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Mariners wager their future on Felix Hernandez’s right arm

Feb 7, 2013, 4:01 PM EDT

Felix Hernandez Reuters

If you had to bet big on a pitcher for the next seven years, Felix Hernandez seems as good a choice as any. He hasn’t been in Justin Verlander‘s league these last two years, but he also hasn’t been extended to 270 innings per year like Verlander has. And while I think I’d choose Clayton Kershaw over anyone, I do feel a little bit safer trusting someone with Hernandez’s thick build over the slighter left-hander. I think Kershaw is the better bet to contend for Cy Young awards deep into the decade, but Hernandez is the  more likely of the two to still be throwing 220-230 excellent innings per season.

Still, it’s all just a guess. Pitching is inherently risky. Unlikely candidates have survived the rigors and won 200 games, and some who look like they’ll last forever are gone in an instant.

Since the expansion era started in 1961, Hernandez, with 32 WAR, is one of a dozen pitchers to have racked up at least 28 WAR through age 26 (using the Baseball-Reference version). Here are the other 11, their WARs through age 26 and their totals from age 27 onward.

Bert Blyleven – 47 WAR – 165-137, 3.71 ERA, 109 ERA+, 44 WAR
Tom Seaver – 35 WAR – 216-151, 3.07 ERA, 121 ERA+, 66 WAR
Dwight Gooden – 35 WAR – 62-59, 4.45 ERA, 99 ERA+, 11 WAR
Roger Clemens – 34 WAR – 259-139, 3.15 ERA, 144 ERA+, 99 WAR
Bret Saberhagen – 34 WAR – 70-47, 3.49 ERA, 124 ERA+. 22 WAR
Frank Tanana – 33 WAR – 138-158, 4.03 ERA, 100 ERA+, 20 WAR
Dave Stieb – 32 WAR – 95-70, 3.57 ERA, 116 ERA+. 22 WAR
Fernando Valenzuela – 30 WAR – 60-71, 4.29 ERA, 90 ERA+, 4 WAR
Pedro Martinez – 29 WAR – 135-54, 2.89 ERA, 160 ERA+, 53 WAR
Dennis Eckersley – 29 WAR – 99-99, 3.59 ERA, 114 ERA+, 30 WAR
Kevin Appier – 29 WAR – 109-93, 4.16 ERA, 112 ERA+, 23 WAR

Of the 11 best young starters in the last 50 years, just three accomplished more from age 27 onward than they did through age 26. There are three Hall of Famers on the list in Blyleven, Seaver and Eckersley and two more guys with Hall of Fame numbers in Clemens and Martinez. None of the other six came anywhere close to getting elected.

My feeling is that the Mariners should have waited on a Hernandez extension. He was under control for two more years at a total of $39.5 million. In essence, today’s seven-year, $175 million contract is really a five-year, $135.5 million extension. In guaranteeing Hernandez $27.1 million per year for those five years, the Mariners are giving him 10 percent more than any pitcher has ever gotten in a long-term contract. CC Sabathia‘s Yankees renegotiated deal, Cole Hamels‘ Phillies extension and Zack Greinke‘s free agent deal with the Dodgers were all for $24.4 million-$24.5 million per year. The Mariners weren’t getting any kind of discount here and thus should have revisited extension talks next winter.

On the other hand, it’s not really all that outrageous of a contract. Had Hernandez been a free agent this winter, he surely would have gotten $200 million on the open market. There’s also something to be said for a move like this reassuring the fanbase. The semi-annual “should Felix go” columns are out the window now, and eager Yankees and Red Sox fans will have to turn their attention elsewhere in search of prey. Salaries are likely to keep going up, so if Felix stays healthy, there’s a good chance he’ll be worth the money. The Mariners’ future through 2019 now hinges on it.

  1. sportsdrenched - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Somethin’ like this I just kind of shurg my shoulders and go: “That’s the price (both in dollars, risk, and opportunity cost of both) of consistant Cy Young caliber pitching”. Especially when compared to what the FA Market would bring. I think it’s a good deal for everyone.

  2. yankeepunk3000 - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    for a couple of years he was making the league minimum. then he had a good contract, not to expensive and won a cy young. If the Mariners want to show their fans that they DO want to win then its a good move. This guy has the ability to last you a long time and if in 2 or 3 years they can’t afford him or feel the need to trade him do you really think some teams won’t make a jump at him? Sure 27 a year is huge and there won’t be a lot of people making that much in baseball but he is one of the best. Mariners made the move and got something done, and that’s still good news.

    • bennoj - Feb 7, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      Not quite so easy to trade him down the road… in 2 years his 10/5 rights kick in.

