We start with the biggest dilemma the Mariners have had this side of Ichiro: What to do with Felix Hernandez? In the midst of a playoff push, their former ace has often become a total liability.
And frankly, there is no good solution.
To recap, Felix gave up seven runs in less than three innings last night. He’s given up at least three runs in his last five starts. The Mariners have lost six of his last eight games he’s started. And his ERA for the month of July was over 9.00!
The last thing Felix deserves is an exaggeration of his struggles. But his only consistency this season has been his inconsistency. And as hard as it is for me to say this, it’s likely time to replace him in the starting rotation.
Now, that in itself is likely to throw a portion of fans into a tizzy. Felix is a Seattle icon. He’s been nothing but loyal to this franchise for his entire career. He’s the face of the organization. He’s sacrificed opportunities elsewhere for a chance to finally lead the M’s back to the playoffs. Many feel he deserves a chance to work through his struggles, even if it ultimately leads to another playoff-less finish.
But even Felix might roll his eyes at that rationale. Felix might be my favorite Mariner, but there’s now a large-enough sample set – 21 starts! - that reveals the burden he’s often become. And the options don’t provide a clear-cut solution either.
You can move him to the bullpen as a reliever, but his struggles have often come early in games. He’s given up at least a run in the first inning of three of his last four starts. But you can’t send him to the minor leagues, he has no trade value right now, and you can’t simply drop a player that’s owed the rest of his $27 million this season, and another $27 million next year!
So if you thought the Ichiro quandary was bad back in April, there’s not enough furosemide to mask the predicament the M’s face now. There’s no place for Felix as a Special Chairman to pitching coach Mel Stottlemeyer Jr. either.
In the end though, I think you move him to the pen. Felix can’t be counted on to give the M’s more than five innings anyway – something he’s done just twice in his last eight starts.
Give him some time to reflect on this kind of transition, and I think he’d embrace the role with open arms. He’s fiery. He’s emotional. And the leader in him would be willing to give it his all.
Felix, we all love you. We always will. But it’s likely time to help this team down the stretch by coming into games down the stretch – and leading them to the promised land you’ve been so keen on doing from Day One.