SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners are working on a $175 million, seven-year contract that would make him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, according to a person with knowledge of the deal’s details.
The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been completed. USA Today first reported the deal.
Seattle would add $134.5 million of guaranteed money over five years to the contract of the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, whose current agreement calls for him to receive $40.5 million over the next two seasons.
Hernandez’s total dollars would top CC Sabathia’s original $161 million, seven-year contract with the New York Yankees and his $25 million average would surpass Zack Greinke’s $24.5 million under his new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hernandez’s new money would average $26.9 million over five years, which would tie him for the second-highest average in baseball with Josh Hamilton and Ryan Howard behind Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million).
Hernandez agreed to a $78 million, five-year contract in January 2010 and has earned an additional $2.5 million in escalators and $300,000 in bonuses. He is due $20 million this year and $20.5 million in 2014, which would be superseded by the new deal.
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said he could not comment when reached on Thursday, and Hernandez’s representatives didn’t immediately return messages.
If the deal is finalized, it would leave Detroit’s Justin Verlander and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw as the most attractive pitchers eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. Tampa Bay’s David Price is eligible after the 2015 season.
Hernandez has become the face of Seattle’s struggling franchise, transforming from a curly haired 19-year-old who wore his hat crooked to one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in baseball. Known as “King Felix,” he became the first Seattle pitcher to throw a perfect game in a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay last August.
His fiery enthusiasm on the mound and his willingness to first sign a long-term deal in 2010 have endeared him to fans in the Pacific Northwest who have gone more than a decade without seeing postseason baseball.
Hernandez, who will turn 27 on April 8, is 98-76 with a 3.22 ERA in eight seasons with the Mariners. He won a career-high 19 games in 2009 when he finished second in the Cy Young voting then won the award a year later when he went just 13-12 but had a 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts.
Hernandez appeared to be making another Cy Young push last year before going 0-4 in his last six starts, which left him at 13-9 with 223 strikeouts.
His career record would be even better if he didn’t play with one of baseball’s worst offenses. Seattle had the lowest batting average in the major leagues in each of the last three seasons. Hernandez has taken 10 losses during that span when he’s given up two earned runs or less.
For his career, Hernandez has allowed two earned runs or less in 141 of 238 starts, but the team is only 99-42 in those games due to the offensive problems.
Locking up Hernandez long-term won’t solve all of the problems that have left Seattle looking up at Texas, Oakland and the Los Angeles Angles in the AL West for most of the last 10 years. The Mariners have tried to address some of those issues this offseason by trading for Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to provide more punch to go along with young prospects Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero, who have all shown flashes early in their careers.
But should the deal be finalized, the Mariners at least have the security of knowing who’ll be at the top of their rotation for most of this decade.