After a slight elbow-related speed bump, Felix Hernandez and the Mariners finalized their landmark seven-year, $175M contract extension earlier this week. It is the largest pitching contract in history, both in terms of total value — surpassing CC Sabathia‘s $161M commitment — and average annual value. Felix is young, durable, elite, and certainly worthy of the largest pitching contract the world has ever seen, but don’t expect that record to last very long.
At some point in the next nine months or so, the Cardinals will likely sign Adam Wainwright to a long-term contract extension to make sure he doesn’t become a free agent after the season. Wainwright is excellent but don’t count on him surpassing Felix’s contract — he’s several years older with a major arm injury (Tommy John surgery) in the not-too-distant past. Then, at some point in the next 21 months or so, the Tigers and Dodgers will — I’m comfortable leaving out the “likely” here — sign Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, respectively, to mammoth contract extensions. Those two, particularly Kershaw, have a very real chance of getting a larger deal than Hernandez.
The number of ace-caliber pitchers hitting the open market continues to dwindle — the last legitimate, inarguable ace to be a true free agent was Cliff Lee three winters ago — as teams become more progressive and sign their players to extensions early in their careers. That wasn’t always possible because of market sizes, but fat new television contracts — both local and national — and revenue sharing and all sorts of other stuff are giving clubs a means to keep their stars. Baseball has intentionally leveled the playing field, at least somewhat.