King Felix to become highest-paid pitcher

A deal is imminent between Seattle, its star pitcher that would keep him with the Mariners for 7 more seasons for an average annual salary of $25 million

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 8, 2013 

This offseason hasn’t been kind to the Seattle Mariners. First it was Josh Hamilton spurning their lucrative free-agent offer and joining the division-rival Angels. Then it was Justin Upton exercising his no-trade clause to nix a deal that would bring him to Seattle.

But any angst about whom the Mariners failed to get will likely be tempered by the news Thursday that ace pitcher Felix Hernandez and the team have agreed in principle on a seven-year, $175 million contract.

USA Today first reported the deal, which would be finalized before spring training. Hernandez has two years remaining on his current deal – worth a total of $39.5 million – but according to the USA Today and Associated Press reports, the new contract would go into effect for the start of this season.

The $175 million contract would be the largest ever given to a pitcher in major league baseball history. CC Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees late 2008. Zack Greinke recently signed a six-year, $147 million deal with Dodgers to start this season.

Meanwhile, ESPN was reporting something a little different. Its source was calling the deal a five-year extension worth $135.5 million. Hernandez would still get the $39.5 million he’s owned over the next two seasons ($19.5 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014) from the contract extension he signed in 2010.

Regardless, Hernandez will get $175 million over the next seven seasons. His average annual salary of $25 million would be the highest of any pitcher in history – Greinke earns an average of $24.5 million a season. And if ESPN is correct that it’s a five-year extension added to the current deal, Hernandez would be paid an average of $27.1 million a season for those five years.

But nothing is official yet.

A Mariners source said no deal has been finalized. The source did say Hernandez’s agents are meeting with general manager Jack Zduriencik in Seattle.

A deal is imminent.

But it could take more than a few days to finalize all the details, and Hernandez would also be subjected to an extensive physical before the agreement could be become official.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training for the Mariners on Tuesday in Peoria, Ariz.

Hernandez has become the face of the franchise the past few seasons. Signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2002, he has been raised and groomed in the organization. Along the way, he established himself as the team’s best pitcher, winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 and signing a five-year, $78 million extension in 2010.

He posted a 13-9 record in 2012 with a 3.06 earned-run average in 33 starts. He led the American League with five shutouts, while ranking second in innings pitched (232) and complete games (5), third in strikeouts (223) and fifth in ERA. He also threw the 23rd perfect game in major league history on Aug. 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Beyond the field, Hernandez has embraced his role as the team’s franchise player. He is a year-round resident of the Puget Sound area and has made it clear that he wants to stay here and help the Mariners return to being a winning franchise.

Signing a seven-year deal would reaffirm that commitment to the organization and his confidence in its future.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners appear to be close to signing left-handed free-agent pitcher Joe Saunders to one-year contract. FoxSports.com reported that the agreement is done and that Saunders must pass a physical.

Saunders pitched for the Diamondbacks (6-10, 4.22 ERA in 21 starts) and Orioles (3-3, 3.63 in seven starts) last season. With the decision to trade Jason Vargas to the Angels, the Mariners were in need of a veteran left-handed starter in their rotation. Saunders would give Seattle a pitcher with a profile and style eerily similar to Vargas.

Saunders would likely join Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Erasmo Ramirez in the rotation. The fifth spot would likely be a battle between Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi and any of the quartet of young pitching prospects – Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton or Brandon Maurer.

The Mariners did make one official signing Thursday, announcing they had acquired veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach. The one-year deal had been reported about a week ago, but the team waited to make it official — presumably for an open spot for Shoppach on the 40-man roster. That came when reliever Shawn Kelley was designated for assignment. The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright Kelley.

Shoppach was signed to be a backup and mentor to Jesus Montero, who is slotted to be the everyday catcher. But with the recent news that Montero’s name was linked to a scandal involving performance enhancing drugs, Shoppach’s role could become more important.

highest-paid baseball players

Felix Hernandez will become the highest-paid pitcher and second-highest-paid player in baseball once his reported five-year extension kicks in. A look at the highest-paid players (average per season):

1

Alex Rodriguez

Yankees

$27.5 million

2

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

$27.1 million

3

Josh Hamilton

Angels

$26.9 million

3

Ryan Howard

Phillies

$26.9 million

Source: The Associated Press ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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