Winners and Losers of Felix Hernandez's Monster Extension with Seattle Mariners
King Felix's reign in Seattle won't be ending any time soon.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Mariners and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez have agreed to a seven-year contract extension worth $175 million. The deal should be finalized before the start of spring training.
When it is, Hernandez will become the keeper of the richest contract ever given to a pitcher. That honor is currently held by New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, who inked a seven-year, $161 million deal in 2008.
This is a huge piece of news that has huge implications for Hernandez himself, the Mariners and the rest of Major League Baseball. With that in mind, here's a look at the winners and losers of Hernandez's new megadeal.
Winner: Felix Hernandez
We may as well start with the most obvious winner.
King Felix was already in a good place financially, as he was set to earn $19.5 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014. Had he hit the free-agent market after 2014, he would have been in line for a monster contract.
Assuming his health held true in 2013 and 2014, of course. That's something you never really know about with pitchers, even ones as sturdy as Hernandez. The longer he stalled on signing an extension with the Mariners, the more he risked having his career undone by injury and missing out on a huge payday.
So much for that. Hernandez is now (or soon to be, anyway) the richest pitcher in baseball history, and he certainly earned his money. Sabathia is very good, but Hernandez has a better ERA, more strikeouts and has pitched more innings than him since the 2009 season.
Beyond the money, Hernandez also has to be happy that he won't be leaving Seattle in the near future. It's a city he loves very much, and the city loves him right back.
Winner: Seattle Mariners and Their Fans
The Mariners are winners here, too. So are their fans.
Hernandez is the Mariners organization's most prized possession and favorite son. He first joined the Mariners in 2002 and made his major league debut in 2005 when he was only 19. Since then, he's entrenched himself as one of baseball's elite hurlers.
And he's still only 26 years old. King Felix still has many years of good baseball left in him, and the Mariners just made sure that he won't be playing this good baseball for anyone but them.
The Mariners may have to make some payroll sacrifices to make it work, as they're certainly not among baseball's richest teams. But then again, maybe not. They have some national TV money coming their way, and they can opt out of their local TV deal after 2015 to pursue something more lucrative. They'll probably do that now that they know they'll have Hernandez to sell to investors.
As for the fans, I'm sure they're thrilled about the news of King Felix's extension. There's a very special atmosphere at Safeco Field on days when Hernandez is on the bump, and the love the fans have for Hernandez can be felt on any Mariners-related message board (including ones on this site).
So cheers, Mariners fans. Long live the king.
Loser: Potential King Felix Suitors
Now for the losers, and that's a list that begins with all the teams that Hernandez may have been suiting up for in the near future.
The usual suspects come to mind, most notably the New York Yankees. They're being tight with their money these days, but they may have made an exception for Hernandez had he hit the free-agent market after 2014. They may have even broke their "no breaking the luxury tax threshold" rule to sign him, as their luxury-tax status will be reset if they get under the threshold in 2014 as planned.
The Boston Red Sox also could have made a play for Hernandez had he hit the free-agent market in 2015. He would have been a very nice replacement for Jon Lester and Ryan Dempster, both of whom are only under club control through 2014.
Likewise, the Philadelphia Phillies could have targeted Hernandez to fill Roy Halladay's shoes. The Texas Rangers could have made him their Plan B after missing out on Zack Greinke this winter. The Los Angeles Dodgers could have added him to their collection of high-priced aces.
And so on and so on. Whoever they are, you can rest assured that teams that have long coveted King Felix are feeling down in the dumps right about now.
Winner: Justin Verlander
Meanwhile, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander is definitely not feeling down in the dumps. If King Felix is good enough to get seven years and $175 million, then how much money is coming his way?
That's a question for the Tigers, and they're going to have to answer it pretty soon if they want to keep their ace in Motown. Verlander is slated to hit free agency after the 2014 season, and his market value isn't likely to get any lower given the way he's pitched since the start of the 2011 season.
Verlander's totals over the last two seasons: 41-13 record, 2.52 ERA, 166 ERA+, 489.1 innings pitched, 0.99 WHIP and 489 strikeouts.
Hernandez's totals over the last two seasons: 27-23, 3.27, 115, 465.2, 1.18 and 445.
Granted, Hernandez is three years younger than Verlander, which doesn't help his case for a superior contract. But if I were Verlander, I'd be arguing that my skill level and freakish durability are strong enough to overrule any and all age concerns.
