King Felix and the Greatest Mariner Ever

The most exciting news of the offseason for the Mariners was revealed last week. Felix Hernandez is on the verge of signing a long-term contract with the Mariners that will keep him in Seattle until 2019. The all but confirmed details are $25 million per year over seven years for a total of $175 million. That is a lot of money for one player; $25 million is over a quarter of our entire 2012 payroll. On the one hand, this contract is a confirmation by both the Mariners and Felix that they are committed for the long haul. It probably hasn’t been easy to play for the Mariners the last ten years. Toiling at the bottom of the standings, in the midst of constant rebuilding probably isn’t the most invigorating environment for a competitor. Yet Felix has consistently professed his devotion to the Mariners and Seattle. By offering this contract to Felix, the Mariners have tacitly committed to building a winning franchise around him and he has committed to being the central figure of that franchise.

I think many Mariners fans buy into the idea that the Mariners build stars from within their organization and then let them leave for better teams. This has created a culture where any superstar on the Mariners is welcomed with a bit of hesitation. Often, the question is asked, “How long will this player stay a Mariner?” With Felix, I think a lot of us were just waiting for the day he would leave us. Now, $175 million and seven years is not a complete guarantee, a number of things could happen between now and 2019; pitchers are certainly not the most durable, the Mariners could still trade him away, he could decide his passion lies elsewhere. What this contract does give us is a promise. We can begin to imagine what the Mariners might look like in 2015, 2016 and now we are promised that Felix will be at the center of those teams.

Felix’s rise to figurehead began in 2010 with his Cy Young award, continued into 2011 with the first King’s Court and culminated with his perfect game in 2012 and the trading away of Ichiro Suzuki. Now that he stands alone as the face of the franchise I began to think about what the next seven years might look like and where Felix might rank in the veritable pantheon of Mariners greats. His career as a Mariner is far from over but we can catch a glimpse of where Felix might fall when compared to the likes of Griffey, Edgar and all the other Mariner superstars. The Mariners and Seattle fans are not unfamiliar with franchise players but our history with them is full of scars and disappointment. Let’s briefly take a look at some of the past Mariners superstars and try and figure out who might be the Greatest Mariner Ever.

Name Years w/ Mariners How Acquired? Left Mariners? Career WAR Mariners WAR
Alvin Davis 1984-1991 Drafted, 1982 Signed with California Angels, 1992 24.1 24.2 (100%)
Jay Buhner 1988-2001 Trade from New York Yankees, 1988 Retired, 2001 26.3 26.3 (100%)
Jamie Moyer 1996-2006 Trade from Boston Red Sox, 1996 Traded to Philadelphia Phillies, 2006 49.1 29.7 (61%)
Alex Rodriguez 1994-2000 Drafted, 1993 Signed with Texas Rangers, 2001 114.6* 36.8 (32%)
Randy Johnson 1989-1998 Trade from Montreal Expos, 1989 Traded to Houston Astros, 1998 114.7 45.4 (40%)
Ichiro Suzuki 2001-2012 International Signee, 2001 Traded to New York Yankees, 2012 55.8* 55.1 (99%)
Edgar Martinez 1987-2004 Amateur Free Agent, 1982 Retired, 2004 69.9 69.9 (100%)
Ken Griffey Jr. 1989-1999; 2009-2010 Drafted, 1987 Traded to Cincinnati Reds, 2000; Retired, 2010 83.9 72.2 (86%)
Felix Hernandez 2005-2012* Amateur Free Agent, 2002 38.3* 38.3* (100%)

*Currently Active

  • Alvin Davis, “Mr. Mariner”, was the first Mariner who could be truly considered a franchise player. Yet his career wasn’t comparatively outstanding as his career WAR ranks last on the above list.
  • Jay Buhner was a Mariner for almost all of his career but his career WAR also falls short of many others on this list. His personality more than his on-field contributions link him to the team.
  • Jamie Moyer played professional baseball for over 25 years and spent less than half of that time with the Mariners, only 11 years.
  • Alex Rodriguez will never be considered the Greatest Mariner Ever. His accomplishments with other teams dwarf his contributions to the Mariners and the animosity between him and Mariners fans is still palpable.
  • Randy Johnson also accomplished more with other teams than he did with the Mariners, however he does have the highest team WAR of any Mariners pitcher.

That leaves Ichiro, Edgar, and Griffey. Ken Griffey Jr. ranks first on the list for team WAR as a Mariner. However, he left the organization after 1999 and only returned for a sleepy ending to his career in 2009. He is probably the player that most fans feel the deepest connection with and was the first true superstar the team ever had. When I think back to my childhood, Griffey is forever linked with becoming a fan; not only a fan of the Mariners but baseball as a pastime. He is one of my all-time favorite players because of that but I don’t believe he deserves the title of Greatest Mariner Ever.

Edgar Martinez remains at the core identity of the Mariners to this day. A Mariner for all 18 years of his career, his contributions to the team are historic and of all the players on this list, is truly deserving of the title, Greatest Mariner Ever. It is said he “saved baseball in Seattle” with one swing of the bat and his legacy continued to grow after he retired with the renaming of Edgar Martinez Way next to Safeco Field. Ichiro Suzuki could have given Edgar Martinez a run for his money but his on-field contributions fell short of Edgar’s and he didn’t have longevity as a Mariner. He was the face of the franchise for 11.5 years but had a lengthy career in Japan beforehand and left the Mariners for the Yankees in 2012. If you had asked me at the beginning of 2012 if I believed Ichiro would retire a Mariner, I would have said yes and maybe that would have secured his place as Greatest Mariner Ever but his newfound vigor with the Yankees gives me pause to crown him King.

Speaking of the King, Felix already ranks fifth in team WAR and is already the second best pitcher in team history behind Randy Johnson. If we extrapolate Felix’s average WAR over the next seven years and apply a conservative aging curve we get an approximate career WAR of 69.8 at the end of his seven year contract. That would put him just barely behind Edgar on this list. Felix would only be 33 years old at the end of this contract so, barring any major injuries, he would still have a few more years to play. If he remains a Mariner for this entire time, even past the next seven years, Felix has a chance to give Edgar a run for his money as Greatest Mariner Ever.

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