The next big contract in baseball? It could go to Felix Hernandez.
The Seattle Mariners continue to talk to Hernandez about an extension, according to major-league sources. And while no deal is close, the Mariners are at least weighing a four-year, $100 million proposal, sources said.
It is not known whether the Mariners actually have made Hernandez such an offer; one source described the two sides as "dancing" but not deeply engaged. But a $100 million extension added to the final two years of Hernandez's current contract would amount to six years, $139.5 million -- a starting point for further discussions, and perhaps even a reasonable framework for a deal.
Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke recently signed a six-year, $147 million contract as a free agent. Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension last July, when he was just over three months away from hitting the open market.
Hernandez, who turns 27 on April 8, is two years away from free agency, which is why the Mariners could attempt to justify offering him less. Then again, he has a career ERA-plus of 127, while Hamels is at 126 and Greinke 114 (ERA-plus is ERA adjusted to a pitcher's league and ballpark; 100 is considered average).
The biggest problem with a four-year extension for Hernandez is that he probably would want a longer deal. He would be a free agent at 32 if he accepted such an offer, possibly past his prime. Of course, he also might command another big contract at that age, and his career earnings by then would be -- ahem -- $183.1 million.
Viewed from that perspective, Hernandez might prefer immediate security, particularly when he makes no secret of his desire to remain with the Mariners. Again, nothing appears imminent, and both sides are declining comment. But for King Felix's many fans in Seattle, the talks alone are a positive sign.
MORE ON THE M'S
The Mariners' three biggest offensive additions -- Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse -- all are entering their free-agent years. The team could extend one or more of those players, but some rival executives interpret the team's willingness to take on short-term veterans as an indication that general manager Jack Zduriencik senses an urgency to win now.
No matter what Zduriencik does, it likely will be difficult for the Mariners to finish better than fourth in the highly competitive AL West. But with other moves likely, the Mariners' off-season still rates as an incomplete.
After trading John Jaso, the M's still need to add a catcher who will split time with Jesus Montero. They also could use a veteran starting pitcher to replace lefty Jason Vargas. And they could part with one of their many corner-outfield/first-base/DH types to help address their remaining needs.
The Mariners know they can't count on Franklin Gutierrez, who has appeared in only 132 games the past two seasons due to assorted physical problems. So, Morse could be in right, Michael Saunders in center and Raul Ibanez in left, platooning with either Bay or Casper Wells. Justin Smoak could be at first, Morales at DH.
Bay or Wells could be one odd man out; Mike Carp could be another. And while there has been talk of trading Smoak, some in the organization still haven't given up on him, pointing out that he finished with 19 homers after struggling for most of last season and rallying in the final three weeks.
As for the next catcher, free agent Kelly Shoppach would appear to be a logical target. Shoppach played for Mariners manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland from 2006 to '09, and hit 21 homers in 352 at-bats in '08 when Victor Martinez missed time with an elbow injury.
JUSTIN OPTION ONE
At first glance, a Justin Upton-for-Chase Headley trade appears to make sense, perhaps with other pieces going back and forth.
But an official from one of the clubs said Monday, "I can assure you that's not happening."
Not even with Headley asking for $10.3 million in arbitration and the Padres offering $7.075 million.
The Padres eventually figure to move Headley, who is two years away from free agency. But they are in the same division as the Diamondbacks, and the histories of the respective front offices -- D-backs GM Kevin Towers previously was with the Padres, and Padres GM Josh Byrnes previously was with the D-backs -- might be too much to overcome.
Headley would give the Diamondbacks at least a two-year solution at third base while the team awaits the arrival of a top prospect, Matt Davidson. The Padres could replace Headley with Jedd Gyorko while welcoming Upton and his career .901 OPS at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
Headley, fifth in the NL MVP balloting, is coming off a far better season than Upton, who was fourth in the 2011 vote. But Upton, signed for three years and $38.5 million, offers an additional year of control and more established track record.
Something else to consider: The potential reaction of the Padres' fan base to a trade of Headley, particularly with the team under new ownership.
