So, did Felix Hernandez deserve this contract, and if so, why did he sign it, and why did the Mariners offer it? First, Felix deserves to be paid like a top 5 pitcher because his numbers prove it. Felix has played 8 seasons in the Majors, all for the Mariners, coming up as a 19 year old, and immediately began throwing 190+ innings in only his second season in the Majors. Hernandez, like many young ace pitchers, came in throwing in the mid 90's with his fastball, showing sharp breaking balls including a slider with velocities peaking above 90 mph. Comparing heat maps of Hernandez's pitches from early in his career to his most recent seasons shows a move from pitches near the middle of the plate to the corners. Hernandez's does a great job of keeping his pitches low and away to righties and on the inside corner to lefties, the perfect combination for pitching success. This maturity on the mound has shown in King Felix's numbers as well. Due to his improved precision and strategy, Felix's BB/9 has been getting steadily less and less since peaking in 2008. While Hernandez's ground ball percentage has been seeing some attrition, Felix has countered it with an increase in strikeouts while his swing percentage (the total percentage of pitches a batter swings at) has remained constant, showing better control and precisions despite drops in velocity and number of ground balls induced.
Another reason for hope in Seattle, and thus another justification for Felix resigning in the Emerald City, is Seattle's incredible group of young talent. ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked Seattle as having the 8th best farm system in the league with a solid core of young starting pitchers like Taijaun Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen. In addition, they sport a top infield prospect in Nick Franklin, young catching prospect Mike Zunino, and young players already with the big club like Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, and Dustin Ackley. So, maybe the Mariners won't be a winning team this season or even next season, but just around the time Hernandez's AAV goes from $20 to $25 million the Mariners should have the type of team ready to compete for the playoffs. This shows that Hernandez has faith in the Mariners system, and when the face of the franchise shows confidence in the team, the fans won't be far behind.
So, while Felix may have given up a chance to make maybe more money in a bigger city like Boston or Chicago, and might have lessened his chances of winning a World Sereis, there were numerous solid justifications for resigning with the Mariners. So, the only question left to answer is the simplest, why the Mariners would offer Felix a contract of this length and magnitude. The Mariners aren't a big time franchise, but the team has never had a problem spending money on free agents, a la Chone Figgins. In addition, Hernandez will now make up 20% or more of Seattles overall payroll. We've recently seen how big contracts can still force the hands of the richest teams as with the Alex Rodriguez situation with the Yankees. The Mariners may be extending a lot of money to Felix, but as we've already proven, he's worth the money. The Mariners have most of their future success tied up in youth, and you is inexpensive. This paradigm is conducive to having a large portion of the payroll going to one or two players because young players are cheap. Signing Hernandez allows the Mariners to now change their marketing strategy to make King Felix a brand, a name that every citizen of Seattle knows. Given Seattles solid history of rabid fandom and passion for the Mariners, the team will have little trouble anointing Felix Hernandez the next Sultan of Seattle.
|Zack Greinke||- - -||833.1||8.9||2.21||0.71||3.37||2.93||23.5|
As for Kershaw, Hernandez's contract impacts him greatly. If Kershaw wants an extension now, he could get a deal similar to Hernandez due to his youth and his already stellar career. On the other hand, if Kershaw plays through his current deal becomes a free agent at age 26, Kershaw could sign a contract of similar length to Hernandez but for even more AAV. That would seem like the most lucrative path for Kershaw, but if the native Texan wants to stay with the Dodgers, and like Jared Weaver with the Angels, not want to deal with contract speculation, he could sign an extension now and still get a second huge deal around his age 30 season. Overall, the Dodgers have a lot of money, holes burning in their pockets, and so one way or the other, Kershaw will make a lot of money, most likely in Los Angeles.
So, while $175 million sounds like a huge amount of money, and it is, we now see that the money is justified, for all parties involved. Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners now go hand-in-hand; Felix represents the city, similar to the Mariners greats before him. In 2011 he won the AL Cy Young award, in 2012 he threw a perfect game, now he's the highest paid pitcher of all time, and, as all Mariners fans hope, he will be a World Champion down the road. If there was ever a more perfect road to Cooperstown, I haven't heard of it yet. Now comes the hard part, everything just has to work out.