What Contract Extension Is Mariners Ace Felix Hernandez Actually Worth?

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2013

Aug 21, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) waves to the crowd as he leaves the game during the 8th inning against the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If the Seattle Mariners want to keep Felix Hernandez around for the long haul, they better be ready to open up their checkbook.

More than they already are, that is.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the Mariners are weighing a four-year, $100 million contract extension for their ace. This would be on top of the two years and $39.5 million he has remaining on his current deal, bringing his earnings for the next six seasons to $139.5 million.

That may not be good enough to sway Hernandez and his reps, who should be looking for the Mariners to make Hernandez the richest right-hander in baseball.

That title currently belongs to Zack Greinke, who inked a six-year, $147 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in December. His deal topped the previous record deal for a right-hander, established by Matt Cain's six-year, $127.5 million contract extension with the San Francisco Giants.

In theory, all Hernandez has to do to get a contract better than Greinke's is make a case that he's the better pitcher between the two of them.

And for him, that's where the fun begins.

Greinke has established himself as an elite pitcher within the last four seasons, which is convenient for Hernandez because he's also become an elite pitcher in the last four years. What's even more convenient is that Hernandez easily stands out as the better pitcher when their numbers since 2009 are placed side by side.

Stat Greinke Since '09 Hernandez Since '09
Innings 833.1 954.0
ERA 3.37 2.81
ERA+ 123 139
WHIP 1.18 1.14
Strikeouts 824 894
bWAR 18.0 20.4
fWAR 23.5 24.2

To be fair to Greinke, there are some stats in which he holds an edge over King Felix. He has a better K/9 and a better K/BB then Hernandez since 2009, and he also holds slight edges in both FIP and xFIP—sabermetric stats that evaluate pitchers based only on things they can control.

But King Felix's advantages in the other categories are great enough to tip the scales in his favor. On top of these things, one huge advantage he has on Greinke is his age. Hernandez is 26, whereas Greinke is 29. 

Hernandez thus has a very strong argument that he should supplant Greinke as the most expensive right-hander in the game. To that end, a four-year, $100 million contract extension won't cut it.

The average annual value of Greinke's six-year, $147 million contract is $24.5 million. If Hernandez's commitment to the Mariners were to be rearranged to six years and $139.5 million, he'd only be making $23.25 million per year.

The average annual value of Hernandez's six-year commitment to the Mariners would have to go up, not down. For that, he and his people must look to the precedent set by Greinke's contract.

The average annual value of Greinke's deal represented a roughly 15 percent increase over the average annual value of $21.25 million in Cain's deal. That's an increase that Hernandez could look to exploit.

A 15 percent increase over the average annual value of Greinke's deal would mean a deal worth roughly $28 million per year. Plug that into a six-year deal, and you get a total of $168 million. That would mean the Mariners would have to add $128.5 million over four years to the $39.5 million Hernandez is already owed for 2013 and 2014.

That, obviously, is probably much more than the Mariners are willing to pay him, and they don't have to be desperate enough to budge seeing as how they're not negotiating with a free agent who can gain leverage by talking to other teams. Instead, they could ask Hernandez to meet them halfway, perhaps by appealing to his known love for Seattle.

Hernandez could do that, but he shouldn't do so to an extent where he ends up with a deal that wouldn't make him the richest right-hander in baseball. To make it happen, he could simply demand only half the 15 percent increase in average annual value between Cain's and Greinke's deal.

That would mean a deal worth roughly $26 million per season. The total would be six years and $156 million, which would mean a four-year extension worth $116.5 million.

That's only $16.5 million more than the offer the Mariners are already mulling for Hernandez, a modest request given Hernandez's youth and track record and the going rate for elite right-handers.

Such a deal would be unprecedented for a pitcher two years away from free agency, but these are different times. There's a lot of money out there, and Hernandez and his people should know that the Mariners will be able to scrape together the money to afford a four-year, $116.5 million extension.

The new national TV deals are going to be worth about $50 million per year for them and everyone else. Also, the Mariners can opt out of their local TV deal after 2015 to seek something worth more than $45 million per year. 

At the end of his six-year commitment to the Mariners, Hernandez would still be only 32 years old. Rosenthal suggested that he may prefer an extension longer than four years so he wouldn't have to test the open market in his early 30s, but I'm not convinced that would be a deal-breaker.

Cliff Lee got a five-year, $120 million deal after his 31-year-old season in 2010. The year before, Roy Halladay got an extension worth $60 million over three years after his 32-year-old season. As such, it's not impossible for pitchers in their early 30s to get paid handsomely. They need only to be elite.

All Hernandez has to do in order to be elite in six years is keep doing what he's doing. Until then, he should look for as much financial security as he can get.

And for that, he should set his minimum price tag for an extension at four years and $116.5 million.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and contract info courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts


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