Felix Hernandez gave his agents their marching orders last May.
“We were sitting on his balcony,” said Scott Pucino, one of Hernandez’s representatives. “He said, ‘Your job is to make sure I stay in Seattle.’”
That directive became reality on Wednesday when Hernandez ceremonially signed his new seven-year, $175 million contract during an emotional news conference at Safeco Field.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” a tearful Hernandez said as his wife, Sandra, and young children, Mia and Jeremy, looked on. “I want to stay in Seattle. I love the city, and I want to stay here.”
The deal, which makes Hernandez the highest-paid pitcher in history, and the highest-paid athlete in Seattle sports history, is fully guaranteed, and contains the first full no-trade clause the Mariners have ever given out.
According to FOX Sports, there is a conditional club option for 2020 for $1 million. It would be available to the Mariners if Hernandez is on the disabled list for more than 130 days in any season, or consecutively over two seasons, for right elbow surgery or any other procedure to fix his right elbow.
Word surfaced over the weekend that contract talks had hit a snag because of concern over Hernandez’s elbow unveiled in medical tests. Both sides, however, said that the deal never was in danger of going off track.
“When you have a contract of this magnitude, things leak before they are done and it makes it look like it’s done when it’s not,” Pucino said. “There are insurance policies. You have to get physicals; you have to get medicals they have to double check. It just doesn’t happen quickly.”
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik stressed that the Mariners are fully satisfied with the health of Hernandez’s arm, while acknowledging that a certain risk exists with any player, particularly a pitcher.
“We got a complete medical from our doctors,” he said. “Our doctors were very satisfied with it. He got a clean bill of health. (Team doctor) Ed Khalfayan was very comfortable. He said this guy could pitch his whole career and never have an issue.”
When Zduriencik was asked how he can keep Hernandez healthy, Hernandez interjected, “Can I respond? He can’t keep me healthy. I’m the only guy who can keep myself healthy. The way I work, that’s why I’ll be healthy.”
Hernandez, who flies back to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on Thursday, declared that “I’m totally healthy. I’m fine. Jack saw me playing catch every day at Safeco Field.”
This is the second time in his career that Hernandez, who turns 27 on April 8, has foregone free agency to stick with the Mariners. He signed a five-year, $78 million deal before the 2010 season.
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said Hernandez’s commitment, and character, caused him to approve an investment of this magnitude.
“When you watched him here today, he was very emotional, because he really does love this area and he wants to stay here. He wants to be part of the Mariners,” Lincoln said. “Knowing that, it seemed to me and to Chuck (Armstrong, team president) that we had to go as far as we could to keep him.”
Once Zack Greinke signed his six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers in December, the Mariners had a good idea of the parameters of a potential deal. Zduriencik said negotiations heated up the day after the Super Bowl, when he flew back from Arizona and met with Hernandez’s agents, Pucino and Wil Polidor.
“I would not have allowed this to happen if I had any questions about his character,” Lincoln said. “When he grabbed my hand yesterday and said, ‘I will not let you down,’ and there were tears in his eyes, that makes you feel pretty good.”
Hernandez joked that he has already instructed Pucino to begin working on his next extension.
“I don’t do this (extension) because I care about money,” he said. “I do this because I care about the city of Seattle. I don’t want to go to a place I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel comfortable. I want to be in a place where I feel great, I feel comfortable, I feel good around the people, around Safeco Field, around the city of Seattle. That’s why I do this.”
Hernandez’s yearly salary figures, as first reported by FOX, are $19 million in 2013, $22 million in ‘14, $24 million in ‘15, $25 million in ‘16, $26 million in ‘17, $26 million in ‘18, and $27 million in ‘19. He also received a $6 million signing bonus. Hernandez had been scheduled to be paid $20 million in ‘13 and $20.5 million in ‘14 under his original contract, but those years were replaced by the new deal.
Lincoln said the Mariners are looking into various insurance options, and that a decision would be made in the next couple of weeks.
“We cannot fully cover the contract, but we can cover a significant part of it,” he said. “We have not made a decision.”
Hernandez confirmed he will not play for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but denied reports the Mariners pressured him into withdrawing.
“It was really hard, but it was a decision I made on my own, and people have to respect it,” he said. “It wasn’t somebody else, it was me. I think it’s better for me to go to spring training and be with my teammates.”