The Mariners, as I’m sure you’ve heard, are a bunch of idiots. They hold a gargantuan stack of poker chips but are unwilling to cash in, and nobody can figure out why for the life of them. The Mariners are a baseball team with a bad record and an ace pitcher, which makes it abundantly clear to everyone outside of Seattle (and some poor, misguided souls in Seattle) that the one-and-only smart move is to trade that pitcher, and by goodness the sooner the better. Felix Hernandez, according to the popular line of thought, makes no sense for the Mariners, who are bad this year and will (presumably) be bad next year and will (presumably) be bad the year after that, and so on and so forth depending on who you’re talking to.
Felix is under contract for two full years, and the “trade Felix” camp is right in predicting that he would bring back an astonishing haul in any trade. The big problem with this line of thinking is that if the Mariners traded Felix Hernandez, they’d have one less Felix Hernandez to build around. Critics claim that the Mariners time with Felix will be up after 2014. Nobody seems to have considered the obvious: the Mariners should extend Felix Hernandez, and by goodness the sooner the better.
Felix is great, easily one of baseball’s top five starting pitchers and currently stands right at the heart of the American League Cy Young conversation. He is the kind of franchise cornerstone player around whom a talented team can blossom. The Mariners already have in place the most important, difficult to acquire part of a would-be world series contender. Trade Felix and you’re down a Felix, which is essentially pressing the rewind button. The Mariners are much further along in their rebuild than, say, the Cubs, which is to say they are past the point of turning every piece of talent on the roster into prospects. Felix is a long-term asset who could conceivably help this team for the next decade. But you know what, I don’t want to talk about why Felix shouldn’t be traded. Felix shouldn’t be traded. Plenty of people disagree with that statement, but plenty of people are wrong.
So what would a Felix Hernandez extension look like? First things first, let’s take a hometown discount out of the picture. Felix will get paid like an ace because Felix is an ace, and it wouldn’t surprise me if his next contract has a $25 million AAV. Felix will likely earn $25 million per season starting in 2015 – unless the extension offer comes sooner rather than later. His current deal has him set to earn $20 million in 2014, and based on what he’s consistently shown in his career, the Mariners might be comfortable tacking on a few more seasons right now at a figure closer to $20 million than $25 million.
There’s incentive for both the team and the player to make this deal. The Mariners get to tack on additional years to their best player’s contract. Let’s say they give Felix $22 million in both 2015 and 2016, $23.5 million in 2017, and throw on a 2018 vesting option for a full $25 million. This contract should strike the team as a no-brainer, especially given their lack of long-term commitments going forward and their ability to foster a high payroll, as they did for most of the last decade-plus. Felix says yes to this deal because it shows the Mariners commitment to him and to winning, not to mention giving him a raise he didn’t even ask for. This contract would essentially extend the team’s “window” that is so often referenced by writers trying to make Jack Z look like a Felix-hoarding madman. Three additional years for $67.5 million with an option that could make it a four-year, $92.5 million extension for a player who still has two years left on his current contract. It’s not quite Ryan Howard nor is it exactly C.C. Sabathia, but by this point I’ve convinced myself that it makes some sort of rational sense.
Baseball teams want to win, even the Mariners. The fact that some people, low and high profilers alike, are still not convinced that the Mariners want to win is crazy and could be further dispelled by a Felix Hernandez contract extension. The team will have to face this music one day, and rather than waiting for a down season to drop his price or for one of the minor-league arms to develop into a perfect Felix replica just in time for the King’s walk year, a major extension should take place today. Tomorrow. Next Wednesday. Sometime soon, because for all we know, Felix may never be as cheap as he is today. If Felix is indeed destined to be a Mariner-for-life the team would be better off securing his services for at least three more years rather than waiting until he becomes a free agent. Pay the King.
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