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Cross King Felix off the list

01.19.10 at 11:14 am ET
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According to multiple reports, right-hander Felix Hernandez agreed to a five-year, $78 million deal with the Mariners that will keep him in Seattle through the 2014 season. The agreement was first reported by ESPN.com’s Keith Law; terms were first reported (via Twitter) by reporter Francisco Blavia. (Hat tip to the invaluable MLBTraderumors.com.)

Hernandez was 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA in 2009 for the Mariners. He finished second in Cy Young voting to Kansas City’s Zack Greinke.

The 23-year-old (he turns 24 in April) would have been eligible for free agency following the 2011 season. Now, however, it appears that he will remain with the Mariners for the foreseeable future. Hernandez is 58-41 with a 3.45 ERA in his career. His 58 wins through his age 23 season are the most by any pitcher that age since Dwight Gooden amassed 91 between 1984-88. Hernandez is also the 12th pitcher since 1901, and the first since Gooden, to strike out at least 800 batters through his age 23 season.

The Sox made a run at Hernandez at the trade deadline. Boston contemplated a deal to part with several top prospects in a package headlined by Clay Buchholz, but ultimately, Seattle decided to keep the right-hander, whose career has commenced in historic fashion. When it became clear that a deal for Hernandez would not be possible, the Sox elected to proceed with a deal with the Indians for Victor Martinez. Now, it appears that Hernandez will remain with the Mariners for the longer haul.

With many of the top young pitchers in the game (Greinke, Hernandez, Josh Johnson — not to mention Jon Lester) now locked up to long-term deals, Sox GM Theo Epstein’s point about the relative difficulty of acquiring starting pitching versus an impact bat at the trade deadline bears consideration.

“We may not score 900 runs, but I think we have a chance to hit. And if it turns out that’€™s the one area of the club that could use improvement, we’€™re certainly open to doing something in the middle of the year. The last two trading deadlines we’€™ve been able to acquire Jason Bay and Victor Martinez,” Epstein said earlier this month. “We believe it’€™s true that it’€™s easier to acquire a quality bat mid-season than it is to acquire a top of the rotation starter. In the offseason, it’€™s usually the opposite. So we’€™re pretty happy with where we are.”

The Sox’ signing of John Lackey, then, would seem a response to those market dynamics, with the Sox having spent money (but not prospects) to acquire one of the better pitchers in the game. The team improved its pitching at what it deemed to be the most acceptable cost this winter, and now retains the prospect resources to look to upgrade the lineup during the regular season (if such a move is necessary).

The $15.6 million annual value of the reported deal would be the largest ever for a pitcher with fewer than five years of service time.

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