The massive seven year, $175 million contract extension that the Seattle Mariners and starting pitcher Felix Hernandez agreed to on Thursday is now in question because of concerns that the Mariners have with Hernandez's elbow.
Hernandez has logged plenty of innings since his debut as a 19-year old in 2005: 1620 1/3 to be exact, which is the sixth most in baseball since 2005. Yet since that debut season, Hernandez has never failed to log at least 30 starts or 190 innings in a season, topping 33 starts and 230 innings in each of the last four years.
Despite not missing any time, there could still be a sign that Hernandez isn't 100%: his velocity. From 2005 to 2007, Hernandez's fastball averaged over 95 mph. It fell below 95 from 2008 to 2010, and has dropped considerably over the past two seasons, sitting at just 92 mph in 2012. A drop in velocity that precipitous is normal, but not for an otherwise healthy 26-year old starter.
If Hernandez's elbow checks out OK after further examinations past the initial physical, then I guess the Mariners are going to continue to go forward with the contract extension. But the fact that news is coming out saying that they might not be entirely comfortable with the deal right now is a little worrisome, considering the drop in Hernandez's velocity. Maybe the velocity drop was just a blip on the radar, considering that his velocity was actually worse in April and May than it was over the rest of the season, and his fastball started to tick up as the year went on. Maybe there's no structural damage, and Hernandez will be throwing 97 mph heaters this spring. But there's definitely a reason to take every precaution when making a potential nine figure investment into a player, and I can't fault the Mariners for that at all.