Is Felix Hernandez Worth It?

The Mariners reportedly are close to signing Felix Hernandez for five years and $78 million. Hernandez is one of the most valuable properties in baseball, and it is important for Seattle to keep him. But there is no way that signing any pitcher to a five-year deal is a wise investment.

Hernandez went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA last year and finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s 23 years old. Seemingly, he’s destined for greatness.

You know, just like Denny McLain and Gary Nolan. Just like Milt Pappas and Steve Avery. Why, Hernandez could even be the next Van Lingle Mungo, and we all know how exciting that would be.

Because the list of the most similar pitchers to Hernandez through the age of 23 includes all those guys. Here is the top 10: McLain, Dennis Eckersley, Bret Saberhagen, Nolan, Waite Hoyt, Lee Viau, Pappas, Avery, Mungo, Kid Gleason. There are some good pitchers on that list. Eckersley and Hoyt are in the Hall of Fame. But there also are some cautionary tales, starting with McLain.

The fact is that pitchers are wildly unpredictable and are drastically prone to injury, even 23-year-old ones. Which brings up this question: Why in the name of Barry Zito do teams keep signing pitchers to long-term deals?

The contract is great for Hernandez. He gets $78 million, and he can still be a free agent at the age of 28. If Seattle hadn’t signed him to a long-term deal, he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2011 season. Starting in 2012, Hernandez will make $18.5 million, $19.5 million, and $20 million over the next three seasons. Here’s hoping he’s worth it.

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