Felix Hernandez is a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners baseball club. He is now, also, the owner of the largest contract every given to a starting pitcher. The details of the deal are 7 years, $175 million. This contract will replace the final two years of his current deal and will carry through the 2019 season, paying out at $25 million per season.
So while this is the biggest contract in history for a pitcher, it absolutely should be. He’s one of the best four or five pitchers in the league and is entering his age 27 season. If every pitcher signed a one year deal before 2013, Felix would certainly be among the top handful by dollar amount and his relative youth compared to most free agent starting pitchers means a seven year commitment doesn’t take you very far into his decline years, as does a contract that a player signs at 30 or 31.
Felix is among the game’s best and most durable starting pitchers, having never been on the DL and throwing over 230 IP in each of the last four season to go along with four straight 5+WAR seasons. The Mariners want him anchoring their rotation for years to come.
Any big contract for a pitcher is a risk, but if you’re going to offer them, you want the deal to be going to a player on the right side of thirty with no injury history and a consistent and high level of performance. Felix meets all of those criteria and is the unquestioned face of the Mariners. This is the deal you sign when all of those things are going in your favor.
Let’s ponder briefly what this means for Justin Verlander who is on the same free agent clock. Verlander is three years older, but has been better over the last four seasons than Felix and has been no less durable. It’s probably safe to say that Felix and JV are the too safest bets as far as durability and sustained performance are concerned.
Verlander’s age will be a factor, but he also plays for a higher spending club and is at least marginally better than Felix. He will also sign his deal after Felix and could do so a year closer to free agency or while on the free agent market. Even if you think Felix is a better bet from a cost benefit standpoint over the next seven seasons, Verlander is the type of player who will attract more money because he’s a more dynamic and recognizable player and his ceiling is likely higher in the opinion of most baseball people.
Both players are Hall of Fame caliber players if they maintain their career paths and if the Tigers want to make JV a Tiger for life or some other team wants to pry him from the Tigers hands, it’s going to take a lot of cash.
Right or wrong, he’ll end up with more than Felix. Here are my estimates:
Signs before Opening Day 2013: 8 years, $210 million
Signs before Opening Day 2014: 7 years, $210 million
Signs as Free Agent after 2014 season: 6 years, $200 million.
As it appears, I’m confident that barring a serious injury, Verlander will be baseball’s first $200 million arm.