Headley is homegrown, and the Pads have a history of trading top homegrown players such as right-hander Jake Peavy and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Upton obviously would be a strong return, but the Padres might bristle at the notion of Headley producing even bigger numbers at hitter-friendly Chase Field -- not to mention seeing him 18 times a year.
JUSTIN OPTION TWO
The Diamondbacks and Rangers have not revived talks on Upton since the D-Backs' failed trade with the Mariners, with one source saying that the two sides simply have agreed to "move on."
I'm not sure why.
We know now, officially, that the D-Backs want to trade Upton. And we know that the Rangers still are pondering one more significant move.
When last these clubs were in contact, the Rangers had made a four-player offer for Upton that included third baseman Mike Olt, according to major-league sources.
A top pitching prospect, either left-hander Martin Perez or righty Cody Buckel, also would have gone to Arizona, along with shortstop Leury Garcia and one other prospect, sources said. (Garcia, 5-foot-7 and 153 pounds, also was part of the Rangers' discussions for Greinke last summer).
Such an offer might lack a prospect with the upside of right-hander Taijuan Walker, the centerpiece of the package that the D-Backs were getting from the Mariners. But it's not exactly a lowball proposal -- and might be better than anything the Atlanta Braves or another club offer.
Without Upton, the Rangers still could plan on free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn -- they currently would lose the 24th overall pick as compensation for signing him, but gain the 30th pick for their loss of Josh Hamilton.
Another option for the Rangers would be to further strengthen their pitching, either with another late-inning reliever or a veteran starter (free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse?) on a short-term deal.
The Rangers engaged in discussions with the Washington Nationals for right-handed setup man Tyler Clippard earlier this off-season, sources said. One rival exec predicts that the team will end up with one of the remaining big names -- Upton, Bourn or Lohse.
SPEAKING OF THE NATS . . .
The signing of free-agent right-hander Rafael Soriano gives the Nats the flexibility to trade either Clippard or right-hander Drew Storen. Then again, the Nats lack a left-handed specialist, and both Clippard and Storen have good track records against left-handed hitters.
Clippard used his changeup to hold left-handed hitters to a .170 batting average and .519 OPS last season. Storen, who did not pitch until July 19 due to a sore right elbow, excelled against lefties in 2011 (.198 BA, .541 OPS), though he was much less effective last season in a smaller sample.
One rival executive, mindful of the Nationals' strong relationship with agent Scott Boras, speculated that the team could sign Lohse and move left-hander Ross Detwiler to the bullpen. Such a possibility cannot be dismissed, but the Nats like the emerging Detwiler as a starter, and his ERA-plus of 117 last season was reasonably close to Lohse's 134.
The more likely move for the Nats would be to sign free-agent righty Javier Vazquez, who would give the team needed rotation depth at a much lower price than Lohse.
CONSPIRACY THEORY OF THE DAY!
Few in baseball took note last Oct. 30 when the Chicago Cubs named Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson their minor-league pitching coordinator. But the move did not escape the attention of one rival executive, who viewed the hiring of Johnson as possibly the first step toward the Cubs landing left-hander David Price.
The theory might be a bit of a reach, seeing as how Price is not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season and coveted by virtually every team in baseball. A lot could happen in the next three years. Specifically, a team such as the Rangers could trade for Price and sign him long-term.
The Cubs, though, also could take a similar approach.
Ideally, they would prefer to keep their top prospects, then add Price in free agency just as those youngsters were starting to mature. Either way, the hiring of Johnson certainly wouldn't hinder the Cubs' pursuit of Price. The two were close at Vanderbilt, and friends say that Price gives Johnson significant credit for his success.
Price, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, obviously does not need Johnson's tutelage at this stage of his career. Still, given their past relationship, Price almost certainly would welcome the chance to work with his former coach again.
Chicago also is relatively close to Price's home in Nashville, and Price is one of those AL pitchers who dreams of playing in the NL and taking his regular turn in a batting order.
File all that away for future reference.