The Internet exploded when it was reported last week that the Seattle Mariners were about to sign pitcher Felix Hernandez to a seven-year, $175 million deal. Though the reported deal IS huge, there’s no denying that Hernandez has been a workhorse and the team needs him if they’re ever going to be anything other than the crapfest they are now.
Now, various outlets are reporting that the extension may be on hold because the Mariners have reservations about Hernandez’s elbow, among other things. The negotiations are not as finalized as the earlier reports made it seem, either: “But as of Sunday afternoon, sources say, the Mariners and Hernandez are not close to finishing an extension, because there are issues that the two sides are sorting through.”
More accurately, the team is (rightly) concerned that Hernandez’s elbow may explode at some point during the life of that contract and the team would still be on the hook for $25 million a season until it expires. That would be double-plus un-good in financial terms for the Mariners.
Apparently, the two sides have worked out the general idea, but have yet to figure out all the tiny details that never get reported. It just so happens that with this deal being so huge, the team being concerned about his physical abilities down the road is a somewhat new thing in baseball.
It used to be that teams just extended their stars, paid them whatever they wanted, and then hoped for the best. But that was before the Mark Teixeira deal, the C.C. Sabathia deal, and the Alex Rodriguez deal. Even the great Yankees are now hamstrung by their formerly free-spending ways, which means other MLB teams have to be even more cost-effective.
It’s also interesting that the only other pitchers to throw as many innings before the age of 27 as Hernandez are Doc Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, and Bert Blyleven. Two of those pitchers flamed out gloriously and returned later only as shells of their former selves. Blyleven is a hall of famer who pitched for a long time in the majors. I’m not sure the Mariners like those 1 in 3 odds with their young superstar.
Also, based on the way the Yankees have reacted to further PED allegations being leveled at A-Rod, I’m wondering if the Mariners aren’t looking at Hernandez’s performance a little more cockeyed since it is becoming clear once again that professional sports leagues are eons behind the scientists who come up with new types of performance-enhancing drugs for athletes. Now that MLB is going to begin blood testing for things like HGH and extra testosterone, big contracts like this are even more of a risk. The suspensions for PED use are unpaid, but when the athlete comes back to action and no longer is as good as they used to be because they can’t cheat anymore, $25 million sucks a lot to have to pay.
This obviously doesn’t mean Hernandez is a drug cheat. But this is the 21st century now. The age of trusting athletes to stay healthy or not cheat is long since over.
Hernandez definitely deserves to be paid like one of the top pitchers in baseball, and I’m sure his agent will advocate for every possible dollar. But the risk is on the side of the team now, whereas it used to be on the player before the best players were paid so much money. He also has two years left on his current deal, so there is time for negotiations.
There might even be time for the Mariners to sober up a little since they probably shouldn’t be paying A-Rod money to a guy who plays once every fifth day while the team kind of sucks. I’m just saying.