Baseball detests betting, but during this off season’s free agency, MLB owners are throwing money around like degenerate gamblers. Even the Fruit Loops pelican knows that long-term deals for power pitchers are rolls of the dirty-diamond dice.
The notoriously cheap Seattle Mariners signed 26-year-old ace Felix Hernandez to a record-breaking five-year, $135.5 million contract extension. The contract will begin in 2015 after Hernandez receives the $39.5 million he’s still owed. The deal – worth $175 million – makes Hernandez the richest to pitch up in this bitch.
His impact on the market has set the stage for one of baseball’s other elite pitchers – Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw or David Price – to become the first pitcher in MLB history to sign a $200 million contract, which is ridiculous.
Hernandez isn’t the first free agent pitcher to break the bank of late. Prior to helping San Francisco win its second World Series title in three years, pitcher Matt Cain was blessed with an 8-year $139 million contract extension. Problem is, Cain’s already pitched over 1,500 innings and he’s averaging 190 innings per season. I don’t see him matching that for another eight years.
Hernandez has logged over 1,600 innings by age 26, and questions about his velocity and other skill-erosions makes this deal a huge risk for Seattle. Then again, they really have nothing to lose after three straight last-place AL West finishes.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million) and the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels (six years, $144 million) got sick deals this offseason, but have pitched a ton. As stunning as those numbers were, it wasn’t a complete shock because LA and Philly are known to toss that paper around.
For most teams, coughing up $100 million free agent contracts is usually a crippler – especially if the player bombs. The fallout from these failed maneuvers usually spell disaster for the franchise’s future. Investing big bucks in one baseball player is never fresh. It’s hard to field a team when you are 18th out of 30 teams in payroll – like Seattle – and using 33 percent of it (Hernandez’ contract is $27.1 million annually and Mariner’s 2012 payroll was $82 million) on one guy.
The Mariners boast a lineup with more holes than the street pavement on Chicago’s Southside. Locking up Hernandez helps keep the fans at bay, but it doesn’t equal wins. He had just 13 in 2012.
Verlander’s up for free agency in 2014 and is widely considered the best in the business. Detroit will likely have to flirt with that $200 million mark to keep him. The Dodgers probably aren’t going to let Kershaw go, and Tampa is expected to trade David Price, so he’s going to cash out with another squad, because free agency is a feeding frenzy largely uninhibited by salary cap restrictions. A sucker’s always lurking.
Hernandez’s contract eclipses the seven-year, $161 million deal CC Sabathia signed with the New York Yankees before the ’09 season. The Mariners can only pray he gets busy like CC did and doesn’t become another poster-dude for overpaid pitchers like Mike Hampton and Barry Zito
Before the 2007 season, the Giants gave Zito, who never had a losing season, a seven-year $126 million contract. Once the money was in the bank, he suffered five -straight losing seasons, becoming another nine-figure bust.
In 2000, Hampton parlayed some solid seasons with Houston and the Mets into the richest deal in history for a pitcher, at the time (8-years for $121 million). Then Hampton sold his soul to tangle in the pitcher’s graveyard – Colorado Rockies’ Coors Stadium. He lasted two seasons with Colorado, going 21-28 and bounced around the league until 2010, still getting paid in full.
How’s that Yohan Santana trade working out for the Mets? With his body breaking down, he didn’t even throw a pitch in 2011 , and still racked up $30 million. Santana’s albatross contract coupled with the Madoff scandal, has left the Mets with just enough resources to field a solid D-II college squad.
Baseball owners become high rollers when hot stove time rolls around. If a hot pitcher’s available, teams spend crazy loot, grab some headlines and, 90 losses later, has the baseball community scratching it’s head. It’s baseball’s choice. The owners tried collusion too, but that didn’t go over well with fans or the government. As long as owners have money to blow, the price tags will continue to rise until baseball’s bubble bursts. The $200 Million Pitcher is just around the corner.