Felix Hernandez’s role in Mariners uncertain after variable season

The 2018 Seattle Mariners’ season was a mix of ups and downs but in the end, they missed playoffs by only a handful of games in a surprisingly stacked American League. From how the bats were swinging late into the season to the impeccable fielding led by an astounding performance by Mitch Haniger, to a few shining spots in Seattle’s pitching, the Mariners can finally prepare for next season with all the information they need. While Alex Colome and Edwin Diaz headlined the Seattle bullpen, the latter winning the AL Reliever of the Year award, a lot of the offseason for the Mariners looks to be in improving the pitching staff as a whole. Among these questions is exactly what Felix Hernandez’s future with the team looks like.

To put it in context, the Mariners’ starting rotation looked solid for the most part. James Paxton, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc finished with a combined record of 69 wins and 46 losses when they started, and all four of them are within the Mariners’ control for next season barring action on the trade market. 32-year-old Hernandez had a less than stellar season, with Seattle going 11-17 when he started.

Before 2018, Hernandez had won a Cy Young award with the Mariners back in 2010. Through 2014 he posted an Earned Run Average as low as 2.14. In 2015, that rose to 3.53, to 3.82 in 2016 and finally to 4.36 last year. In 2018 his final record stood at 8 wins and 14 losses with a 5.55 ERA. His not-so-graceful fall from stardom capped on him going 0-8 with a 6.34 ERA in the final three months of the season.

With one more year on his contract netting him 27 million dollars, the question going forward is what exactly Hernandez’s role will be with the Mariners in 2019. For a brief period, he was moved to the bullpen to see if he would be more useful for short outings instead of full-fledged starter appearances. However, for reasons General Manager Jerry Dipoto cites as “a couple unusual circumstances,” he was moved back into the starting rotation. Hernandez himself seems adamant that he’s a starter as well, which could mean he’s just not comfortable in that position.

As it stands, Opening Day is a long way away and Dipoto holds decent hopes for Hernandez coming back, stating that while Felix wasn’t helping the team win he will come back with a different edge than what he had this year. However, Dipoto isn’t sure if that edge is enough. Manager Scott Servais is similarly optimistic, stating that he would put him in the starting rotation if Opening Day was right now.

At the very least, the Seattle Mariners seem to owe Hernandez one more year. While his recent seasons have been struggling and he even missed some time with injuries this year, Felix has given so much to a team who has rewarded him with so little in terms of success. He rightfully earned his title of “King” and there were glimpses of positivity in the 2018 season. It only makes sense to run out Felix’s contract and hope he can provide the Mariners with his swan song at the very least.