The Braves have inked former star hurler Felix Hernandez to a minor-league deal, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). It includes an invitation to MLB camp and a possible $1MM salary in the majors.
Once dubbed “King Felix,” the 33-year-old hurler was relieved of his crown in Seattle when the Mariners bid adieu after 15 memorable seasons. For most of those, Hernandez was somewhere between good and great. In seven seasons from 2009 through 2015, he notched six top-ten Cy Young appearances. He won the award in 2010.
Hernandez broke into the majors in his age-19 season, so it always seemed he’d have a chance at an exceedingly lengthy and productive career. The M’s gambled on just that premise with a then-record contract back in 2013. But his early thirties have not been kind. Since the start of the 2017 campaign, Hernandez has thrown 314 innings of 5.42 ERA ball. He’s averaging a pedestrian 7.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 1.7 HR/9 in that span.
The struggles reached new heights in 2019, as Hernandez limped through 15 starts with a 6.40 ERA. He averaged only about 90 mph with his four and two-seam fastballs, while his long-vaunted changeup graded as a liability. Hernandez allowed a 91.4 mph average exit velocity, one of the worst marks in baseball, with opposing hitters turning in a hefty .378 wOBA that was supported by the quality of contact (.371 xwOBA).
So, is there anything left? The Braves aim to find out, though they haven’t staked a ton on the possibility. Hernandez will be given a shot at showing his form in camp, where he’ll join Sean Newcomb and a slew of other candidates doing battle for the fifth rotation slot. It’s still possible the Atlanta organization will make a trade that alters the dynamic. But if not, we’ll all be watching to see whether Hernandez can regain his royal standing — if not as monarch, then perhaps at least as some lesser duke.