The Seattle Mariners are keeping their best player around longterm: ace Felix Hernandez signed a 7 year, $175 million contract, the largest ever received by a pitcher in baseball history, surpassing C.C. Sabathia's $169 million deal with the Yankees. King Felix did not give the Mariners any discount for being the only team he has ever pitched for, but in return, they get to lock up Hernandez before he can smell free agency wafting his way from winter 2014.
King Felix was already signed for this season and next, at $19.5 and $20 million, so this deal gives him a raise for those years and signs him for five more. The supremely talented right-hander turns 27 in two months. As much risk as the Mariners are taking on in this deal, this is one they had to do. For starters, they get to keep one of the five best starting pitchers in baseball through the prime of his career. Despite an otherwise perplexing offseason (good luck with Jason Bay!) the Mariners do have a group of young, talented hitters, namely Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Mike Zunino. They need a few more building blocks to spread their hope onto (Montero looks risky from more than one angle), and their non-Felix pitching needs a lot of work, but at last the Mariners are committing to trying to actually win something better than fourth place in the A.L. West in the next few years.
I don't know how they get there, but it won't be lost on the fanbase that this team is making a push for relevance. Listless fans have to be encouraged (as I was when my Mets signed David Wright to a big deal, despite being at least a year from likely contention) that the Mariners are ending a long cycle of selling off their valuable assets for salary relief and prospects that won't necessarily pan out.
It should be noted that by giving a pitcher, even one with Hernandez' pedigree, this large a chunk of their payroll for this long, the Mariners are taking a huge risk. One single major injury could make this contract a crippling albatross. Still, these are the risks one must take if one is trying to build one of the world's best baseball teams, which is what it will take to win the A.L. West.