It looks like the King’s Court will reign in Seattle for the next decade.
Earlier today, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Felix Hernandez has signed a 7-year, $175 million extension that will keep him with the Seattle Mariners through the 2019 season. The deal is the largest ever signed by a pitcher, surpassing the 7-year, $161 million deal signed by CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees prior to the 2010 season.
UPDATE: It is being reported by ESPN that Felix's contract extension is for 5 years at $135 million and will begin following the 2014 season.
But will Felix Hernandez be worth the money?
Historically speaking, high-dollar contracts to pitchers have been a mixed bag; of the six players who were inked to nine-figure deals prior to the start of the 2012 season, only Sabathia figures to provide value over the full life of the contract. Cliff Lee and possibly Johan Santana still have a chance to do so, while Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, and Barry Zito never came close.
But Felix Hernandez looks like as safe a bet to provide value over the life of his contract as any pitcher. Felix has never had a serious injury in his career, having made 30 or more starts in each of the past seven seasons. He also seems to have found a consistent groove, clearing 230 innings and averaging 223.5 strikeouts in each of the past four seasons while seeing his walk totals decline every year.
That consistency, combined with the fact that he does not turn 27 until April, makes King Felix arguably lowest-risk investment of any pitcher in baseball.
Still, $27 million a year is a lot to commit to a single player, especially for an organization that has not had a payroll exceeding $100 million since 2008. But the Mariners were already planning on committing significant money to King Felix, as he was already due to receive $19.5 million from the Mariners this season and $20 million in 2014. So the increase from the current payroll is not a substantial amount.
The Mariners are also not exactly hurting for money right now, considering their current $79 million payroll is down $38 million from its 2008 high and the team has been trying like crazy to give their money away this offseason.
Seattle is also due to renegotiate its television contracts after the 2015 season, and it would not be at all surprising if it resulted in deal similar to the one Texas received a couple of years ago. If/when that happens, Felix’s deal will look like a smart investment.
But the best part about this deal is that it effectively ends any speculation that the Mariners will trade King Felix for the next few years. These rumors did not really have legs in the first place, particularly since Felix was very open about wanting to stay in Seattle and the organization had no interest in trading him. Felix is also set to become a 10-and-5 player in 2015, giving him the ability to reject any potential trade.
Ultimately, this deal will be great for Seattle and for baseball in general. Mariner fans can now count on King Felix being there for his court over the long-term, and this deal ensures that not all of baseball’s biggest stars are on the move to the same markets.
Everybody but Yankee fans should appreciate that.