Despite the organization’s overall success (or lack thereof) in recent years, there’s no denying the fact that the team’s future revolves around the continued production they receive from ace right-hander Felix Hernandez. He’s singularly become the most important – and likely the most recognizable – Mariner on the active roster. Nearly every team in Major League Baseball has expressed an interest in acquiring him from the Mariners, only to be told time and time again that he isn’t available.
With Hernandez’s current contract set to expire after the 2014 season, the team and his representatives have started discussions about a contract extension. The two sides aren’t close to a deal, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, and it’s not known if an actual offer has been made at this point but they are at least talking. Reports suggest that the team is at least weighing a four year, $100 Million offer. Adding such a proposal to the two years he has remaining under contract would equate to a six year, $139.5 Million package.
Hernandez is set to turn 27 in early April and has produced an impressive career to date. He’s coming off his fifth straight season throwing more than 200 innings, his fourth straight topping 200 strikeouts and he’s started 30+ games in each of the past seven. He’s been a model of consistency for the Mariners. Add in three All Star Game appearances, the AL Cy Young Award in 2010 and a perfect game and it’s clear why the Mariners think so highly of him.
Yet, reaching an agreement on a contract extension is far from the easy task that some might expect.
First up, two deals which have been signed recently cannot be overlooked, as Rosenthal points out. Zack Greinke signed a six year, $147 Million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, making him the highest paid pitcher in MLB history. He holds a career mark of 91-78 with a 3.77 ERA over nine seasons. Cole Hamels signed a six year, $144 Million extension with the Philadelphia Phillies this past July. Hamels was just a few months away from reaching the open market. Including the end of the 2012 season he’s now 91-60 with a 3.34 ERA over seven seasons.
Hernandez enters the 2013 season with a 98-76 record and 3.22 ERA over eight seasons. He’s posted better peripherals that both Greinke and Hamels while being much more consistent. It would be easy for his camp to suggest that he is more valuable than the pair, thus deserving in a more lucrative contract. Furthermore, a four year extension would only take Hernandez until the age of 32 and it would be completely reasonable for him to ask for a longer termed deal. A six year extension rivaling the deals that Greinke and Hamels signed shouldn’t be out of the question.
Similarly, however, the Mariners could justify holding back on their offer – keeping things in the $100 Million range – considering the fact that Hernandez is still under team control for two more seasons. They wouldn’t necessarily be preventing him from reaching free agency any sooner by signing an extension now rather than waiting. There’s little reason to offer anything longer than a four year extension. Hernandez could opt for the immediate financial security such an extension would provide, only to hit the open market at the age of 32.
Of course, there is also the added wrinkle which surrounds Hernandez’ perceived interest in becoming the highest paid pitcher in all of baseball. Adding a four year, $100 Million extension to his existing contract would not accomplish that, as both Greinke and Hamels would be slated to earn more over the same span. Hernandez, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, is looking more towards the seven year, $161 Million deal that CC Sabathia received from the Yankees. He’s also keeping an eye on Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw, neither of whom have started extension talks with their respective teams but sit in a highly similar position to Hernandez. It’s entirely possible that all three will exceed Sabathia’s deal in terms of overall value. Heyman disputes whether talks between Hernandez and the Mariners have begun, contending that anything short of a six year proposal won’t even bring the two sides to the table together.
It’s easy to see why a contract extension could/should appeal to both sides and it’s completely logical to expect that at some point a deal will be reached. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik declined to comment on the negotiations, but made his intentions clear to the local reporters when asked about the situation:
I’ve made it clear, I have every intention of keeping Felix here for the long term.