As expected, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers raised the bar for pitcher contracts with his six-year, $147 million deal.
With his brand-new agreement, Greinke becomes MLB's highest-paid right-handed pitcher, surpassing the $127.5 million extension that Matt Cain signed with the San Francisco Giants before the 2012 season. CC Sabathia still holds the crown with the $161 million deal he inked with the New York Yankees in 2009.
However, Greinke does nudge just ahead of Sabathia in average annual salary, making $24.5 million to the left-hander's $24.4 million per year.
Though the Dodgers awarded Greinke with a huge financial package, is it possible that other MLB teams are somewhat grateful for the benchmarks that the contract didn't set?
In particular, the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers surely noted the barriers that Greinke and the Dodgers didn't break with their new deal. The Dodgers themselves may have also been keeping future negotiations in mind with the terms of this contract.
Greinke didn't crack $25 million per season, as was generally expected. Nor did the total contract value reach $150 million. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that the bidding between the Dodgers and Texas Rangers could exceed $160 million, perhaps reaching $175 million.
But Greinke ended up signing for $147 million, which could keep Clayton Kershaw's next contract below $200 million. Did the Dodgers have that in mind with the agreement the team worked out with Greinke?
Kershaw becomes a free agent after the 2013 season, during which he'll be paid $11 million. Coming off two seasons during which he was arguably the best pitcher in the National League—and won the 2011 NL Cy Young Award—the 24-year-old left-hander is due for a significant raise.
Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension with the Philadelphia Phillies three months before he would've become a free agent. If Hamels is worth $144 million and $6 million per season, how much value would Kershaw have on the open market?
The Dodgers will surely take care of Kershaw before he has a chance to become a free agent. But will it be enough to put his average annual salary just ahead of Greinke at $25 million? At that rate, Kershaw would have to sign an eight-year deal to make his total package worth $200 million.
Kershaw will only be 25 after next season, four years younger than Greinke. He'll be three years younger than Hamels and Sabathia when they signed their contracts. At that age, perhaps Kershaw will get a deal longer than the six-year pacts that those other pitchers signed.
Six years for $150 million doesn't quite seem enough for Kershaw. But seven years for $175 million might result in an agreement. That contract would surpass the total value of Sabathia's deal, and at $25 million per season, Kershaw would be the highest-paid pitcher in MLB.
To reach $200 million in a six- or seven-year contract, Kershaw would become the highest-paid player in baseball, with at least a $28.6 million annual salary that would overtake Alex Rodriguez's average yearly paycheck of $27.5 million.
But perhaps Josh Hamilton will surpass that figure this winter, depending on how much he ultimately signs for with one of the numerous teams pursuing him. Hamilton might not even crack $100 million with his contract, however, as clubs are hesitant to offer the injury-prone outfielder more than a three-year deal.
That could leave the $200 million barrier for someone else to conquer.
Both the Mariners' Felix Hernandez and the Tigers' Justin Verlander become free agents after the 2014 season. Each of the right-handers will make $20 million in the final years of their respective contracts.
Hernandez and Verlander both signed five-year deals in 2010 worth approximately $80 million. Could either of them double that value with the next contracts they sign?
Neither the Mariners nor Tigers want their aces to hit the open market, of course.
But King Felix might want to move on after years of losing in Seattle. This year could be crucial in making a good impression, as the Mariners are moving in the outfield fences at Safeco Field to increase offensive production. The hope is that makes Seattle a more enticing destination for a player like Hamilton or Nick Swisher.
Verlander knows that the Tigers will keep spending money in an effort to get the World Series championship that's eluded Mike Ilitch. Whether it's pay big for a free-agent slugger like Prince Fielder or add a key role player such as Torii Hunter, Ilitch wants to win badly.
The Tigers have a two-year window during which Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are under contract. Detroit could contend beyond 2014, of course, but their best chance at championship glory will probably be during the next two seasons.
If the Tigers do make it to the mountaintop, will Verlander decide he's done all he can in Detroit and look to move on elsewhere? Or will he seek to keep on winning with the Tigers and play his entire career with one team?
With Kershaw likely setting the salary bar at $25 million or higher, either Hernandez or Verlander figure to flirt with the $30 million benchmark.
But Verlander will be 31 years old by the time his contract runs out. Though he certainly shows no signs of wearing down now, will any team—let alone the Tigers—pay him more than $33 million per season or offer a seven-year deal? That's what it would take for Verlander to crack $200 million. Something along the lines of a five-year, $150 million contract seems more likely.
Hernandez seems more likely to get a $200 million deal, as he'll be 28 years old when his contract expires—younger than Greinke is now. A team very well could be willing to offer him a seven-year deal that will take him to age 35. At a salary of $30 million, that would take him over the $200 million mark.
How about a six-year, $201 million contract for King Felix? Or a seven-year, $210 million package? Both seem possible for Hernandez if the Mariners give him a contract extension or he hits the open market.
If having the highest salary among MLB pitchers was important to Greinke (and it had to have been an important consideration, given the contract he received), he'll hold that title for at least one season. He'll be the highest-paid right-hander for two years.
It's all about when a superstar talent becomes a free agent these days.
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