The Mariners are close to signing P Felix Hernandez to a new contract worth $175M over seven years, the richest contract ever given to a pitcher and the "ninth-largest contract to date," according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. News of the deal set off a "celebration and collective sigh of relief from Mariners fans long used to seeing top players leave the team." The deal would see Hernandez "earn more than a quarter of the team payroll by himself in 2013." The team was "just over" $78M in salary commitments Thursday, not counting the new Hernandez deal. The club also is "on the verge" of signing free-agent P Joe Saunders, which would "likely take the Mariners beyond $90 million for their current roster and close to a payroll limit the team set when the offseason began." The Mariners "must find a way to surround Hernandez with added talent," and one thing "that could help is added television revenue the Mariners look poised to secure in coming years." The team will receive "at least $25 million in additional revenue from new national television deals," and an opt-out clause in the Mariners' deal with Root Sports in '15 "could enable the Mariners to score a monster contract" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/8). In Tacoma, Ryan Divish notes Hernandez has "embraced his role as the team's franchise player." He lives year-round in the area and he has "made it clear that he wants to stay here and help the Mariners return to being a winning franchise" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 2/8).
TAKING A NECESSARY RISK: In Seattle, Larry Stone writes the Mariners are "taking a huge risk by giving so many dollars for so many years" to a young starting pitcher, but the "only risk bigger than signing Felix Hernandez to a megadeal was letting him get away." Stone: "At this stage of the franchise's existence, with fan disenchantment at its highest point ever, this is one case where the psychological value of retaining their most popular, and most productive, player can't be minimized." Trading Hernandez for several top prospects "might have been sellable from a baseball standpoint, but sometimes you have to do something that appeases the masses now" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/8). In Tacoma, John McGrath writes there can be "no more moping about Seattle's star-crossed history of keeping its stars." The team is "pulling a show-off stunt" by guaranteeing that much money to Hernandez, but after losing out on top offseason targets Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton, team ownership "sent a message to the next wave of free agents." McGrath: "By assuring Felix Hernandez will make more money than any pitcher who has ever lived, the Mariners are sending a message that’s turning heads on two coasts, all while awakening a sleepy, cynical fan base" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 2/8). MLB Network’s Larry Bowa said the Mariners front office is showing fans that "we’re going to build this team around this guy" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 2/7). NBC Sports Network’s Dave Briggs asked, "Did I mention it was Seattle that’s signing him to this? They don’t spend that kind of money" ("The Crossover," NBC Sports Network, 2/7).
MOVE COULD COME BACK TO BITE THEM: FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal writes there is "no denying that long, expensive contracts for starting pitchers rarely provide good value," and the Mariners' decision "forever will be weighed against the hypothetical bounty that they could have received for Felix in a trade." Rosenthal: "To management -- and to many M's fans -- it was unthinkable that the team would part with a homegrown superstar who -- unlike former Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez -- clearly wanted to remain with the franchise. ... But get back to me in a few years, and tell me if everyone still holds the same romantic view" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/8). MLB Network's Chris Rose noted the AL West is a tough division to compete in and said, “I’m not so sure it makes great business sense." He noted it is a "great PR move," but added, "I’m just not so sure it helps them in the long run” ("Intentional Talk," MLB Network, 2/7).
THE FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT....: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale, who broke the Hernandez extension, writes Hernandez' deal likely "bodes well" for several top pitchers who will become free agents in the next couple years. Tigers P Justin Verlander and Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw can be free agents after the '14 season, with Rays P David Price eligible for free agency in '15, and "any of them could become baseball's first $200 million pitcher" (USA TODAY, 2/8). MLB Network's Sean Casey said of other ace pitchers around the majors seeing this deal, "Back up the Brinks’ truck for these guys" ("Intentional Talk," MLB Network, 2/7). In N.Y., Ken Davidoff notes the Mariners' long-term deal for Hernandez is "no aberration when it comes to stud starting pitchers." Davidoff: "Don't bet on either Detroit's Justin Verlander or the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, both apparently content with their generous employers, to reach their scheduled freedoms after the '14 season; Hernandez-like extensions are more likely" (N.Y. POST, 2/8). The N.Y. Daily News’ John Harper said, “More and more now, teams are locking these guys up. There’s more money in baseball, even for the smaller markets. It’s rare when these guys get to become free agents” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 2/7).