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February 8, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Seattle Royale

by R.J. Anderson

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SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly set to re-sign RHP Felix Hernandez to a seven-year extension worth $175 million. [2/7]

By signing Hernandez to the richest pitcher contract in history, the Mariners are taking on a staggering amount of risk. By signing Hernandez to this deal two seasons prior to his date with free agency, the Mariners are opening themselves up to relentless second-guessing. And by signing Hernandez to this deal the Mariners took the only real way out—that seems to be one of the big defenses, at least. 

Hernandez means a ton to the Mariners fan base—perhaps more than any other team's most-talented player. If you know the Hernandez mythology then you know Hernandez snubbed the Yankees and additional dollars for the Mariners as an amateur. (He's since snubbed free agency twice now in order to remain in Seattle.) In return the Mariners faithful have done what people living in dire conditions throughout history have done: anoint the most powerful amongst them king and then celebrate his presence every fifth day with costumes and songs. Giving Hernandez this deal isn't just about keeping him happy, but about keeping his fans—his people—happy, too. A royal life, indeed.

Uncertainty is the other main defense point about the timing of the new deal. Picture this scenario: Hernandez compiles back-to-back Cy Young consideration-worthy campaigns in 2013 and 2014, and then hits the open market. What dollar value would he receive then? We don't know and we'll never know, unless the Mariners reveal Felix2 at some point in the future. We can get a decent idea  if Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw take their stabs on the free-agent market. But otherwise this is all guesswork. 

While those are understandable defenses, there are points on the other end of the spectrum worthy of consideration. The big one is that durable pitchers also break. Credit the universe's sense of timing for seeing Hernandez sign a blockbuster deal during the same week Brandon Webb retires and Chris Carpenter's playing career is put on halt. The Webb news in particular is concerning. He was, much like Hernandez, a top-three talent with a roaring streak of 200-plus inning seasons. He threw four innings in 2009 and never pitched in the majors again.

Okay, so Hernandez's career is unlikely to follow the same path. History does tell us, however, that Hernandez is unlikely to continue tossing 230 or more innings per season. Since 1990 only five other pitchers have pulled the feat in four straight seasons. Only three did it in five. None did it in six. Lower the innings threshold to 200 and 18 pitches have strung together six straight seasons of 200 innings. Maybe Hernandez will join both fraternities in due time; maybe he's Greg Maddux. But what if he's not?

Here is what both sides can agree on: Hernandez remains remarkably young; he'll turn 34 the season after this contract expires. He's been a workhorse, and he deserves all the superlatives he receives. If you had to pick a pitcher to make a lengthy commitment to then Hernandez is on your short list. Likewise, Hernandez is on your short list for the Cy Young award. Here's one more point everyone should agree on: The Mariners are taking a huge risk with this deal. They're betting on Hernandez the person, on his body, and against bad luck. Trading Hernandez, or allowing him to leave via free agency, probably never felt like feasible options to the Mariners; this extension working out might not feel like a feasible option either, depending on your perspective. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Felix Hernandez

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jfranco77

Major props for Jasper Fforde reference.

Feb 08, 2013 08:19 AM
rating: 1
 
bubba3m

One item that should also be considered, as this isn't a free agency deal: it's also partially a reward for services rendered. For his career to date, Felix has been very underpaid. I'm certain that aspect was part of the negotiations, and Seattle's management would be hard pressed to argue against that point.

Another aspect to consider is the "keeping his fans" happy part. I'm guessing Seattle's marketing group was able to demonstrate pretty easily that tying up Hernandez for the foreseeable future would help with a variety of merchandising for the next several years. This is not just about looking at dollars per win for this specific player. I could imagine that a prolonged contract discussion in 2013 and 2014 would eat into Hernandez jersey sales, for example. And I can't imagine the Smoak jerseys are flying off the shelves.

In other words, while Seattle is taking on considerable risk, and this contract in 2019 could be an albatross, I think it's unlikely that Felix Hernandez's P&L for the rest of his career will end up red.

