Analyzing Impact of Felix Hernandez's Deal on Pitching Market
Bob Gibson—the Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Cardinals hurler—won the Cy Young Award in 1968 after finishing the regular season with a mark of 22-9, the lowest ERA in all of baseball and 28 complete games, including 13 shutouts.
That season, Gibson made $85,000, a hefty income for a starting pitcher when the average major league salary was just $29,303 two years later.
The game has changed.
Times have changed.
Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when Gibson dominated on the mound, starting pitching was considered cheap.
Now, the cost of pitching is higher than ever. Pitching has emerged as a cornerstone for every franchise. Nowadays, starting pitchers come at a premium, cashing in ridiculous paychecks handed down from wealthy owners.
In 2011, New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia decided to stay put in The Big Apple, agreeing to a new contract that pays $122 million through 2016, with a $25 million option for 2017.
Last April, San Francisco hurler Matt Cain agreed to a six-year, $127.5 million deal with a vesting option for 2018, which could add up to $141 million over the next seven years, making him the highest-paid right-hander in history at the time.
Surely, Cain’s offer would be upped. It surely was.
In December 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year deal worth nearly $147 million.
It was only a matter of time before that deal was bested.
Felix Hernandez initially agreed to a five-year, $135 million contract extension with Seattle, giving him an average annual salary of $27.1 million, the highest average salary dealt to a pitcher in baseball history, according to ESPN.com.
However, a recent elbow issue came up, according to the Seattle Times, further delaying the finalization of the deal.
The agreement, which would keep Hernandez in Seattle through the 2019 season, will have a drastic impact on the pitching market, especially for some noteworthy soon-to-be free agents.
The list of starting pitchers set to hit the market in the next two years includes Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Dodgers hurler Clayton Kershaw, Tampa Bay’s David Price and Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
Taking part in the AT&T National Pro-Am golf tournament, Verlander responded to Felix Hernandez’s massive contract extension with a startling, “Holy cow,” according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports.
Verlander could see a contract like Hernandez’s in the near future. The five-time All-Star and 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner is set to hit the market after the 2014 season.
By then, Detroit will have a major decision to make; invest a major portion of its budget in Verlander’s services, or let its ace walk.
There’s no question Verlander is worth the money. His game speaks for itself. The right-hander crafted a mark of 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, both league-bests, in 2011. He also led the league with 250 strikeouts and had the most Wins Above Replacement, 8.3.
Though Verlander recorded 17 wins to eight losses in 2012, he managed to lead the league in strikeouts, with 239, complete games, with four, and WAR, 7.6.
Whether Detroit is able to sign its ace to a long-term contract remains a probability, not an uncertainty.
According to USA TODAY Sports, Detroit boasted the fifth-highest payroll in all of baseball, at $132,300,00. Surely there will be some flexibility when negotiations begin with Verlander and his agent, though the Tigers have made big investments in first baseman Prince Fielder and third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Fielder, who hit 30 home runs and tallied 108 RBI last season, is locked in to make $23 million in 2013 and has eight years remaining on the nine-year, $214 million contract he signed last offseason. Fielder’s salary will increase to $24 million over the remaining seven years of his contract, according to baseballprospectus.com.
Cabrera has three years remaining on the hefty eight-year, $152.3 million contract he signed with Detroit in 2008. The converted first baseman will make $21 million in 2013 and $22 million the following two years, according to baseballprospectus.com. The 2012 American League MVP led all of baseball with 44 home runs and 139 RBI.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander has one year left on his two-year, $19 million contract signed in 2012. Kershaw is set to make $11 million this season, according to baseballprospectus.com, and could become a free agent after the 2014 season.
Last Thursday, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Kershaw and the Dodgers share “a mutual interest” in working out a long-term agreement, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“This is not going to be a daily discussion point for us publicly,” Colletti said, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times. “But there is a mutual interest.”
The Dodgers have been negotiating a television contract with Time Warner Cable, a deal that could pay the franchise $7 billion to $8 billion over a 20-year stretch, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The increased revenue would boost the Dodgers' payroll dramatically, potentially allotting more funds to sign Kershaw—whose 2.53 ERA was the lowest among any major league starting pitcher in 2012—to a long-term contract. If the Dodgers sign Kershaw, he could become the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to make $200 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kershaw is in prime position to cash in on his next contract via the Dodgers or another organization. The price tag for the Dodgers ace skyrocketed after Seattle inked Felix Hernandez to a seven-year, $175 million deal.
Kershaw, however, has more leverage in future negotiations with the Dodgers. Kershaw is only 24, two years younger than Hernandez, making the southpaw a necessity for the Dodgers to re-sign, or let seek greener pastures.
Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, reached an agreement in early January with Tampa Bay to avoid salary arbitration. The Rays agreed to pay the 24-year-old hurler over $10 million this season.
But a larger predicament looms for Tampa Bay. According to USA TODAY Sports, the Rays had the 25th-highest payroll in 2012 at $64,173,500.
Price is Tampa Bay’s highest-paid player for 2013 and is its lone player to make more than $10 million.
The left-hander is coming off a 20-win season, which included his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance. Price has crafted a mark of 61-31 with a 3.16 ERA over his five-year big-league career with the Rays.
If Price ends up on the market, he could attract a bevy of attention.
Wainwright arrived at the Cardinals' spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla. late last week having already thrown multiple times off a mound near his home in Georgia, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
After concluding his workouts for the day, Wainwright departed from the facility only to be informed of Felix Hernandez’s brand new, massive contract extension with Seattle.
Wainwright, who finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2010, is entering the final year of a four-year, $15 million contract extension singed in 2008, according to baseballprospectus.com, and is set to become a free agent following this season.
Per baseballprospectus.com, the Cardinals right-hander is due $12 million in 2013.
“There’s always a thing,” Wainwright said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch. “I have enough motivation to go out and pitch well. I’m not pitching for a contract. I’ve been given a platform here, so I need to go out and do well, whether it’s a contract year or not. When games roll around, I’ll be ready.”
Wainwright figures to be a central piece in the foreseeable future for St. Louis. The loss of veteran Chris Carpenter—for what could be the rest of his career—gives more incentive for both sides to hammer out a deal.
One of the primary benefits of letting Albert Pujols walk via free agency two years ago was more payroll flexibility. General manager John Mozeliak directed his attention elsewhere, deploying his funds in catcher Yadier Molina, who signed a new five-year, $75 million contract extension.
Not being hampered down by a massive contract to Pujols could be easier for the Cardinals in current and future negotiations with Wainwright.
According to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch, talks between the Cardinals and Wainwright have been “casual” and ongoing.