Every executive on every team outside of Seattle just groaned a little bit.
Felix Hernandez has reportedly signed a seven-year, $175 million extension with the Mariners, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. The 26-year-old phenom had two years remaining on his deal, but by inking the monster extension, Hernandez will no longer hit the open market following the 2014 season.
The funny thing about Hernandez’s record-setting contract is that it’s hard to argue with Seattle’s logic, and that never seems to be the case when teams ink players to such megadeals. There are few players you can point to, though, and safely say without hesitation that they’re worth giving up the farm to land. Hernandez is one of those special players, and yet the Mariners — despite struggling recently — have repeatedly stuck to their guns and refused to move the coveted hurler. Now, after laying down an obscene amount of cash, it looks like Hernandez isn’t going anywhere, and that’s a crushing reality for those teams perhaps already allocating their funds in a manner that would have enabled them to make a run at the superstar following the 2014 season.
Thursday’s news, while major, isn’t exactly shocking. The length and dollar amount are unrivaled, but there had been a report earlier this offseason that the Mariners were considering offering the right-hander a four-year, $100 million deal. That would have given Hernandez the same $25 million average annual salary and also allowed him to hit the open market a bit earlier than 2019, but you can’t fault a guy for pushing for long-term financial security.
Hernandez will be 33 when his contract expires after the 2019 season. Cliff Lee was 32 when he signed his five-year $120 million deal with the Phillies before the 2011 season, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Hernandez could someday command a second nine-figure contract. The wear and tear on Hernandez’s arm by then will be much more substantial, considering the Venezuelan began his major league career at the age of 19, but who knows what the pitching market will look like at that point?
Hernandez’s next contract is a ways away, though, and a lot can happen between now and then. After all, Brandon Webb was the NL Cy Young winner seven years ago and he’s now out of baseball after multiple failed comeback attempts. The more appropriate route in making sense of Hernandez’s new deal is to see what it means right here and now.
First and foremost, it shows that the Mariners have their heads on straight. They know what they have in Hernandez, who is a bona fide ace — the likes of which don’t come around very often. Rather than dealing him away in the hopes of landing “the next Felix Hernandez,” Seattle made the wise decision to lock up its franchise cornerstone for the duration of his prime years. For the next seven years, the Mariners have the luxury of knowing who will be their Opening Day starter, who will be the team’s workhorse and who will spearhead Seattle’s quest to regain AL West supremacy.
Hernandez enters 2013 on the heels of five straight seasons of 200-plus innings and four straight seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. He earned AL Cy Young honors in 2010, and his resume would probably include even more accolades if he was playing in a bigger, more successful market. Clearly, Hernandez is OK with being a part of building something in Seattle, though, and he has and will continue to be the team’s most marketable player.
Hernandez’s deal also means that other pitchers, including David Price and Clayton Kershaw, are in line for huge paydays. That may have been the case all along, but Kershaw should be especially happy about the deal given to Hernandez. The Dodgers left-hander is still just 24, and is currently slated to hit free agency after the 2014 season, when he’ll be 26. Sound familiar? It’s probably safe to assume that Hernandez’s extension will serve as a baseline in those negotiations. (Ching ching.)
Keeping the free-spending Dodgers out of this deal, though, Hernandez and the Mariners are a perfect match, and the extension is one that works for both sides. It’s a whole lot of money, yes, but the price won’t look too steep when Hernandez continues to show who he really is: one of baseball’s best.
This isn’t the last of the moaning and groaning from MLB executives when it comes to Hernandez. You won’t hear a peep from the Mariners’ front office, though. It’ll be too busy enjoying the show.
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