnaud (especially if you believe, as I do, that the bloom is off the Wilmer Flores rose). So we’d end up with a team dipping into its admittedly light coffers for Bourn, presumably with no free agents behind him in the winters to come, and very few kids on the farm to turn the team into a contender. It doesn’t add up.

Or rather, it doesn’t add up, but with one caveat: when I last covered for Dan a few weeks ago, I dutifully included a note about the lack of interest in Bourn, but still ruled out the Mets “unless Bourn wants to be paid in a suitcase full of twenties by a bail bondsman on Roosevelt Ave.” Here we are three weeks later and, well, have you read anything substantive about Bourn since then? I haven’t, and at this point, who knows what kind of deal he might command? As February slowly creeps toward March, the lack of interest in Bourn may have brought the market down to even his most indigent of admirers.

Will Woods is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Will's other articles. You can contact Will by clicking here

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