By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
This was supposed to be a week of celebration for the Seattle Mariners and their fans.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on Tuesday. And sometime this week, there was expected to be the announcement of a contract for star pitcher Felix Hernandez that would pay him $175 million over the next seven seasons.
But on Sunday, that optimism was dampened slightly and panic began to set in for Mariners fans.
ESPN reported that negotiations between Hernandez’s representation — Octagon Agency — and the Mariners had hit speed bump amid concerns about Hernandez’s elbow on his right (throwing) arm.
A Mariners source confirmed that Hernandez took a physical on Thursday in Seattle as part of the contract extension.
It was during that physical, the Mariners reportedly became concerned about the overall health of Hernandez’s elbow, according to ESPN.
Mariners’ officials, specifically general manager Jack Zduriencik, are not commenting about the report per the club policy to not discuss contract negotiations.
The team did confirm that Hernandez is en route to Peoria. He is scheduled to take his normal spring training reporting physical on Tuesday with the rest of the pitchers. The Mariners believe expect him participate in Wednesday’s first workout. He has been on his normal throwing program for the offseason without incident.
As for the elbow issue, Hernandez has proven to be quite durable in his professional career — one of the main reasons his value is even greater. He’s exceeded 200 innings the last five seasons.
In April of 2007, Hernandez left a start early because of tightness in the elbow. The Mariners placed him on the 15-day disabled list with a strained flexor-pronator, which are a bundle of muscles on the inner part of the forearm. He missed just two starts.
There has never been any indication of elbow problems since then.
Because throwing is an unnatural motion that place great stress on the elbow and shoulder, most baseball players, not just pitchers, have normal wear and tear on those joints that builds up over time.
Hernandez has shown no signs of injury or breaking down. In fact, his velocity increased as the season went on last season.
But any damage to the elbow should be a concern to the Mariners considering how much they are they are planning on investing in Hernandez.
Does this completely submarine the contract extension? Not necessarily.
The Mariners can protect themselves by writing language into the contract to guard against serious injury to Hernandez’s elbow. The Yankees made a similar move with CC Sabathia, whose contract has specific language and parameters based on a throwing shoulder injury that nullify a vesting option in the final year of the contract.
That may be something the Mariners are or should be working on as protection. It also could be what is slowing down the extension negotiations.
On Friday, Hernandez’s agents told a Venezuelan reporter the pitcher would not be participating in the World Baseball Classic this spring because of the ongoing extension negotiations. There was no mention of the elbow issue, but it seems likely that the Mariners didn’t want to see Hernandez in the WBC with their concerns.