While the writing was on the wall, some still irrationally held out hope for a possible return; however, one of the most important chapters in Mariners lore has officially come to a close today.
For the first time in his illustrious 15-year career, Félix Hernández will wear the colors of a team not named the Seattle Mariners. The 33-year-old potential future Hall of Famer has signed a one-year, minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves that comes with a non-roster invite to Spring Training.
There was practically no chance Hernández would return to the Mariners after hitting free agency for the first time in his career. The last four seasons were a tough fall from grace to witness for Hernández, who finished eighth-worst in fWAR amongst qualified pitchers over that time, and his relationship with the organization started to strain once the Mariners finally acknowledged—and did something about—his growing mediocrity.
After tossing 2,250+ innings through his first 11 seasons, it was inevitable that Hernández’s body would eventually break down as he entered his 30s and his numbers would ultimately suffer, but it didn’t lessen the pain of having to watch one of the Mariners’ greatest and most loyal players—Seattle’s king—struggle in the way he did.
Thankfully, Hernández ended his long tenure with the Mariners on a positive note, leaving the diamond at T-Mobile Park one last time to the roaring cheers of fans who watched him grow before their very eyes this past September 27. It was a goodbye that once felt impossible to have given how disappointing of a turn his career took over the last few years; however, it wound up beautifully orchestrated and perfectly put a cap on a historic career for the Emerald City’s royalty.
There were questions of whether or not Hernández would still be able to further his career in Major League Baseball. For starters, was there an interest from the man himself? He confirmed there was, but then that left the question fo whether or not teams would actually be interested in giving him a shot.
Today’s news brings quite possibly the best possible outcome that Hernández could have hoped for. Not only does Hernández get a chance—albeit a slim one—to crack a major league rotation in 2020, he gets to do it for one of the National League’s elite teams in the Atlanta Braves. At the very least, if he chooses to accept a minor league designation near the end of March, he’d be able to provide depth for a team with aspirations of the playoffs and beyond.
Nothing but best wishes to Félix Hernández as he takes this new step in his career. Perhaps things will bounce in all the right ways and he’ll finally get the chance to be a member of a playoff team. Sometimes baseball works in mysterious ways and there’s no one more deserving of finally tasting October baseball than the King, but there will be a very long road ahead for him.