SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners have completed a $78 million, five-year deal that averts an arbitration hearing and keeps the young ace under contract through 2014.
General manager Jack Zduriencik called Thursday a great day for Seattle and for the pitcher, his wife and their two young children.
“This one was immense,” Zduriencik said, seated next to a constantly grinning Hernandez. “It’s rare when you can secure a guy like this. And it’s rare to have a guy with this kind of ability.
“There’s no better move than to secure a Felix Hernandez.”
Hernandez, who could have become a free agent after the 2011 season, finalized his first big contract after taking a physical that was required to finish the deal.
“I just wanted to be here. I didn’t care about free agency,” Hernandez said, looking sharp in a black, three-piece suit, silver tie and diamonds in each earlobe.
“I’m here for five more years. I hope we make the playoffs (where Seattle hasn’t been since 2001) and the World Series for the fans. They need it. We got this out of the way, now my mind is ready to play baseball.”
The Mariners and Hernandez’s agents opened talks soon after he finished second in voting for last year’s AL Cy Young Award.
The 23-year-old righty was 19-5 last season, tied for the most wins in the majors, and made his first All-Star team. He had a career-high 217 strikeouts with a career-low 2.49 ERA.
Seattle and Hernandez’s agents exchanged proposed arbitration figures Tuesday, with Hernandez asking for $11.5 million and the Mariners offering $7.2 million.
Surging Seattle has made several major moves in an effort to return to the postseason for the first time since 2001: acquiring former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from Philadelphia, signing All-Star third baseman Chone Figgins, trading for outfielder and designated hitter Milton Bradley and re-signing Ken Griffey Jr.
“We’re really close right now,” Hernandez said. “I think we’re going to make the playoffs this year.”
A long-term agreement with Hernandez was the Mariners’ top priority. Hernandez and Lee, signed through 2010, give Seattle one of baseball’s best pairs atop a rotation.
The new deal means Hernandez will be just 28 when he can become eligible for free agency.
The native of Valencia, Venezuela, dubbed “King Felix” soon after he arrived in the major leagues, is 58-41 in 4?1/2? seasons. He has averaged 14 wins and 183 strikeouts in his four full seasons in the big leagues, but his career was longer on potential than consistency until 2009.
Hernandez is Seattle’s fourth arbitration-eligible pitcher to sign a contract this week, after one-year deals for relievers Mark Lowe ($1.15 million), Brandon League ($1,087,500) and closer David Aardsma ($2.75).
Recently acquired first baseman Casey Kotchman is the Mariners’ lone remaining player in arbitration.