      • yankeepunk3000 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:27 AM

        well that’s true but I don’t see him getting traded. He’s going to just hit a peek so here’s hoping

  3. faulkner22 - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Isn’t this like spending 10k for racing brakes on a 3k/10yr-old car? What else do they have on the team that is competitive in that division, unless they plan to start spending..

  4. josh7727 - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    why is seatle willing to pay $175 mil to one player and not invest in the rest of the team?! its insane to pay one player top dollar and do next to nothing to make the team competative! why isnt that topic the point if yhis article?!

    • mkd - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:33 AM

      OK wise guy: Who should they be spending their money on? Be specific.

  5. clevelandschronic2 - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Well there goes all my hope that the indians would sign this guy. Lmao who am i kidding its not like they would pay him, hed get traded for a a large cup of starbucks coffee and a bag of baseballs.

  6. Reflex - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    The article title is wrong. The M’s are resting their future on the youth movement they are building. They have drafted well for four years now, and made savvy trades for yount talent. Despite the fact that Felix has been in the majors 8 years, he’s only 26. As a result he’s the same age as the rest of the youth movement they are building. Dealing or letting him walk would be ridiculous.

    This signing strongly signals that the team is about talent and payroll considerations are second. It also lets the younger guys know they aren’t going to be ‘priced out’ if they perform well. This isn’t the Rays(as much as I love that team).

  7. misterchainbluelightning - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    I’m going to consider this another Stieb>Morris article. Good job Matt, it can’t be said enough.

  8. brianabbe - Feb 7, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    I think Felix will be 33 when this deal expires? If anything, you’re paying for one, maybe two years of post-prime production, assuming his health remains. That’s still likely 220 innings with a lower 3’s ERA and about 200 K’s, maybe just under. That would still make him a top 10 starter.

  9. sportsnut101 - Feb 7, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    They not giving him 175 mil in one yr people n yes they coulda waited one more yr
    But if they want a top free agent to come there they gonna have to overspend. Unless they have good young players n hope for Oakland n Baltimore lucky streak.

  10. crankyfrankie - Feb 7, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    Kind of astonished that Carlton wasn’t on that list.

    • zzalapski - Feb 8, 2013 at 9:41 AM

      Lefty had a few solid seasons thru his age 26 season, but tallied less than 20 WAR, probably because of the depressed offensive environment. His first monster STEVE CARLTON season (1972) was his age 27 season, which cuts him off Matthew’s comparison.

  11. lazlosother - Feb 7, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    Excellent move for the M’s. As Reflex has pointed out the M’s have a lot in the system, especially pitchers. An outstanding rotation and a good pen can carry an otherwise flawed team a long way. Having someone as young as Felix as your veteran ace is better than just good.

  12. topher2411 - Feb 7, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    It’s worth considering that Felix arguably means more to his team’s fanbase than any other single player in the league. Without Felix, what possible reason could there be to keep cheering for this team? And the King’s Court shows how much the town loves him. It’s been that way for years, but is especially the case now that Ichiro is gone. This deal provides value to the Mariners in this sense as well.

  13. millmannj - Feb 7, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    “The semi-annual “should Felix go” columns are out the window now”

    I guarantee some time this season a NY columnist will write a story along the lines of, “Mariners can’t afford to pay full Felix contract, will have to trade him to Yankees.”

    • jcmeyer10 - Feb 7, 2013 at 11:19 PM

      It’s already been written and in ‘draft status’. Just like a lot of sports articles, that will just need a few tweaks before publishing.

    • Reflex - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:33 AM

      They better hurry. Felix can’t be traded the first year after signing a new contract as I understand it, and after the second year he hits 10/5 rights, meaning he can’t be traded without consent. That gives anyone else a 12 month window where he is conceivably available. I don’t see that happening given that its only two years away.

      • cktai - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:11 AM

        We’re talking NY media here, for whom the thought that anyone would block a trade to the Yankees is inconceivable.

      • zzalapski - Feb 8, 2013 at 9:44 AM

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

  14. titlowtales - Feb 11, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    yankeepunk3000: “Felix signed a contract in 2010, that included the following: “he will receive a $3.5 million signing bonus and salaries of $6.5 million this season (2010), $10 million in 2011, $18.5 million in 2012, $19.5 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014. Hernandez also will have a limited no-trade clause”. Why not play the current contract out until 2014??? If Felix is all that hyped up about staying in seatlle, then he will sign a new contract in 2014!!!! If the M’s were smart, they wouldn’t sign Felix to an extension now”. Just my opinion!!

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