Will King Felix be worth the ransom?

Stephen Dunn

Recently, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Mariners are "dancing" with Felix Hernandez -- or maybe just with Félix Hernández's agent -- about a contract extension that would add four years and roughly $100 million to the current deal that runs through 2014.

Today, the Seattle writers checked in with the general manager and didn't get much that we didn't know ...

If King Felix does get his $100 million, he would earn roughly $140 million over the next six seasons. Which would be a bit less than Cole Hamels' $144 million and Zack Greinke's $147 million. Which is why I don't think Hernández (or his agent) will settle for $140 million, considering he's probably a little better than those guys and is getting his money a little later.

In a sense, though, the exactly dollars are irrelevant unless some team just makes Hernandez an offer he can't refuse.

Which is quite possible, actually. Occasionally a player gets an offer that simply dwarfs all others; there was Barry Zito and the Giants, Albert Pujols and the Angels, Prince Fielder and the Tigers ... It seems unlikely that any other clubs came close to the blandishments those players received from those teams. And the same might happen with Félix Hernández; maybe somebody will offer him not four years and $100 million, but eight years and $200 million.

Should somebody do that, though?

Hernández has pitched 1,620 innings in his career, and he's still only 26 (turns 27 just after Opening Day). Here's the entire list of pitchers in major-league history who have pitched between 1,400 and 1,800 innings before their Age 27 season and posted an ERA+ of 120 or better:

132 Robin Roberts (1,669 innings)
131 Dizzy Dean (1,540)
127 Bret Saberhagen (1,464)
127 Félix Hernández (1,620)
127 Wes Ferrell (1,502)
126 Mel Harder (1,662)
123 Dean Chance (1,520)
122 Dwight Gooden (1,714)
121 Vida Blue (1,666)

When I first punched in the search criteria, I simply wanted to discover how many pitchers have statistical profiles like Hernandez's. When I first saw the results, I thought, "Wow, he's even better and more rare than I thought." When I actually looked at the names, I thought, "Uh-oh."

Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame. So is Dizzy Dean, but probably shouldn't be (at least not based purely on his performance). Saberhagen, Ferrell, Harder, Chance, Gooden, and Blue all came up short, for the simple reason that none could maintain those early performances. Since most of them got their starts at 20, here's the same list with their ERA+'s from their Age 27 through 33 seasons:

129 Dizzy Dean (423 innings)
122 Bret Saberhagen (790)
109 Dean Chance (627)
108 Mel Harder (1,271)
106 Robin Roberts (1,953)
105 Wes Ferrell (1,125)
102 Dwight Gooden (867)
100 Vida Blue (1,390)

And that, friends, is why you don't give seven-year contracts to pitchers. Of those eight pitchers, four broke down physically to the point where they often just couldn't pitch at all. And the other four suffered huge drops in performance.

Yes, there were mitigating circumstances. For example, cocaine. Also, probable over-use (or abuse, if you prefer your terms loaded). Meanwhile, the Mariners have done everything reasonable to nurture Hernández's valuable right arm. He reached the majors when he was 19, but didn't top 200 innings until he was 22 (and then just barely). He'd led the league in innings once, but never in complete games. In his first five seasons, he was never allowed to throw more than 121 pitches in a game; since then, he's not been allowed to throw 130.

We just don't know yet whether any of that's going to matter in the long term. He's been incredibly healthy to this point, but so were most of the pitchers on the above list (otherwise they wouldn't be on the list). Whoever pays Félix Hernández will probably -- not certainly, but probably -- wind up paying all that money not for what Hernández will do, but rather what he's done already. Which isn't the best way to run a business, baseball or otherwise. Just ask the Red Sox.

For much, much more about Félix Hernández and the Seattle Mariners, please visit Lookout Landing.

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