For the last several years, most of the 29 teams not named the Seattle Mariners have sought after Felix Hernandez. Many have inquired about his availability in a trade and some even made some hefty offers. In 2009, Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein reportedly sent the Mariners a list of eight of the organization’s top prospects and said Seattle could pick any five in exchange for the ace.
There has always been a bit of a “will they or won’t they” feel about the Mariners trading Hernandez. He’s obviously a player around whom a franchise can be built, but there have been observers who believed Seattle needed much more help to rebuild and would have been better served to get several pieces in exchange for one. General Manager Jack Zduriencik was steadfast in his stance that the team would not trade its franchise pitcher and made that commitment clear by signing him to a 5-year contract extension, bringing his deal to a record seven years and $175-million.
If there is any pitcher in Major League Baseball worth a contract of that magnitude, it may be King Felix. He has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for the last several years. Despite playing for the terrible teams Seattle has fielded in recent seasons and receiving little run support, he still has a career record of 98-76 and a 3.22 ERA. He has thrown more than 190 innings in each of the last seven seasons and more than 200 in each of the last five. He’s a three-time all-star, a Cy Young Award winner, and threw a perfect game last season. And, he’ll only be 27 this season.
For the Mariners, locking up Hernandez long-term now makes a lot of sense. They have prevented a bidding war for his services when he hit the free agent market, potentially saving themselves more money or risking losing him. They’ll ensure themselves of having an ace for years to come. It allows them to maintain some star power on a team that is otherwise lacking it. No matter how bad Seattle’s offense is, the team will always have a chance to win every fifth day. And they will have a proven veteran on the team when the Mariners’ top prospects arrive in a couple of years. If the Mariners weren’t going to trade him, getting a deal done now was probably the right move.
So how does this contract compare to those of others top hurlers? The five largest contracts given to pitchers prior to Hernandez’s deal were:
- CC Sabathia 2009-2015 (7-years, $161-million)
- Zack Greinke 2013-2018 (6-years, $147-million)
- Cole Hamels 2013-2018 (6-years, $144-million)
- Johan Santana 2008-2013 (6-years, $137.5-million)
- Matt Cain 2012-2017 (6-years, $127.5-million)
Statistically, Hernandez has very similar numbers to what all of those pitchers did at the time they signed their contracts. One of the biggest differences is his age. Hernandez is younger than all of them compared to when they signed those deals. That likely bodes well for Seattle as Hernandez will only be 33 when his contract runs out. That could also set him up for one more lucrative deal.
Two other pitchers likely keeping a close eye on this agreement are Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is eligible for arbitration after this coming season and both will be free agents after 2014. Verlander is mentioned right alongside, or even above, Hernandez in the conversation of best pitchers in the American League. The Detroit Tigers’ ace is a Cy Young and MVP Award winner and had a ridiculous streak of 63 consecutive games in which he pitched six or more innings, which only came to an end because of a rain-shortened game. As durable and dominant as he is, he will surely use Hernandez’s deal as a benchmark when his contract talks begin.
Kershaw will be in line for a significant raise soon, as well. He will be making $11-million in 2013 and, unless he suffers a major injury or regression, he will probably see at least Hernandez-like dollars. He is even younger than the Seattle ace, turning 25 in March, and he’s already won one National League Cy Young and also finished second last year. With the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new owners showing their willingness to spend big, he’ll have every right to ask for big money.
So even though Felix is the king for now, it may not be long until one or two pitchers overtake him, at least on the contract list. His reign as the game’s highest paid pitcher may not last until those pitchers are scheduled to be free agents. Both the Dodgers and Tigers have expressed interest in inking their aces to new deals before they hit free agency and the pitchers are reportedly both open to the idea.