Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract that should be finalized before spring training, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history, a person familiar with the contract details told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the contract is not yet official. Hernandez was scheduled to earn $19.5 million in 2O13 and $2O million in '14. Instead, his new contract will take effect this season and pay him a record average annual value of $25 million through 2O19.
King Felix could have been a free agent for the 2015 season, as you see in that quote, but instead will be locked up for five years past the expiration of his current deal. 2019 will be his age-33 season, so the Mariners will presumably get the peak of his career between now and then -- not that he hasn't been great thus far, and should just be entering his peak years. He turns 27 just after Opening Day this year.
What the Mariners could have done, and what some teams are doing with young stars (Madison Bumgarner comes to mind), is lock him up to a deal of similar length several years ago. Here's what he earned for the last four years, through 2012, after becoming arb-eligible in 2009:
2OO9: $3,8OO,OOO 2O1O: $7,2OO,OOO 2O11: $11,7OO,OOO 2O12: $18,5OO,OOO
There's no question that King Felix has been worth it -- he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball through that period, winning a Cy Young Award and piling up 20.4 WAR during that time. But what if the Mariners had signed him to a longterm deal after his first arb year in 2009, buying out those years and the first couple of free agency? They might have been able to get him locked up at below-market rates.
That's what the Cubs did with Starlin Castro last August (Castro will make $53 million over the next seven seasons, and $69 million over eight if the club option is exercised through 2020, when he'll be 30), and what I'd argue they should do with Jeff Samardzija and Anthony Rizzo after this season, presuming Shark and Rizzo continue to produce as they did last year. Lock up your core players for multiple seasons and you can keep payroll reasonable, while still getting good production.
All right, there's something for you all to hash over this afternoon.