At 23, pitcher Felix Hernandez is soon expected to sign the second-richest deal ever for a Seattle Mariners player. Seattle also avoided arbitration by signing relievers David Aardsma and Mark Lowe.
Felix Hernandez is just one physical away from becoming the wealthiest pitcher in the history of the Mariners franchise.
Only Ichiro’s contract, signed a little over two years ago, commands a higher annual and total salary package than the five-year deal Hernandez is on the verge of completing, worth a reported $78 million. Hernandez’s main agent, Venezuelan-based Wil Polidor, confirmed Tuesday that Hernandez’s contract is for five years. The pitcher initially had asked for six while the team countered with four.
Polidor said Hernandez, who is in Venezuela, could fly to Seattle as early as today to take a physical once final details of the deal are agreed upon. Reports late Tuesday, from Jon Heyman of SI.com, said the package will include a $6.5 million salary for 2010 — along with a $3.5 million signing bonus — then $10 million in 2011, $18.5 million in 2012, $19.5 million in 2013 and $20 million in 2014.
“This way, he still gets to be a free agent when he’s 28, so it’s a good deal,” said Polidor, who was to fly to Miami on Tuesday night and then on to Seattle later Wednesday in anticipation of closing the deal.
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Polidor, who worked on the contract along with agents Scott Pucino and Jose Mijares — all part of the Alan Nero agency — said final details of the contract, including bonuses for awards, were still being worked on.
“It isn’t a done deal until everything is signed and he passes a physical,” Polidor said. “Until then, people can write that it’s for $80 million or $78 million, but it isn’t done until it’s finished. We haven’t finished talking with them yet.”
The Mariners completed two other deals Tuesday, signing closer David Aardsma to a $2.75 million deal and setup man Mark Lowe to a $1.15 million contract, allowing both to avoid arbitration.
“I know that Felix takes precedence over me,” Aardsma said with a laugh. “I’m sure they wanted to announce something with him first, then they would have gotten around to my deal. I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Aardsma earned $419,000 last season, but also notched 38 saves and a 2.52 earned-run average in 71 appearances to guarantee himself a big raise in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The pitcher admitted that finding cases comparable to his, where a minimum-salaried closer compiled so many saves, was not an easy task for his side.
“It was a little comparable to what J.J. Putz did,” Aardsma said. “So, we had to look to find something somewhat comparable and after that, just take it from there.”
Lowe nearly tripled his 2009 salary of $418,000 after setting career highs with 75 appearances, 80 innings pitched and 69 strikeouts. Though several big-league teams feel Lowe has what it takes to be a closer, the pitcher said none of that entered into negotiations from his side.
“I didn’t have the saves and I wasn’t pitching in the ninth inning, so it isn’t the same,” Lowe said. “For me, the important thing was just to get this done as quickly as possible and get something that was fair for both sides. I just put it all in the hands of my agent, to tell you the truth. For me, the important thing is just to get out there and pitch, and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
In a statement, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said the two signings “were an important process to get to this point and avoid any distraction as we prepare for the coming season.”
The team has had the same attitude toward Hernandez.
Though the pitcher is still only 23 and the team had him under control for two more years, the Mariners wanted to get any questions about a long-term deal resolved before the season began.
Hernandez is coming off a 19-5 season with a 2.49 ERA that saw him place second to Zack Greinke in American League Cy Young Award voting. Hernandez will team with offseason acquisition Cliff Lee at the front of their rotation.
The need to get a deal done was also more pressing from a Mariners standpoint, because Hernandez’s potential trade value would theoretically have declined the closer he came to free agency in 2011.
Last month, the Toronto Blue Jays had to scramble to orchestrate a four-team deal for Roy Halladay after failing to trade him at last July’s deadline.
The Mariners also appear to have helped themselves financially with this deal because Hernandez was widely expected to earn at least $10 million in arbitration in 2010 and possibly $15 million in 2011.
By signing this deal, the team appears to have bought itself some immediate payroll room, though Hernandez’s cost jumps significantly the final three seasons of the contract.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners