Updated Feb 11, 2013 - 2:47 pm
Buster Olney believes elbow issue with Felix Hernandez is just a "speed bump" in negotiations
By Shannon Drayer
ESPN's Buster Olney, who was the first to Tweet the news that concern about the pitching elbow of Felix Hernandez could be holding up a 5-year $135.5 million extension joined Bob and Groz on 710 ESPN Monday afternoon and perhaps tempered fears a bit that this deal would not get done.
While admitting that he had no idea what precisely the issue with the elbow was, he pointed out that it couldn't be too severe as Hernandez has been throwing all winter and is expected to participate fully in spring training. He termed the news about the elbow "a speed bump" in the ongoing negotiations between the pitcher and the Mariners.
"Teams in recent years have become so much more careful in evaluation of medical information and it may be that whatever was seen in the MRI and tests that he did at that point the Mariners took a pause and went back and said we have to work through some language, which is not unusual," said Olney.
Such activity in the process of trying to sign players to major contracts is becoming more commonplace, he said.
"In talking with agents last night that are not involved in this negotiation, they say that teams twenty fold have increased in the number of times that they go back to the player and say there is something in that MRI. There is something that we are concerned about and they are trying to build in some protective language."
Olney believes it is important that the Mariners get this deal done. While not being a fan of long term contracts for pitchers, he believes the Mariners are in a different position, one in which they must assume the risk.
"In an off season where they have had such a bad run and you look at the attendance having dropped by 50% since 2001, this is not only an acquisition and investment of a player because of what he brings on the field, but really he has become a symbol for the Mariners of credibility. The pure player evaluation almost doesn't apply because it is a business decision beyond that."
Pointing to the misses on Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton this winter, Olney said the Mariners cannot count on improving the team through free agent signings.
"Right now the fact is the Mariners have Confederate money in baseball among the players because the travel, because of the way the team has played. For free agent position players it is viewed as the Death Valley of offense."
"The bottom line is because of the offensive issues for free agents who have gone there, Adrian Beltre probably being the biggest example, they just can't draw veterans to go there. I have been told this by agents time and again where they tell me, 'yeah I will engage the M's but essentially to create leverage for myself. My client's not really interested in going there. That's where the Mariners are right now in terms of trying to lure veteran free agent position players to play in their park today."
The good news is, Olney believes the deal with Hernandez will get done. He stressed that this does not appear to be a Mike Napoli situation where the eventual signing with Boston was thrown into doubt after an MRI turned up a hip condition.
"The Mariners want to sign Felix Hernandez," he pointed out. "Felix wants to stay. It's just a question probably at this point of the Mariners getting the type of protection against the specific type of injury issue if it pops up in the future. That is my educated guess of where they are now."
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