At their core, the two contracts were very similar: two small-market teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners, paying big money to lock up the faces of their franchises, Evan Longoria and Felix Hernandez, for the long-term. Longoria is 27 while Hernandez is 26, and Longoria got ten years while Hernandez received “only” seven, but the basic methodology was almost exactly the same. The big difference: the monetary values. Longoria’s contract was worth 136 million dollars over those ten years, easily calculated to 13.6 million dollars a year. Hernandez, meanwhile, will make astronomically more money, earning 175 million dollars over the life of the deal, or an insane 25 million dollars a year. Why the huge difference? The easy answer is that Hernandez is a better player than Longoria- but double as good? Absolutely not. So what’s really going on here? Completely different circumstances. Longoria took a hometown discount because he loves playing on a perennially contending team in Tampa Bay while Hernandez’s hometown discount was simply willing to agree to an extension at all considering the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs a single time since he signed with the team as a 16 year old out of Venezuela back in 2002. That was certainly a factor, but that would be ignoring the real reason Longoria got so much less: he’s coming off a pair of injury-riddled seasons and the Rays had all the leverage in negotiations. Longoria wanted financial security because of his injury issues the last couple of years and quite possibly the fact that he and girlfriend Jaime Edmondson have a baby girl set to arrive right around Opening Day (that was announced nearly a month later, but Edmondson had been pregnant since July), and to make that happen, he had to be willing to sign a deal well below his market value. But wait a second- if Longoria’s potential earnings were reduced so significantly by injury concerns, why did Hernandez receive the same amount of money even after it was revealed that there were concerns with his elbow?
The first reason for that would be that Hernandez has concerns in his elbow while Longoria has actually missed much of the last two years with injuries. Beyond that, though, the Mariners weren’t any position to haggle Hernandez too much about the arm problems after the deal had been signed. The Mariners did get some protection- if Hernandez misses 120-130 days with an elbow injury over the life of the contract, the Mariners will get him for an 8th year following the 7-year contract at only 1 million dollars. However, one year of middle-aged Felix Hernandez means a lot less than something like reducing the value of his contract during the actual 7-year deal. Why couldn’t the Mariners reduce the value of his contract to something around 150 million dollars over seven years, still a gaudy 21.4 million dollars per year? Because it wasn’t like the Mariners could take a hard-line stance with Hernandez and let him walk out of negotiations without a deal done. Hernandez was just two years from free agency- if he didn’t receive a monetary value in line with what he thought he deserved, he would have been more than happy hitting free agency and getting a massive payday, possibly in the range of 200 million dollars. The Mariners were boxed into a corner. Knowing that they would be in serious trouble without Hernandez, their ace and the face of their franchise, and unable to convince him that they had the developed the pieces around him to contend for the postseason in the near future, the Mariners’ last recourse was to simply put their best deal on the table, hope he accepted it, and then do everything they could not to flinch when they heard about the elbow concerns.
In their respective negotiations, the Rays and Mariners were on opposite sides of the bargaining table. The Rays were the buyer swooping in for what they believed was a steal-of-a-deal while the Mariners were caught trying to sell Hernandez on the idea of an extension and having to pull out all the stops to make a deal come together. The results of that was the Rays winding up with a team-friendly deal for Longoria- assuming he stays healthy, which is far from a sure thing- and the Mariners paying nearly market value for Hernandez with injuries giving the deal the chance to turn into a Mike Hampton-caliber disaster, something shocking given that they were the ones who approached Hernandez about an extension and made it materialize. The next several years will determine whether the teams’ extensions will wind up for the better or worse. We can see now, though, that the Mariners’ timing for the extension and position on the field put them at a major disadvantage, and now they’ll simply have to hope for the best over the life of the contract. Felix Hernandez is one heck of a pitcher and there’s a good chance that his extension will be worth every penny. Nevertheless, even as they breathe a sigh of relief after getting the deal done, the Mariners have to be hitting themselves after seeing just how poor a position they were in negotiations and just how much risk they’re assuming, especially with the concerns in Hernandez’s elbow coming to light.