The Felix Hernandez Contract Makes the Greinke Deal Look Better... And Worse

The Felix Hernandez contract is the biggest news in baseball this week and predictably the sizable Mariner-fan presence online is rejoicing. Royals fans dearly remember how they feel, as it was just last off-season that Dayton Moore signed Zack Greinke to a four year contract. Although the situations weren't entirely the same (more on that below) for each fanbase the extension was an unexpected gift.

The Greinke & Hernandez contracts are in fact highly similar, and considering that it is our job as fans to understand everything about our team in as much detail as possible, the Hernandez contract provides a useful data point for further analyzing one of the three or four good moves that Dayton Moore has made.

First, here's a summary of where both Greinke and King Felix stood prior to inking their new contracts:

Age Career Starts Record ERA K/9 HR/9 K/BB Reputation
Greinke 24 103 34-45 4.28 6.9 1.1 2.92 Promising talent who has overcome off-field struggles
Hernandez 23 138 58-41 3.45 8.1 0.8 2.82 All-Star, Cy Young Contender & Ace for years to come

 

Obviously, I've spent the last half-decade more focused on Greinke, and of course as a Royals fan I think "HE'S THE GREATEST!!!!" I haven't fully appreciated just what King Felix has done in Seattle. Incorrectly, I had assumed that 2009 was his breakout campaign, like Greinke's. There's some truth to that, but only a little. Felix essentially had Greinke's fun and promising rookie season for four straight years, then he kicked it up a notch. Sure, there's some [Corp Name] park effects here, but there's little denying that Hernandez has been very good.

As such, while their talent levels and reasonable projections are very close, there's no denying that heading into his final two seasons of arbitration, King Felix had a more accomplished resume. (As an aside, I very much like that Greinke had that long period off/in the bullpen instead of posting a 4.50 ERA for a horrible Royals team.)

Now, here are the deals they signed. Importantly, both contracts came at the same point in their service time lifespans:

Greinke Hernandez
Year 1 $3.75 (arb-e) $7.2 (arb-e)
Year 2 $7.25 (arb-e) $11 (arb-e)
Year 3 $13.5 $19
Year 4 $13.5 $20
Year 5 $21

 

(Felix has a $3.5 million dollar signing bonus that is presumably spread out over the life of the contract, which is why those numbers are a little higher than some you may have seen. I also rounded to the nearest million for Felix, simply because we don't totally know the details yet.)

Three things stand out to me about these two contracts:

  • As mentioned a few weeks back, from a money perspective, Moore really ended up doing a tremendous job with this deal. Greinke only made $3.75 million last year and will only make $7.25 in 2010, when he's expected to be one of the top five pitchers in the game. Down the road, Greinke's salaries in 2011-12 remain extremely reasonable. In ever widening retrospect, Moore timed the Greinke extension perfectly: Greinke had fully re-established himself as a good starting pitcher, but had not fully taken over the world yet. At the time, I actually thought that the money offered to Greinke was even perhaps slightly too generous.
  • Both contracts buy-out or avoid the arbitration process for two seasons. So Seattle and Kansas City both were able to avoid a potentially (I'd say this threat is overblown since no one ever even goes to arbitration hearings anymore.) contentious contract situation two times over. They also got payroll certainty for two important pieces for those years, which is important in allowing Jack Z to make another brilliant move or in allowing Dayton Moore to acquire another former White Sox/Mariner/Brave who went to high school in the 1990s. Greinke's "buy-out" is especially interesting because, even by his old standards, his 2009 payday is still very low, while his 2010 payday looked a little high at the time. Why the Royals structured it this way I'm not sure. On the whole, both players aren't truly being bought out much regarding their arb seasons: they're just setting down in stone what they probably would have made anyway.
  • From a Greinke perspective, what kills me about the contract he signed with the Royals is that the Royals only got two extra years. Essentially, the contract dynamic is this: the Royals aren't (by the standards of the time, before Greinke became a Cy Young Winner) giving him a huge raise in 2009-10 and as such Greinke isn't going to give up more than two FA-eligible seasons. Basically, Greinke signed a 2 year/$27 million dollar contract extension that begins after two seasons. Hernandez however, who as stated above probably has a stronger pedigree than Greinke right now and definitely does compared to 2009 Greinke, agreed to a 3 year/$60 million dollar extension.

The whole point of the "lock-up" contract is that you gamble on the player's health and insecurity and end up sneakily signing them to a cheap (in effect) free agent contract that covers their prime. The Royals did that, to an extent, with Greinke, but as these things go, there's a big difference between getting two years and getting three. Two is effectively the minimum since you almost never see contracts that delay free agency by merely one year. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, there's a growing industry & media dynamic that pressures teams to trade players prior to the end of their contracts, meaning that if you want certainty, you don't end up buying as much by merely avoiding arb as you might think. Then again, the team does assume risk for that extra high-salaried year as well.

Essentially, it comes down to what do you want: a player making less or a player being around longer? Considering it isn't my money and I don't trust the GM to spend any extra cash wisely anyway, I'll take the extra year, every time.

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