Orioles sign “King Félix” to minor league deal (updated)

The Orioles’ quest for more starting pitching has carried them to a former Cy Young Award winner.

The second minor league deal offered in two days.

According to an industry source, the Orioles have agreed to terms with veteran Félix Hernández on a contract that pays $1 million if he’s on the club.

The news on Hernández comes less than 24 hours after confirmation that the Orioles re-signed left-hander Wade LeBlanc to a deal that offers $700,000 if he’s on the active roster.

camdenyardsice).jpgHernández, 34, opted out of the 2020 season with the Braves, who also gave him a minor league deal, due to health concerns related to COVID-19. He may have been able to secure the fifth starter’s job after registering a 1.98 ERA over 13 2/3 exhibition innings and renewing talk that “King Félix” was back.

Across parts of 15 seasons, Hernández has compiled a 3.42 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, 25 complete games, 11 shutouts and a 50.3 WAR over 419 games and 2,729 2/3 innings. He spent the first 15 years of his career with the Mariners and won the Cy Young in 2010 despite a 13-12 record, the voters correctly rewarding him for a 2.27 ERA, 1.057 WHIP, six complete games and an average of only seven hits and 0.6 home runs surrendered per nine innings in his 34 starts.

He threw the first perfect game in Mariners history on Aug. 15, 2012 in Seattle in a 1-0 win over the Rays.

The Hall of Fame seemed to beckon for the six-time All-Star, but he experienced a drop-off after finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2014 with a 2.14 ERA, 0.915 WHIP and 6.5 hits allowed per nine innings in 34 games.

Hernández, who tossed five shutouts and registered five complete games in 2012 and placed fourth in Cy Young voting, posted ERAs of 4.36, 5.55 and 6.40 in his last three seasons in Seattle. He went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA and 1.535 WHIP in 15 starts in 2019 and averaged a career-worst 10.7 hits allowed per nine innings.

Injuries played a role in Hernández’s decline. The Orioles will find out what he has left and whether the layoff in 2020 hurts his chances of making the club.

Pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Feb. 16.

The Orioles have sought another veteran starting pitcher after trading Alex Cobb to the Angels. Hernández turns 35 in April, but he could round out a rotation that should be led by left-hander John Means and might include rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer.

LeBlanc and Hernández fit the description of veterans who were on the shopping list of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

What’s unknown is whether Elias will try to land one more starter.

Other camp competitors include Jorge López, rookie left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, Thomas Eshelman and Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman first reported the Hernández signing.

Update: The Orioles announced the LeBlanc and Hernández signings, along with infielders Malquin Canelo and Seth Mejias-Brean and pitchers Dusten Knight, Konner Wade and Spenser Watkins. I wrote about Canelo, Knight and Watkins earlier today.

Brean, 29, was an eighth-round pick of the Reds in 2012 out of the University of Arizona. He appeared in 14 games with the Padres in 2019 and went 7-for-30 with two doubles and two home runs. They released him on Aug. 29, 2020.

Brean has a career .350 on-base percentage in eight minor league seasons.

Wade, 29, was the Rockies’ seventh-round pick in 2013 out of the University of Arizona. He spent 2019 in the Red Sox system and with independent Sugar Land.

The Orioles acquired Wade from the Rockies in November 2017 for international signing bonus slot money and released him the following spring.

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