M’s sign Felix Hernandez to new 7-year, $175 million deal

An historic day on a number fronts came to pass Thursday afternoon when the Seattle Mariners and starting pitcher Felix Hernandez agreed to a new 7-year, $175 million contract according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

Firstly, the Mariners locked up their franchise player and soon-to-be best pitcher it its history through the 2019 season, with the largest deal written in franchise history. In fact, it is the only deal to surpass $100 million in franchise history. The contract will essentially replace the deal that Hernandez is currently under which has him locked up thru 2014 at a rate of $39 million, and keep him in Seattle another five seasons in which he could’ve hit free agency.

Secondly, it is, of course, the richest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, surpassing the 7-year, $161 million contract CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees a couple offseasons ago and the recent agreement between Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It may not hold that status long, however, as fellow consensus top three MLB starters Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander are in line for new contracts with their respective clubs (each due to hit free agency in 2014) just like Felix was.

Moving beyond all of the history, though, what this contract does for the Mariners is a number of things. Obviously, it locks up arguably the best pitcher in baseball for the rest of the decade and what will be his prime years, ages 27-33. It also signals to the players both currently on the team’s roster and those around the league that the franchise is intent upon winning and winning for the long haul. Finally, it speaks to the fans. I don’t know if there is a person in Seattle or the state of Washington that wasn’t a fan of Hernandez. The entire community embraces him as if he were a native son because of his talent, his effervescent personality and his community relations off the field. He has always spoke highly of Seattle through all of the losing years and for the second time, backs up all that talk by walking the talk so-to-speak.

At an average annual salary of $25 million now, Hernandez clearly dwarfs every other contract on the Mariners payroll. The next closest contracts are that of Franklin Gutierrez’s $7 million, Mike Morse’s $7 million and Hisashi Iwakuma’s $6.5 million (not including the $9 million being paid to the recently axed Chone Figgins). Depending on the final contract details of recent acquisition Joe Saunders, a starter to round out the rotation, it is likely that Hernandez will take up nearly 30 percent of the team’s 2013 payroll.

That is not a number that is sustainable for a franchise that wants to be a consistent winner for the foreseeable future as both general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge have stated repeatedly. Clearly, there has to be an added commitment to spend the money it needs to to be consistently competitive not only in the AL West but in the American League where it intends to compete for pennants.annually.

But I think what we saw from the M’s today, is something that we’ll see from them as the team continues to grow. This is an organization that features 3/5 of its roster in pre-arbitration years. Those players — your Justin Smoak’s, Dustin Ackley’s and Tom Wilhelmsen’s et al — will be entering arbitration soon and will no longer be making the league minimum salary. Whether its those players or others that deserve those raises and subsequently, extensions, the Mariners are showing that they will do what it takes to keep its young core together.

And that is encouraging.

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