The richer teams in baseball have been willing to break the bank for everyday players. But now the era of the $25 million pitcher is here.
Felix Hernandez, the 26-year-old who won a Cy Young Award in 2010 and pitched a perfect game in 2012, agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract on Tuesday, the largest ever for a pitcher. The extension had been rumored for the last week or so, and the Mariners and Hernandez cleared that last hurdle on Tuesday.
There were rumors that the Mariners had found something problematic in the right elbow of "King Felix," but they were able to get any concerns allayed and sign their ace through 2019.
They'll actually pay Hernandez more than $25 million annually, as the contract is back-loaded for the final five years, when he'll receive $134.5 million, which is an average of $26.9 million over those five seasons. And he'll be 33 when he's a free agent, due for another big payday if he stays healthy over the next seven seasons.
It's a lot of money for anybody, but his 98-76 record is misleading. Few pitchers have received as little run support as Hernandez gets from the Mariners, who were last in the the majors in batting average in each of the last three seasons. Hernandez has allowed two earned runs or less in an incredible 141 of his 238 starts. You can make an argument that at this stage of his career, he's worthy of being the highest-paid pitcher in the game.
Still, it's a pitcher who only plays in one out of five days, and even the best and most durable pitchers break down over time. It's a major, major risk with such a long-term, guaranteed deal. And while the Mariners are one of the richer franchises, they don't have the payroll of the huge markets, and they'll have to be smart about developing position players and other starters in their minor-league system to complement Hernandez, as they won't be able to go on many spending sprees.
As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote, "There is no denying that long, expensive contracts for starting pitchers rarely provide good value."
And you know who is smiling the most? Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, two other Cy Young winners who now have a very lucrative starting point for their upcoming negotiations.