At Home Plate: How Felix’s contract impacts pitching market

Felix Hernandez recently became the highest-paid pitcher in baseball after signing a seven-year, $175 million contract extension to remain with the Seattle Mariners. The deal hit a snag based on Hernandez’s physical revealing structural elbow damage, but the Mariners reported that “minor concessions” were made to appease both sides.

So with one of the prized young arms locked up to a lucrative multi-year contract, the other top-tier pitchers must be salivating for their chance to cash in on their next big contract. Justin Verlander, David Price and Clayton Kershaw all appear in line for the next huge contract for a starting pitcher.

Felix Hernandez (Photo by HJ_West, used under Creative Commons License)

Felix Hernandez (Photo by HJ_West, used under Creative Commons License)

Verlander is locked up through 2014 and will make $20 million each of the next two seasons. But unlike the others, Verlander will be 31 when he next hits free agency, so he may not have the bargaining power that these younger pitchers possess.

Verlander will command at least five to six years and well above $100 million. Still, he likely won’t become the highest paid pitcher in the game when his contract runs out.

The other two, however, could surpass Hernandez in terms of dollar value, especially since both are left-handed and left-handed starting pitching is a precious commodity.

Price is coming off a Cy Young season and appears to be getting better each year. He’s 27 years old right now and will hit free agency for the first time in 2016, meaning he will be 30 years old.

The Rays will likely explore a trade for Price closer to his free agency, since there’s really no chance the Rays lock him up long-term. In that way, the team could at least get something in return for their prized lefty hurler.

Like Verlander, Price will have hit the magic number of 30 years old when he becomes a free agent. Hernandez came into the league at age 19, and thus the Mariners felt comfortable giving him seven years since he’s now only 26.

But if Price keeps up his pace, he’ll be in line to challenge Hernandez’s mark as the game’s highest-paid pitcher. But the age difference could potentially be a hindrance to that quest.

Kershaw, on the other hand, could be the first pitcher that cracks the $200 million mark with a contract. He will hit free agency in 2015 at the age of 27 — very similar to the age Hernandez is now. Kershaw’s durability is also a strong factor in his favor, since he’s made at least 30 starts in each of his four seasons as a starter.

With the way the Dodgers have been throwing around money lately, the team will likely look to lock up Kershaw before he hits free agency. Los Angeles is probably already exploring a deal similar to Hernandez’s in that it would buy out Kershaw’s final two years of arbitration eligibility (including this year) and then extend him for an additional number of years.

A contract worth $200 million for a player that pitches once every five days is an exorbitant commitment to make. But if any pitcher in the game deserves it based on performance and age, it’s Kershaw.

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