Moises Hernandez, a 6-foot-1, 168-pound right-handed pitcher from Valencia, Venezuela, signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners the other day.
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the residence should: It’s the hometown of Moises’ younger, bigger and more illustrious brother, Felix Hernandez.
Moises, who turns 27 on March 18, is not a prospect. He’s spent almost his entire pro career with the low-minor affiliates of the Orioles and Braves. A starter with a 23-23 career record, Moises’ most impressive stat is his .412 batting average.
Although it’s a puny sample size – seven hits collected in 17 at-bats – it nevertheless suggests his future with the Mariners organization might be less as a mop-up pitcher than a cleanup hitter.
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Despite the prohibitive odds Moises Hernandez ever advances to the big leagues, he was still a shrewd acquisition – a goodwill gesture that allows the Mariners to show their appreciation of the American League’s 2010 Cy Young Award winner. We can only hope that the project turns out better for this obscure half of a brotherhood than it did for Henry Mathewson, younger sibling of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.
Henry Mathewson was 19 years old when he was promoted by the New York Giants, his brother’s team, in 1906. Long eliminated from the pennant race by the Cubs – they won 116 games, a mark that would remain unmatched until the 2001 Mariners – the Giants, as an obvious favor to Christy, put the ball in Henry’s hand for their season finale against Boston.
That was a mistake, compounded by manager John McGraw’s reluctance to take the ball of out Henry’s hand. In what would turn out to be his only major-league start, Henry walked 14 in a complete-game performance that set another record: Most walks surrendered by a pitcher since 1893.
There’s a notion that because brothers share bloodlines and backgrounds – usually growing up in the same houses, eating the same meals, practicing on the same fields under the same coaches – their skills ought to mirror each other. But for every tandem of Niekros (Phil and Joe) and Perrys (Gaylord and Jim), or every trio of Alous (Felipe, Matty and Jesus), there are a dozen examples of the baseball equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.
George Dickey, Tommie Aaron, Billy Ripken, Rich Murray, Larry Yount and Chris Gwynn all reached the majors, where their careers appeared negligible against the Hall of Fame standards set by their brothers, Bill Dickey, Henry Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Robin Yount and Tony Gwynn.
Still, the temptation to scout talent by name recognition can be difficult to resist. In 2001, the Mariners spent their first draft choice – a supplemental pick extended as compensation for the departure of free agent Alex Rodriguez – on high school infielder Michael Garciaparra, brother of six-time All-Star and two-time batting champion Nomar Garciaparra.
Even though the younger Garciaparra wasn’t listed among the top 100 prospects of the 2001 draft, the Mariners’ philosophy was explained by Roger Jongewaard, then the team’s director of scouting.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Jongewaard said, “that we like bloodlines on our ballclub.”
Garciaparra worked hard to overcome his relatively modest athletic skills, advancing as far as Tacoma on the Mariners organizational chain. But because the only five things he shared with his big brother were the vowels in his last name, it was a wasted pick.
The Mariners’ old tradition of emphasizing family connections in the draft produced mixed results. They hit the jackpot with Ken Griffey Jr., broke even on Jose Cruz Jr. – traded for a pair of relievers in 1997, the outfielder failed to match the hype – and never really had a chance on John Mayberry Jr. (The Stanford star turned down a contract offer in 2002 and went back to school.)
Beyond the early rounds of the draft, the Mariners took low-risk fliers on the likes of Griffey’s brother Craig, Jay Buhner’s brother Shawn and Andy Hargrove, the son of former manager Mike Hargrove.
Nepotism? Well, sure. As the late Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley used to say: “If you can’t do a favor for your family, who’re gonna do a favor for?”
While the signing of Moises Hernandez was consistent with that thinking – take care of the family – the Mariners this week made a slightly steeper financial investment in Gabe Guerrero, another prospect with prominent bloodlines. The nephew of Vladimir Guerrero agreed to a contract with a signing bonus of $400,000.
A Baseball America scouting report sums up the 17-year-old Dominican like this: “A big-bodied right-handed hitter, he’s shown good raw power and has made improvements at the plate and in the field since he became eligible to sign last year on July 2. He projects as a corner outfielder with a solid arm.”
Who knows? Maybe that $400,000 bonus to Gabe Guerrero is the seed that blossoms into a major-league outfielder in five years, by which time his uncle Vlad – who would be 41 – might be thrilled at relocating to Seattle as a cleanup hitter.
Unless Moises Hernandez already has the job.