Feb 08, 2013 10:30 AM
rating: 1
 
NJTomatoes

An insurance policy has to be factored into assessing the M's risk. I have to assume the team cannot eliminate all of its financial risk, but there must be significant mitigation through insurance against a Webb-like ending.

Feb 08, 2013 12:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Out of curiosity, are there any studies that show that pitchers who throw a lot of innings in pitcher's parks tend to remain healthier than pitchers who throw in non-pitchers parks?

I mean, sure Felix throws a lot of innings, but it's not like he's racking up 140+ pitch count games with the bases loaded in Coors Field, right?

Feb 08, 2013 14:52 PM
rating: 0
 
DABanales

I remember reading an article last year when Strasburg's inning limit was making news that his manager said it wasn't about pitch counts, but about how many times his arm warmed up and cooled down between innings.

BP, has Doug Thorburn written anything about this?

Feb 09, 2013 07:36 AM
rating: 1
 
medmal

This same franchise was risk adverse when facing Randy Johnson's impending free agency and sold nine years too early, leaving the franchise's best pitcher to enter the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback. This M's fan is glad to see them not repeating that mistake again. Risk aversion is sensible but we're talking about a pitcher who will be not much older than CC Sabathia is now when his contract expires. All kinds of things are possible but this is a calculated risk worth taking.

Feb 08, 2013 18:36 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Randy Johnson was 33 at the time and Felix is 26. Completely different situations regarding risk.

And the Mariners did get good trade value for him (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama).

Feb 08, 2013 20:59 PM
rating: 0
 
medmal

You are only further confirming my point that this was a risk worth taking.

Feb 09, 2013 04:47 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Um, you just said you're glad they're not repeating the same mistake. You said they let Johnson go nine years too early. I was highly disagreeing with your point that Johnson and Felix's situation were the same.

Feb 09, 2013 16:48 PM
rating: 0
 
medmal

Good for you. Go ahead and highly disagree. I'm glad they extended Felix and I contend this fan base needed this. It all comes back to tickets and TV deals eventually.

Felix and Randy were in very different situations, but because of Randy this fan base needed this Felix deal. It's ultimately a business, with or without the demographic differences between the two players.

Feb 09, 2013 21:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

"but because of Randy this fan base needed this Felix deal."

Since Randy left the Mariners in 1998, the Mariners have lost:

Stars:
Ken Griffey Jr (twice)
Alex Rodriguez
Ichiro Suzuki

Fan Favorites:
Jay Buhner
Mike Cameron
Freddy Garcia
Jamie Moyer
Kazuhiro Sasaki

I'm pretty sure Mariner fans have things more recent than Randy Johnson's departure to be sad about.

Feb 10, 2013 01:27 AM
rating: 0
 
medmal

Yes, there's been plenty of suffering to go around. Your list is silly though. Buhner retired a Mariner. Kaz never played for another MLB team. Why are you even bringing them up? Do you actually know anything about the Mariners or are you just good with Wikipedia? Why not put Dan Wilson on the list while you're at it? He played for the M's for a long time and was super popular. Hell, Jose Paniagua was good for one or two seasons too.

It's reasonable to suggest that the Mariner fan base has been traumatized by the mishandled/snakebit/inevitable departures of Randy/Griffey/ARod (though the bullet dodged on the latter becomes clearer each season). I'm glad we won't be seeing our current franchise player winning the World Series for someone else. Now if the team can use the Felix window to actually do something relevant in the coming years.

Feb 10, 2013 11:21 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I bring them up because they were fan favorites and losing them did hurt the fan base. Only having two winning seasons in the last nine years (2004-2012) hasn't helped.

I thought about Dan Wilson, but I'm pretty sure if I had added him, you would've laughed at that. Heck I'm pretty sure there are a few Gil Meche or Carlos Guillen fans but I didn't include them either.

