What do you do with a generational talent nearing the end of his contract?
You extend that deal, obviously, to the joy of everyone in Seattle.
But enough about that contract extension Felix Hernandez signed with the Mariners in 2013.
We’re talking about Earl Thomas in the here and the now. He’s a 28-year-old safety with an All-Pro pedigree and other-worldly talent. He’s also a guy the Seahawks would be better off trading right now.
I know this sounds like sacrilege. He’s the second-best football player currently on the Seahawks roster, and if a team is going to extend the contracts of guys like Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor, it darn well should for Thomas, too.
Except history shows that this is exactly the type of decision that teams often end up regretting.
Just look at Hernandez, who is owed $50 million for these next two seasons and we’re hoping – hoping mind you – that he can average the 170 innings that would be expected from a No. 3 starter.
Or if you’d prefer a football comparison, try Shaun Alexander, who was re-signed in 2006 to a big-budget deal by the Seahawks with the expectation he would remain a starting running back for another three seasons. He was released after two seasons.
And then there’s the more recent examples of Lynch, Bennett and Chancellor. Did any one of those extensions truly pay off for Seattle?
So why do teams continue to do it? Well, for one, it’s a decision that is never going to get criticized. Everyone wants to see the best players on the team stay on the team. To argue otherwise risks the appearance of being a penny-pinching idiot who fails to recognize the greatness.
When the Mariners signed Hernandez to a five-year extension with two years left on his deal, no one blinked. Everyone applauded. I remember feeling it was a gift that a pitcher this talented, this dominant was willing to sign over the last meaningful free-agency opportunity of his career to a franchise that had yet to make the playoffs. Five years later, the final two years of that extension may turn out to be an albatross on his team’s payroll.
The second reason that teams continually over-commit to aging stars is that it requires a certain amount of pessimism that is at odds with how the team found and developed the star in the first place. The same guys that saw the player’s potential and then watched it fully blossom must now not only ask about the likelihood that the bottom will fall out, but objectively answer that. It’s really, really tough.
Five years ago, Hernandez was every bit the generational talent that Thomas is now. He had completed his eighth big-league season – just like Thomas. He was even a little bit younger than Thomas currently is since Hernandez turned 27 in the months after signing his five-year extension.
Sure, you could recite the risks of signing a pitcher who had thrown so many innings to an extension. You could also convince yourself that Hernandez was the exception to that rule, and for two years, he certainly was. He had a Cy Young-caliber season in 2014, which would have been the final season under his old deal.
Now, as the final two seasons of that deal weigh down the Mariners’ payroll, it’s worth remembering just how easy it is to convince yourself that a star’s prime is going to last forever.
It’s a tough decision to trade Thomas. It’s also the right one.