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Mariners Extend Felix Hernandez for $175 million

Not directly D-backs related, but this is the most expensive pitching contract in baseball history. So it's worth covering, I reckon.

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Stephen Dunn

Right-hander Felix Hernandez has agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension with the Seattle Mariners, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Nightengale adds that the extension should be finalized before spring training. The deal will make Hernandez the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.

Hernandez has spent eight seasons with the Mariners after debuting for the club as a 19-year-old in 2005. He's maintained a 3.22 ERA with a 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, averaging more than 30 starts and 200 innings pitched per season since 2006. Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 and is a three-time All-Star.

Hernandez's new contract would surpass the seven-year, $161 million deal C.C. Sabathia signed with the New York Yankees before the 2010 season as the richest contract ever for a pitcher. The average annual value of $25 million tops the $24.5 million Zack Greinke is receiving from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hernandez signed a five-year, $78 million extension with the Mariners in January of 2010. This was set to pay him $19.5 and $20 million in 2013 and 2014. Hernandez will still only be 33 years old when this new deal expires.

This story was originally published on MLB Daily Dish.

What I was curious about, is whether these kind of mega-deals ever work out for the team. I'm hard pushed to think of any decent examples that seem like good value. Hernandez is perhaps younger than many players who sign such a contract, but even so...

  1. Alex Rodriguez: 10 yrs, $275 million.
    So far: five years, 20.0 bWAR.
    That's not terrible. However, between injury, aging and the growing storm around a certain Florida clinic, I would be quite surprised if he put up another 20 over the remaining five, which would still be a rate of close to $7 million per WAR, well above the market-price.
  2. Albert Pujols: 10 yrs, $254 million
    So far: one year, 4.6 bWAR
    It was looking dicey early on last season, as Pujols hitt below the Uecker Line in mid-May. Fortunately, he rebounded, batting .312/.374/.589 after May 14, but it was still his worst season ever. Following on the heels of his second-worst season ever, this is going to be a long contract.
  3. Joey Votto: 10 yrs, $225 million
    So far: Hasn't started yet [kicks in in 2015]

    This one is really thinking ahead, as it locks Votto up until the end of the 2023 season. When I'll almost be eligible for the early-bird special at Luby's, f'heaven's sake. He's not badly paid now, earning $26.5 million over the next two years, but there's an awful lot more yet to come.
  4. Prince Fielder: 9 yrs, $214 million
    So far: one year, 4.4 bWAR

    Really, this one seemed an awful lot of money for someone who, over the previous five years in Milwaukee had only 16.3 bWAR - slightly less than Placido Polanco over the same time, or Nick Markakis if you want a player of the same age. First year was okay, if nothing special.
  5. Derek Jeter: 10 yes, $189 million
    So far: completed in 2010, 39.4 bWAR

    This is a rare example of a contract which has played out. The cost works out at $4.8 million per WAR, which is a little high, though not excessively so. The last three or four years definitely saw Jeter on the downside, though this didn't stop New York giving him another $51m for 2011-13.
  6. Joe Mauer: 8 yrs, $184 million.
    So far: three years, 11.0 bWAR

    The Twins abandoned their small-market principles to make Mauer the best-paid catcher in baseball history after his MVP season. The results have been split: two decent years, but one severely hampered by injuries. Still, he does have lovely, dandruff-free hair, doesn't he?
  7. Mark Teixeira: 8 yrs, $180 million
    So far: 4 years, 15.6 bWAR

    "I have no problem with anybody in New York, any fan, saying you're overpaid. Because I am. We all are... My first six years, before I was a free agent, I was very valuable. But there's nothing you can do that can justify a $20 million contract." -- Mark Teixeira
  8. CC Sabathia: 7 yrs, $161 million
    So far: 4 years. 20.6 bWAR

    A previous owner of the "most expensive pitcher" record has perhaps come closer to living up to expectations than most. A 135 ERA+ over that time is pretty good, and his 74-29 record is positively gaudy. Sabathia is still only 32, so this one might break even, if he keeps things up.
  9. Matt Kemp, 8 yrs, $160 million
    So far: one year, 2.3 bWAR

    It's not looking quite as good as it did at the time this was signed in November 2011. Sure, he was coming off his MVP season, but that is probably not the best time to negotiate a contract extension. Still, the entire contract works out at less than four months of Dodger TV rights.
  10. Manny Ramirez: 8 yrs, $160 million
    So far: completed in 2008, 34.3 bWAR

    ManRam was remarkably consistent over the course of this, being an All-Star each year and posting between 3.8 and 5.8 every season bar one - that was his 2007, cut short by injury. Of course, he ended the contract in LA, and the two-year $45m deal he got from them was awful.

Looking over these, it seems like the really big contracts seem most often to be mediocre rather than disastrous. This is in part perhaps because those kinds of deals are reserved for the very elite players: a "slump" for them, as we saw with Pujols, would still be a thoroughly respectable season for the vast majority. That said, there's none of these which can be claimed to be a resounding success, with most resulting in an significant overpay above the expected rate of $4.5 million per WAR generally seen as the norm. Will King Felix's follow suit? Get back to me around the end of the decade...