Collier: Can Seattle afford to pay Felix like a king?
February 17, 2013 5:00 AM
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Why is this man smiling? Well, Felix Hernandez has 175 million reasons after signing a new contract with the Mariners.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Seattle Mariners have been paying Felix Hernandez like a monarch since he was 16, signing him out of Venezuela for some $700,000 the minute it was legal, and that was well before anyone called him King Felix.
This week the Mariners turned him into King Midas, presenting the 26-year-old right-hander with a seven-year contract for $175 million, the implications of which are fairly staggering in a number of directions, although it's hard just getting past those numbers.
In the final year of this deal, the largest ever given to a pitcher, King Felix will make $27 million. The Mariners can only hope he's still averaging 32 starts every summer (his average for the past six), but if he does, and those starts typically include, say, 100 pitches, what we're talking about here is someone making more than $8,400 per pitch.
Sorry, but in an age when we can't get political consensus on raising the minimum wage, I can't stop thinking about $8,400 per pitch. But why would I expect the president of the United States to be able to get the minimum wage bumped up when the president is making less than 2 percent of what King Felix pulls down?
Seriously, ball one in the dirt?
That'll be $8,437.00.
Ball two -- same deal.
Here's an electrifying promotional initiative for the fourth-place Mariners, who won four fewer games last year than your Pittsburgh Pirates. Say King Felix has worked himself into a seventh-inning pickle, such that it would be prudent at one point to issue an intentional walk, OK? Pull someone's ticket stub. Have that person come out of the stands at Safeco Field. Have that person flip four wide ones and hand him or her an oversized cardboard check for $33,748, or the very amount it costs the Mariners to have Felix do it.
That's viral video gold, baby.
Of course, that's in 2019 dollars; it's not quite so extravagant over the first six years, but still this deal represents a serious gamble by the ballclub. As Bill Parker pointed out this week at SB Nation.com, there are a lot of miles on Felix for such a young man. Only 19 pitchers since 1901 worked more innings before age 27 than King Felix, a period that includes an entire era when guys pitched complete games in both ends of a doubleheader, and further includes, among those same 19 pitchers, the name Noodles Hahn, a name you just don't get to type very often and there's no way I'm passing that up.
The other thing I couldn't stop thinking about regarding the King Felix deal was that part of the management team putting it together cut its front office teeth right here in Pittsburgh back when the game's stormy economic weather was getting ready to blow apart the city's last really good baseball team.
The Mariners executive vice president and general manager is Jack Zduriencik, who was the Pirates scouting director from 1991-93. Their senior advisor to the general manager is Ted Simmons, who was the Pirates GM in 1992 and until he had a heart attack in 1993. Their special assistant to the general manager is Pete Vukovich, who was hired as a pitching instructor by the Pirates in 1992 and was their pitching coach for four seasons beginning five years later.
Zduriencik, the New Castle native who for a time coached baseball at Clairton High, left the Pirates to join the New York Mets organization, and later was the drafting catalyst who built the Milwaukee Brewers into a playoff team. He took over the Mariners at the end of 2008, when they became the first club ever to lose 100 times while paying more than $100 million in salary.
Success in Seattle has been harder to scare up, but as is pretty evident, it's not from lack of funding.
Risk-heavy as the Hernandez contract so obviously is, it's not terribly comforting to know that the Pirates will never be in a position to take such a risk. Similarly, there's no joy in knowing that the King Felix deal is really going to put the Mariners over the salary cap, right?
Not exactly cap-friendly, is it? It's downright cap hostile. It's ... what? ... oh, riiiight.
There is no salary cap. It's baseball, which for some reason needs no salary cap. It's baseball, where some teams spend $25 million for one year on one player, and $200 million or more for one year on one roster, and where other teams are, um, the Pirates.
The Pirates, of course, do not want your sympathy, just your money.
The Pirates agreed to this system, this perpetual predicament, by signing off on three collective bargaining agreements (in 2002, 2006 and 2011) since the opening of PNC Park, the magic kingdom of new revenue streams that would make them eternally competitive and has never come close.