And yes, I know a bit about the Mariners. I used to live in Oregon which gets Seattle broadcasts, been to Safeco a few times (and even attended a get-together there with Jonah Keri, Rob Neyer, Derek Zumsteg and a few others) and read the USS Mariner. I wouldn't call myself a Mariners expert, especially since I moved to Denver in 2008, but they're in the Top 10 of teams I'm familiar with.

And btw, there's always the chance that Felix gets traded so he may end up winning a World Series for someone else.

But, again, to sum up:
1. Randy's situation wasn't the same as Felix's
2. There've been more important and more recent things than have affected the Mariners' fan base since Randy's departure fifteen years ago.
3. As a Mariners' fan, you should know #1 and #2. If not, I suggest you use baseball-reference instead of Wikipedia.

Feb 11, 2013 01:21 AM
rating: -1
 
medmal
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

You're not a Mariner fan, dude. If you were you wouldn't be dismissing the comparison. There are clearly differences but there are also similarities.

Here's another comparison you won't like: Richard Bergstrom is like toenail fungus. Irritating, non-lethal, and hard to get rid of.

Feb 11, 2013 09:28 AM
rating: -4
 
Richard Bergstrom

First you misread my post and assumed I agreed with you.

Then you started insulting me.

And you're still hung up on something that happened 15 years ago. Heck I'm a Cubs fan and realize that the Cubs current situation isn't directly related to Greg Maddux being let go before his Cy Young situation.

All in all, you lack understanding and seem to want to pick a fight. So, I'll prefer to be a fungus and stop talking to you on this thread.

Feb 11, 2013 10:01 AM
rating: 2
 
medmal
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Fungus,

I'm glad I didn't need to take medication for you to go away.

The Randy compare/contrast continues with the latest news about the elbow. Hoping the M's carve out some protection in this contract--rather than letter the whole malady (in Randy's case, worries over his back) jeopardize the relationship.

Feb 11, 2013 10:17 AM
rating: -4
 
Brady Childs

I just don't see the risk. They got him through his prime, and they're not getting the later portion of his decline. He's not a man with a gimmick pitch and with the way the market works now, a bad deal doesn't look so bad 2 years down the road because the baseline gets bumped up a ridiculous amount every year. The Mariners never have been able to bid on large free agents and with the cap on the draft now, the money was just burning a hole in their pocket. It's not like the Cardinals with Pujols & Holliday when, at the time Holliday was signed, they had to choose between one or the other.

Feb 09, 2013 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
juiced

Hold up. A rebuilding franchise far behind 3 divisional competitors pours 2 team payroll's worth of money into one player after he logged 950 innings over four season's and experienced velocity issues the year prior and you don't see the element of risk? A case can be made that its a good deal for Seattle but come on, it's clearly risky. Personally, I think they bid against themselves two year's prior to it being necessary. King doesn't have to decline much for this contract to become problematic. The history of long term expensive pitching contracts isn't exactly a thumb on the scale favoring the deal.

Feb 09, 2013 12:54 PM
rating: 2
 
hyprvypr

As a lifelong Mariner's fan and PNW resident, and also a sabermetric geek who's watch Felix ascent since A ball, I can say no single player means more to their team than Felix Hernandez. After Arod, Randy Johnson, even Ken Griifey all left after starting their careers here(hedging Johnson's Montreal time), Felix is finally a standout figure willing to deal with our rainy Winters and wear the knight's armor in the name of building a competitor.

He loves the area and the fans and we love him, maybe as much as we loved Griffey. All hail the King, loyalty is royalty indeed!

Feb 09, 2013 16:44 PM
rating: 0
 
juiced

Already reports are surfacing that the med exam has revealed some concern over Felix' elbow. Terms may be changed.

Feb 10, 2013 14:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

It's interesting that all these contracts (Napoli, Liriano,Felix, etc) have been changing due to injuries. I can't recall when so many have been handled like that before.

Feb 11, 2013 01:24 AM
rating: 1
 
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