Teammates laud Felix's new deal
Johnson calls ace's potential extension 'incredible news'
Rob Johnson, who was Felix Hernandez's personal catcher for most of last season, said an impending contract extension for the Mariners ace right-hander is "incredible news" and that it removes a potential distraction going forward.
"I knew we probably had him for this year," Johnson said, "but to get him locked up for several more years is really huge. He obviously is one of the center points of our team, a legitimate No. 1 guy on the pitching staff. There are not that many guys around, especially 23-year-olds."
According to reports by ESPN and SI.com -- but not confirmed by the Mariners -- Hernandez has reached agreement on a five-year, $80 million contract. Per terms of the reported deal, Hernandez would receive a $3.5 million bonus, and salaries of $6.5M in '10, $10M in '11, $18.5M in '12, $19.5M in '13 and $20M in '14.
It is club policy not to comment on a transaction until it has been completed. But it appears that that the only thing between "official" and "unofficial" is a physical exam Hernandez will take.
Confirmation from the Mariners isn't expected until Thursday or Friday at the earliest, depending on how soon the physical can be taken and results of the exam studied.
Hernandez had a breakout season in 2009, compiling a 19-5 record and 2.49 ERA. He established single-season career highs in virtually every pitching category and finished second to the Royals' Zack Grienke in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award.
Both current and former Mariners commended the move to get Felix under contract and away from any speculation that he would go on the trading block as early as this July, even though he would not be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.
"It's good for Felix and good for the Mariners," free-agent left-hander Jarrod Washburn said. "It means a lot to the organization because they have locked up one of the best pitchers in game for several years."
Hernandez, a five-year veteran at age 23, has a career record of 58-41 and a 3.45 ERA in 138 career starts, with 810 strikeouts and 287 walks in 905 innings.
Securing Hernandez services long-term should send a strong message through the American League West -- general manager Jack Zduriencik has pushed the fast-forward button for getting the team back into playoff contention. Though Hernandez would not have been eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, a new deal will remove a potential distraction.
It also could help persuade former AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, whose contract is to expire after this season, to stick around Seattle a few more years. If the Mariners unseat the Angels in the AL West, Lee might be more receptive to signing a long-term deal with Seattle.
Lee, who helped the Phillies reach the World Series, was acquired from the NL champs last month and gives the Mariners one of the best one-two starting punches in the Majors.
Signing Hernandez to a multiyear contract was high on Zduriencik's offseason to-do list. Contract talks with agent Alan Nero methodically progressed and an agreement was reached on Monday, the day before salary figures were to be exchanged.
But that step in the salary arbitration process appears moot.
"I read about it this morning," reliever Mark Lowe said. "Obviously I was happy to hear it. Felix is the backbone of our starting rotation, a standup guy, a fun guy to be around and is great in the clubhouse.
"From Felix's standpoint, he wouldn't do this if he didn't want to be here for the long-term. From Jack's standpoint, it's showing the fans that we have something special in Felix and someone we need for a long time to be successful. And from my standpoint, it's awesome.
"Any time he has the ball in his hands you know you have a good chance to win the game, and I might get a chance to come in and do my job."
Lowe finished fourth in the AL last season with 26 holds, several of which came in games Hernandez started.
"I'm stoked for Felix, he more than deserves it, and I know that the fans are all probably 'high fivin' each other at work today!" starter Ryan Rowland-Smith wrote in an e-mail. "I see positive comments on my Twitter feed. Being in an organization which has made the moves it has this offseason, on top of the atmosphere we created in the clubhouse last year, I think this is the icing on the cake.
"For the Mariners to commit to a pitcher like Felix, who is and will be high in demand, it shows that as players we have a lot to look forward to as far as winning goes. I also think in terms of our rotation, we may have the best 1-2 starters in baseball."
Hernandez tied for the league lead in wins, was second in ERA and starts (34), third in innings pitched (238 2/3) and fourth in strikeouts (217). He and Roy Halladay of the Jays were the only AL pitchers to rank in the top five of all three pitching Triple Crown categories -- wins, ERA and strikeouts.
"I saw him grow into the pitcher that everybody thought and hoped he would be," said Washburn, who spent most of the past four seasons with Seattle. "Last year, he took that next step to becoming one of the best there is right now."
No one was any better after mid-May. Hernandez won 15 of his final 17 decisions, posting a 1.98 ERA, and 15 of his wins came immediately after a Mariners loss.
"That's awesome," closer David Aardsma said. "It shows that the Mariners want him to be here for a long time, and he wants to be here for a long time. I'm happy for him."
The apparent agreement brought back some memories for shortstop Jack Wilson.
"I remember facing him in 2005, when the Pirates played in Seattle," Wilson said. "Felix was a young kid with an incredible arm who threw hard and had a great offspeed pitch.
"I noticed something different when I was with him this summer. He was still a kid, but he knew how to pitch. First time I saw him, he used his fastball a lot, but from what I saw last year, I realized how smart he is and how much he had learned how to pitch.
"He has God-given talent and a great arm, but he also has a great head on his shoulders. Has put his time in and learned how to pitch, which says a lot about the pitching coaches that have worked with him. He can throw any pitch he has on any count and it is fun to watch him. His stuff is absolutely electric."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.