The Hanwha Eagles and King Felix

One of the more interesting aspects of the large Felix extension, other than the recent news that there is some concern over his elbow and may be protective language put in to protect the team’s investment, is the fact that the Mariners have not been good and do not project to be very good in 2013. Essentially, this is a pretty bad team that is making sure they keep their best player. While on the very surface, this make some sense, it is usually not how teams operate. If a team has no hope for competing (which isn’t fair when talking about the Mariners, as they may not be good and they may not project to be good, they aren’t without hope), teams usually try to “cash out” with the good players they do have, trying to trade them for younger and cheaper players. The Mariners have opted not to do this, for a host of reasons, some obvious, some not so obvious. I won’t rehash all of those reasons, and instead will use an analogy. I don’t like analogies usually, most of the time they are misleading or used as arguments, which they aren’t.

The analogy, or example, comes from the KBO, or the Korea Baseball Organization. Recently, the KBO has been of interest to America thanks Ryu Hyun-Jin signing with the Dodgers. Despite having the best pitcher in the league, the Hanwha Eagles, the former team of Ryu, went 53-77 in 2012, 59-72 in 2011, and 49-82 in 2010. In fact the 2010 rotation, even with with Ryu, was one of the worst rotations I’ve ever seen in any kind of professional baseball. This sounds pretty familiar to the average Mariner fan. Interestingly, even though they have been averaging 23 games under .500 over the last 3 years, and lost Ryu, the Eagles still have the highest paid player (just 1.37 million dollars when converted to American dollars) in the KBO, Kim Tae-kyun.

Of course, Hanwha was able to cash out with Ryu, posting him and receiving 25.7 million dollars for Ryu. It doesn’t necessarily help them win games, since they don’t seem to be putting money back into the team, as they traded successful veteran Jang Sung-ho for a rookie pitcher. Instead, it seems that they are using it to do some stadium renovations (or just pocketing it. This is one of the places that the analogy breaks down, as the Mariners won’t just sell or “post” King Felix, they would theoretically trade him for players).

Hanwha was so bad, that Ryu had a losing pitching record for most of the year in 2012 and ended up going 9-9. Hanwha’s manager even seemed concerned that MLB teams may not be interested in Ryu because of his bad W-L record. Mariner fans know better than anyone that pitching records don’t mean anything, as many times Felix himself hasn’t gotten the wins and therefore the recognition from some mainstream baseball commentators that he deserves.

Here is a great video put together showing some of the low-lights of Hanwha that cost Ryu some games:

Hanwha has basically made two completely different decisions on high paid/high profile players. They punted on Ryu and raked in the money, but they kept Kim. Kim Tae-kyun is the real deal, worth about 5 wins above league average in 2012 just with his bat, about as good according to batting runs in the KBO as Andrew McCutchen was in the Majors. Dana Eveland is not going to replace Ryu Hyun-Jin. Hanwha is going to take a step back in 2013. as we have seen, taking a step back for Hanwha is going from really bad to absolutely horrible. Their outlook is worse than the Mariners. This is another place where the analogy breaks down. However, the point of risking losing the small amount of value the Mariners do seem to have stands.

Rob Neyer points out:

We do know that more than half the pitchers with Hernandez’s approximate track record break down, either gradually or dramatically, within a few year Knowing would mean predicting with some precision what Felix Hernandez will be doing over the next seven seasons and what his many dozens of teammates will be doing. Well, good luck with that.

I guess there can be something to said about the Astros approach, the complete rebuild. However, if they don’t succeed, it will be a catastrophic failure. All of the 100 loss seasons fans and the team went through as they traded away anyone with any semblance of value and experience (that is, lack of team control) for prospects will be wasted and for not. If the ends do not eventually match up with the means that they went through (say, that the prospects don’t pan out and the Astros never really make a push for the playoffs over the next 5-8 years), then the current front office will go down as one of the worst in recent history.

Obviously I don’t think the Mariners should do that, but I don’t think they should have signed Raul Ibanez or traded Jaso for Morse. Also, should a team that hasn’t been competitive in recent seasons, and probably won’t be, despite some optimism by pundits, in 2013, sign their pitcher to a record breaking contract? Should the Mariners have the highest paid pitcher in baseball? Obviously the team is making a bet. A bet that they will be good soon. On a more meta scale, they believe their top prospects (the Walkers, Zuninos, and Hultzens) and some of their young players (the Ackleys, Seagers, Monteros, and perhaps even, the Smoaks) will blossom into a group that rounds out a rotation and a batting order. On a smaller scale, they think they will be competitive in 2013, or else they wouldn’t have traded Jaso for Morse or signed Raul Ibanez. Of course, the extension of Felix has nothing to deal with 2013, other than the fact that he will be paid more for the season. He was already under contract for 2013 and 2014.

Dave Cameron points out the rather obvious:

Given the history of pitcher attrition, there’s a significant chance that this deal will go south for the Mariners, and they’ll end up with an expensive and overpaid former ace. Most good young pitchers don’t turn into good old pitchers, and the Mariners have just made a huge bet on Felix being the exception rather than the rule.

In my opinion, especially with the construction of the 2012/2013 off-season, if the Mariners are not good (we will leave that definition loose for now) in 2013, the off-season was an obvious failure, the fake Justin Upton trade looks even worse, and the extension of Felix could be considered a serious mistake.

I have argued that the Felix extension, as risky as it is, is the safe choice for the front office/management. This is different that it being the right choice, which as you can probably tell, I have remained somewhat agnostic on. The Mariners are banking that not only is King Felix the present, but the future as well.

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