And if so, that makes me (as Verlander) worth at least seven years and at least $175 million.
How about it, Mike Ilitch?
Winner: Clayton Kershaw
Justin Verlander isn't the only ace approaching free agency who has to be happy about Felix Hernandez's extension. Los Angeles Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw is in the same boat.
Whereas Hernandez and Verlander are easily the game's best right-handed pitchers, Kershaw stands alone as the game's best left-handed pitcher. All he's done in the last two seasons is win 35 games, compile a 2.40 ERA and a 156 ERA+, pitch 461 innings and strike out 477 batters.
Kershaw, who is also due to hit free agency in 2015, doesn't just have the numbers to demand a monster contract extension. He also has age working for him, as he's two years younger than Hernandez.
Better than that, Kershaw is also employed by a team in the Dodgers that already has a payroll of well over $200 million and plenty more money to escalate it even higher.
The Dodgers have paid a lot of players since Magic Johnson and friends took over last year, but they haven't paid Kershaw yet. But they will, and when they do, the final numbers are going to be staggering.
Here are some ballpark figures: 10 years and $300 million.
Are you staggering yet?
Loser: Tampa Bay Rays
Verlander and Kershaw are winners because they're going to be paid. The Tigers and Dodgers aren't losers, for the record, because they can afford to dish out huge contracts.
The Tampa Bay Rays can't, and that's now officially a major issue for them as things pertain to a certain 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner.
Star lefty David Price is due to hit free agency after the 2015 season. It was already a pretty sure bet that he was destined to leave Tampa Bay via a trade before then, as he was already in line to earn a payday that the Rays simply cannot afford.
Now, we may as well start a countdown to the day when Price will be traded. It's going to take a contract extension competitive with the one Hernandez has signed and the ones Verlander and Kershaw are likely to sign to keep Price in Tampa, and the Rays can't do that. Not unless they successfully rob Fort Knox, and the film Goldfinger tells us that's a very hard thing to do.
So enjoy Price while you can, Rays fans. He'll be gone soon.
Loser: The Rest of the AL West
Contracts, clubs and fans aside, there's a competitive aspect of Hernandez's extension to address as well. What does it mean for the rest of the AL West?
They'd no doubt prefer not to. If they had their druthers, Hernandez would have hit free agency in 2015 and gone elsewhere, preferably the National League or the moon.
Hernandez has merely decent career numbers against the Angels, including a 4.07 ERA in 30 career starts, but solid career numbers against the A's and Rangers. He got knocked around in his only career start against the Astros, but it doesn't bode well that their rebuilding phase is going to do battle with Hernandez's prime for the next few years.
The Mariners still have work to do to establish themselves as a legitimate contender in the AL West. But as long as they have Hernandez, their division rivals won't take them too lightly.
Winner: Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball got a bad rap about its competitive balance for a while there, but Hernandez's extension is just the latest in a line of extensions that show things are turning around.
Once Hernandez's extension is official, it will become the fourth-largest extension (in dollars) ever signed. The three names ahead of him on the list: Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter and Joey Votto.
This means that three of the league's four biggest extensions will have been signed by players on small-market teams. All three extensions have come in the last three years, which goes to show that there's more hope than ever for small-market teams to keep their homegrown players from hitting free agency.
This is a good thing. Fewer star players hitting the market means that teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox will be forced to pick and choose from relatively unspectacular free-agent markets whenever they have holes to fill.
The rich teams won't ever stop spending money, to be sure, but the unwealthy (comparatively speaking) teams can fight back now in ways that they couldn't before.
Loser: The 2015 MLB Free-Agent Class
Speaking of relatively unspectacular free-agent classes, the 2015 free-agent class has taken a huge hit with Hernandez agreeing to stick around in Seattle.
Now that his domino has fallen, you can look for more to fall in the months to come. The smart money is on Verlander and Kershaw getting paid, too, in which case all three aces that could have hit the market in 2015 will be locked up.
If they are, then the 2015 free-agent class will go from potentially being one of the best in history to being just another "meh" free-agent class.
That wouldn't be a major disaster in and of itself, as contracts will still be signed and the value of many of them will still be absurd. The hot-stove conversations, however, will not be as exciting as they may have been.
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