New deal brings out emotion, excitement in Felix
Hernandez expresses his love for Seattle after signing seven-year contract
SEATTLE -- It was a reception fit for a King.
When Felix Hernandez arrived in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon to put official ink to his much-talked-about seven-year, $175 million contract extension, the Mariners ace stepped out of the field-level elevator at Safeco Field and was greeted with raucous cheers and a sea of about 100 team employees wearing yellow "King Felix" T-shirts. They held signs of his likeness and that of his comedic alter-ego, Larry Bernandez. They chanted his name until he covered his eyes, overcome with emotion.
Happy Felix Day, indeed.
"To all the people in Seattle that trust me and believe in me. I will say this: I will not disappoint you," said Hernandez, who shed tears at various points during a news conference that also included general manager Jack Zduriencik and was attended by chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln, team president Chuck Armstrong and Hernandez's agents, Wil Polidor and Scotty Pucino. "I'm doing this because I love this city, because I want to stay here. I don't want to go anywhere else. I love this place. This has been my life. This has been my family."
On Wednesday, the Mariners took care of Hernandez and his other family: wife Sandra, 7-year-old daughter Mia and 3-year-old son Jeremy, all of whom were in attendance. The contract is the largest for a pitcher in baseball history. The first two years, which were already covered in Hernandez's last extension, signed prior to the 2010 season, will be reworked into the body of the seven-year deal, which Zduriencik confirmed is all guaranteed money and includes a no-trade clause.
As for the reported elbow issue that came up over the last week and might have postponed the announcement of the deal, Hernandez insisted there was nothing out of the ordinary going on, and Zduriencik said the team's doctors agreed.
"There's always a risk with anybody," Zduriencik said. "This young man is 26 years of age, he's completely healthy. ... And I think you look at what he's done, physically, to keep himself in great shape. When you invest, you ask yourself, what are you investing in?
"He got a huge endorsement, quite honestly, from our whole medical department. They all say the same thing: This guy's diligent. ... He's perceptive and insightful and he knows who he is. ... We know what we have here. This is our guy. We know him better than anybody. He was raised in this organization. These are the types of marriages you really want to have."
The marriage will last at least through 2019, although Hernandez joked that he's already been asking Zduriencik about his next extension. For Hernandez, who was signed by the team out of his native Venezuela in 2002 at the age of 16, there was never any thought of possibly going to a team with a more recent tradition of reaching the postseason or of hitting free agency in two years and searching for even more money than he's pocketing now.
"I don't do this because I care about the money," said Hernandez, who went 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA last year and is 98-76 with a 3.22 career ERA and 1,487 strikeouts in 1,620 1/3 innings in his eight years with the Mariners. "I do this because I care about the people in Seattle. I do this because I love this city. ... I want to be a place where I feel comfortable. I feel good around the people in Safeco Field."
Hernandez said he also feels good about the current roster and the future. The Mariners have a trio of top pitching prospects in Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton and a young Major League core supplemented by a few veteran signings this winter. He said he made promises to Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik once he received the extension.
"I'm not going to disappoint anybody," said Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner and '09 runner-up. "I will do my best -- more than my best -- to get to the playoffs. We're going to make the playoffs. We've got a lot of talent, and we're going to be one of the toughest teams in this league. This is awesome. I'm shaking right now. I don't know what to say."
Hernandez didn't have to say much. The huge numbers in his contract did plenty of talking for him. Zduriencik said extension talks had been in the works since last summer and intensified in recent weeks as the parties involved became more eager to get something done before Spring Training.
With the way the starting pitching market bore out over the winter, particularly in the case of the Dodgers' six-year, $147 million deal with right-hander Zack Greinke, and Hernandez's age, the money made sense, and in the end, according to Lincoln, it was beyond a no-brainer.
"I would not have allowed this to happen if I had any questions about his character," Lincoln said. "He grabbed my hand yesterday and said, 'I will not let you down,' and he had tears in his eyes. That makes you feel pretty good.
"I mean, the guy wants to be here. Hello? He was expressing this over and over and over."
Hernandez, decked out in a tan three-piece suit and wearing monstrous diamond earrings, looked every bit the part of 2013 baseball royalty. He said he was excited about heading right back to camp in Peoria, Ariz., on Thursday.
He also confirmed that he will not pitch for Venezuela in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, preferring to "be in Spring Training with my teammates."
"I just want to be there," he said. "It was my decision. Whatever they say, it was all me."
And that's how Seattle likes it. The phone calls asking about possible trades might keep flooding into Zduriencik's voicemail box and speculation of where he could end up might never die down, but Hernandez and the Mariners showed Wednesday how serious they are about keeping this long-term relationship going.
"The best thing I can say is he's ours," Zduriencik said. "He's ours, and we kept him."