When I was growing up, the standard warranty for most American-made automobiles was five years or 50,000 miles, whichever came first. Livan Hernandez hit the 50,000 pitch mark for his career last night in Atlanta, and like that great old family sedan, he just keeps starting up and taking you down the highway.
I was speaking with a colleague yesterday who wondered aloud if that night would be Livo's final start of the season - or perhaps last start in a Nats' uniform - given that some young arms are due up from the minors when rosters expand tomorrow, and the imminent return of Stephen Strasburg. I told him not to count on that, since we're not yet at the point where you could say without fear of contradiction that Hernandez isn't still one of the Nationals' five best starting pitchers.
And I wouldn't bet the same isn't true next April.
Hernandez is 36, according to his baseball biography. It hardly matters whether that's an exact number or not. He can still throw it over the plate, he can still trick a hitter with his breaking ball, he can still field his position, he can still handle the bat, and he can still give you 200 innings.
And, he has an affection for this ballclub that's palpable.
He wasn't exactly thrilled when he was traded to Arizona in 2006, despite ending up in the postseason in 2007. He would've preferred to return to the Nats in 2008, when he ended up signing with Minnesota, which later sold him to Colorado. He signed with the Mets in 2009 after failing to interest the Nats once again, but convinced general manager Mike Rizzo to take him on after the Mets released him that August. He's stayed with Washington for well under market value because it's where he wants to be.
Heading into 2012, it will not surprise anyone if he simply does what he's done before: sign a minor league deal and train with the big league club as a non-roster invitee. If he's introduced with 24 other guys on opening day, it will be because he's earned it.
The expansion Washington Senators had an outfielder named Jim King, an Arkansas farm boy whose big league career had included stops with the Cubs, Cardinals and Giants in the 1950s. When he made the 1961 opening day roster, it was his first time in the big leagues since 1958. He was the last surviving expansion draft pick when the club traded him to the White Sox in June 1967 after a home loss to the Yankees. He was going from a club 10 games under .500 to a team 10 games over, and in a pennant race. Despite the postseason potential, something he'd never experienced in his career, he cried. He didn't want to go. He was married to the Senators, and this was a rather painful divorce. It turned out to be his final season, as he never found his stroke with Chicago, who traded him to Cleveland six weeks later. At 34, he might've had more left in the tank without the trade.
It's rare in this era of available free agency when a veteran attaches himself both professionally and emotionally to a franchise. Might Hernandez have better offers this offseason? Sure. I'd be surprised if he didn't. At the moment, he's tied for the league lead in games started with 28, and that's a number that jumps out at a lot of GMs. In the long run, however, the biggest shock would be if he seriously considered leaving D.C., or if he even tried using another offer to better his position with the Nationals.
I just don't think that's who he is.