Update: The extension, according to ESPN, is for $135.5M over five years. So Felix is under contract for the next 7 seasons at $175M, as originally reported.
I find the Felix extension—if it’s true—an interesting case study in how a particular team’s situation can make potentially make a difference in both how negotiations are conducted and how fans perceive the result. But before I get into that, let’s get right to the data. Below I have the King’s year-by-year values to this point—taking the average of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR. The last column is his approximate free-agent value over that time.
Here, I have attempted to estimate some reasonable boundaries for how he will perform going forward. In the favorable outcome, I have also allowed for 7% inflation. In the less favorable outcome—including an injury shortened year in an arbitrarily chosen 2016—I only accounted for 5% inflation. I hope this gives us some reasonable boundaries for the expected value of his contract. Notice that I’m considering this a 7-year contract for $175M because for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is.
I would consider the left option to be a little optimistic. Though our King is only 26 years old, he has already logged 7+ seasons of more than 1600 innings. His arm’s age is probably a little older than his birth date would imply. The outcome on the right might be a little pessimistic, but perhaps better accounts for injury and lost value. But if we look at these boundaries—which are admittedly guesses at best—the contract doesn’t look all that bad.Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
There’s one major issue, though, that I haven’t discussed. Hernandez signed* this contract for what we believe to be $175M two years before free agency. There is currently no competition for his services. He said he wants to stay in Seattle, and the front office said they want him to stay in Seattle. Hernandez and his agent, Alan Nero, shouldn’t have had any leverage in the negotiations. Except they obviously did. Felix is getting free-agent money and free-agent length during a time when there’s no free-agenty competition for his services.
Last off-season, Matt Cain signed an extension one year before free agency. Cain, 27 at the time with 7+ seasons of wear and tear, got six years for $127M—$21M per season—with a vesting option for the seventh year. Vesting options aren’t quite as team-friendly as team options, but still team-friendly for sure. Cain is probably only slightly less valuable than Hernandez. In fact, Hernandez’s top B-R comparable is Cain. Over the last five seasons, Cain’s ERA in his pitcher-friendly ballpark has been 3.09. Hernandez’s in his pitcher-friendly park, 2.92. It’s hard to measure Cain by fWAR because he defies it, but bWAR suggests Cain is worth about one less win per season. That, perhaps justifies his $21M-per-year contract (with vesting option) to Felix’s $25M-per-year contract (with extra year). Or maybe both contracts—being the largest of their kind—simply represent the high end, and they’re both bad deals for the team.
In the end, the contract is not awful, and I’m as glad as you that the King’s court will be in session every fifth night in Seattle for a long time. It just hurts a little that we couldn’t get a more team-friendly deal. Maybe one that doesn’t use up 30% of the team’s payroll until my hair goes grey. It seems like the fans’ decade of suffering might have given Nero the leverage he needed to strike a player-friendly deal. But I quibble…