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Inbox: Could the King return to his court?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers fans' questions
@gregjohnsmlb
December 19, 2019

What’s the latest on Félix Hernández? And if no one signs him as a free agent, is there a possibility the Mariners bring him back on a Minor League contract to provide depth in the event of injuries or while waiting for the young guns to be ready? -- Jeff

What’s the latest on Félix Hernández? And if no one signs him as a free agent, is there a possibility the Mariners bring him back on a Minor League contract to provide depth in the event of injuries or while waiting for the young guns to be ready?
-- Jeff O., Mililani, Hawaii

From nosing around at the Winter Meetings, there doesn’t appear to be much of a market for Félix, and most of the speculation is that he’ll likely need to agree to a Minor League deal somewhere with an invitation to a big league camp in order to prove he’s healthy and has anything left in the tank if he wants to keep pitching.

That’s a pretty big change for a 15-year MLB veteran who has been earning $27 million a year on guaranteed deals, so whether Hernández wants to go that route or holds out hope for a Major League contract remains to be seen. The stark reality is that he will be 34 in April and has gone 9-22 with a 5.82 ERA in 44 outings (43 starts) over his last two seasons, with a negative 1.8 bWAR, and is near the bottom of most statistical categories for all MLB starters in that span.

I don’t see any scenario where Hernández re-signs with the Mariners, given both parties seemed ready to move on by the end of last year. There have been suggestions that he might be an option out of the bullpen, but he had no interest in pitching in relief and seems better suited for a starting role, given his frequent first-inning struggles.

Hernández is now living in Miami, and many in the industry figure the natural move would be taking a shot on a Minor League deal with the Marlins, though even that’s no slam dunk since the Marlins have a pretty decent stable of young starters. In all likelihood, he’ll wait to see how the market plays out and if there are any teams willing to extend a Major League deal before making his decision closer to the start of Spring Training.

As the Mariners look to add another rotation contender, any chance they’ll try to get Taijuan Walker back?
-- Kari T., Issaquah, Wash.

Walker figures to have numerous teams checking on him after being non-tendered by the D-backs following two injury-plagued seasons, but the Mariners are definitely interested, and he does fit the profile of what they’re looking for as they seek to add a little more depth to their rotation.

At 27, Walker is still young and has the upside potential to be part of the future if things work out. He’s the kind of bounce-back candidate they already signed in Kendall Graveman, as the former A’s Opening Day starter returns from Tommy John surgery. Walker also underwent Tommy John in 2018, and then was limited by shoulder issues last year. He pitched just 14 innings in the Majors over the last two seasons, coming back in the final game last year to throw a single frame.

The D-backs let him go rather than enter into an arbitration process that would likely have locked them into a salary in the $5 million range, so Walker presumably will sign somewhere else for less guaranteed money and the chance to reboot his career.

I saw where the Mariners have four picks in the Top 100 of next June’s Draft. How does that compare to the number of picks for other teams?
-- Michael F., San Diego, Calif.

Thanks to the trade of Omar Narváez to the Brewers that included a Comp B Draft pick coming back along with right-handed prospect Adam Hill, Seattle indeed now has four picks in the first 80. That currently includes their No. 6 selection in the first round, No. 44 in the second round, the Comp B pick at No. 67 and their third-round pick at No. 80.

Top 100 2020 Draft prospects

The Comp B pick was 70th overall at the time of the trade, but has since bumped up to No. 67 thanks to teams forfeiting Draft spots by signing free agents who had received qualifying offers. There are still two unsigned players with qualifying offers -- Marcell Ozuna and Josh Donaldson -- so more shifting could occur, depending where they sign.

Quite a few teams have four selections in the Top 100, but only the Orioles, Royals, Marlins, Tigers, Giants and Mariners have four in the first 80.

Are any of the Mariners’ top prospects like Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez getting extra experience in winter ball this offseason?
-- Josh B., Whidbey Island, Wash.

Now that the Arizona Fall League is done, most of the Mariners' prospects are taking time off to recover and prepare for a big year ahead. Outfielder Eric Filia, who missed much of 2019 due to a 100-game suspension after testing positive a third time for a drug of abuse, is one exception as he's played 45 games in the Dominican Winter League while posting a .301/.401/.359 line with one homer and nine RBIs through Thursday.

Mariners Top 30 Prospects list

Austin Nola played 16 games in the Dominican League early this offseason as he looked to work on his catching, then he returned home in early November after posting a .234/.269/.281 line with no homers and four RBIs.

Gerson Bautista is the Mariners’ pitcher logging the most winter ball action as he’s gone 1-0 with a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over 19 games, including four starts, in the Dominican Republic through Thursday.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.