With the Hot Stove season officially underway, I thought now would be a great time to finally write in-depth about something that’s driven me nuts ever since I first started following Major League Baseball in the early 2000’s. And that something is the fact that baseball players are consistently the most overpaid athletes in all of professional sports. Unfortunately, this is an issue that seems to only be getting worse as revenues increase dramatically due to regional TV contracts providing a financial boom for many clubs. This is a bubble that will inevitably burst, because even with TV networks foolishly ponying up billions for exclusive local broadcast rights to these games, the product on the field isn’t getting any better, and the stars of the game aren’t getting any more recognizable outside of baseball. Quick…name 10 baseball players who don’t play for the team you root for! Can’t do it, can ya?
So why is it worth it for teams to willfully overcompensate all these players, knowing that the latter years of many of these contracts will basically be money flushed down the commode, like so much excrement? Knowing that many of these guys provide nothing with regards to improving the marketing potential and overall awareness of a franchise? Well, the TV boom is a major factor, as is the lack of a salary cap in the sport. It also helps that the MLBPA is probably the most powerful union in pro sports. They’ve successfully convinced these owners that just because teams are reaping more rewards from the TV deals, a lot of that money should be passed down via player salaries that were already bloated before this trend even started. I find that logic incomprehensibly stupid from a business standpoint, but good on them for successfully forcing the issue. If only the non-executive employees of banks and oil companies and Wal-Mart and other big-profit corporations had such quality representation.
Being a moderately talented baseball player and a free agent is one of the most enviable positions in all of sports, because almost everybody gets overpaid. Even middle-of-the-road relief pitchers now commonly find 3 year deals paying them $3-4 million annually. That’s insane. I could list a dozen NFL and NBA stars who don’t even make that kind of money. But baseball is an entirely different world, as evidenced by the two biggest signings of the current offseason…
This ESPN story made me LOL shortly after the Jacoby Ellsbury/Robinson Cano free agent signings of 2013. It encapsulates everything that’s wrong with high-profile MLB free agents. I love the quotes you hear from the players and their agents after a signing; always slight variations of the same theme. If someone signs with a new team after spending many years with a different team, it’s, “I appreciate how much the Yankees showed they wanted me, and that they wanted me for a long time.” Translation: “The Yankees offered the most money for the most years, so here I am.” No, you disingenuous asshole, you wouldn’t have signed with them unless it was for 7 years or longer, and you didn’t really give a fuck who met your terms. On the flipside, when the Yankees refused to go 10 years on Robinson Cano, Cano’s public stance was that he was being “disrespected” by his former team. Yeah, it’s so fucking disrespectful that they don’t want to pay you $25 million at age 40, you arrogant, greedy cunt. They were only willing to overpay you until you were 37. What a bunch of cheap pricks. Baseball player logic: a team only truly “wants” to keep you if they’re willing to overcompensate you in both dollars and years. Cuz dat makes sense.
I wish I could go to my boss and tell him I feel disrespected that I’m not making $25/hour. I wonder if that’s a viable tactic for getting a raise in the real world.
It’s amazing that the least recognizable athletes in American pro sports are the highest paid (or at best the second least recognizable depending on your knowledge of hockey players). Fans in each team’s market probably know a lot of their own players, but they seem to know very little about guys on other teams. The Red Sox are World Series champions coming off a storybook season, but I wonder how many baseball fans (let alone sports fans) outside of Boston could name 2 Red Sox players not named David Ortiz. Meanwhile, because of fantasy football, every NFL fan can name the practice squad kicker for the fucking Jacksonville Jaguars and the 4th string running back for the Rams.
Now, having basically called these guys overpaid extortion artists, it’s time to back up my accusations with some facts. What follows is my [granted, simplistic] analysis of every 9-figure contract ever signed in baseball. If I were a full-time baseball writer, I’d list the stats each of these guys put up before and after they signed their megadeals, but I’m not getting paid for this, so you’ll just have to trust that I’ve looked at the numbers on each of these, and in most cases, they ain’t pretty. Someone who isn’t me ought to do a more thorough breakdown of each player’s performance after they got fat and happy in the wallet. I’d like to see that. I’m of the mindset that most professional athletes’ performance dips once they’ve gotten their fat contracts, baseball players in particular. Although to be fair, many of these contracts are only 1-3 years into 7-10 year deals.
The list goes from largest contract in total dollars to “smallest”. It lists the years and money for each deal, how old each player is/was/will be when the contract began, and the seasons included on the contract. Each player’s name is linked to their Baseball Reference page, so you can check out much more detailed stats yourself if you don’t believe what I’m tellin ya. Not listed: the IQ’s of the team executives and owners who approved these abominations.
And yes, I know, it’s not my money, so don’t come at me with this “Why do you even care?” bullshit, which is the most common reply to any criticism of a big sports contract. I care because I dislike stupidity, and I abhor it even more when allegedly smart people do such stupid things. What other reason do you need? Also, people making money they don’t deserve is a major pet peeve of mine. The truth is I’ve always been fascinated by sports and media contracts, World’s Richest People lists, Top Celebrity Earners lists, and the like. That fascination was the impetus for this post. I’ve wanted to see someone else do a list like this, but I’ve been waiting so long that I gave in and decided to do it myself.
Thanks to Wikipedia for their page listing the largest contracts in sports history, and to Baseball Reference and Cot’s Baseball Contracts for the stats and information.
Regrets. He has a few.
–ALEX RODRIGUEZ, 3B, New York Yankees (10 years/$275 million+, age 33, 2008-17)
Mind you, the Yankees could’ve walked away from an already controversial A-Rod at age 32 after he willingly opted out of his first abortion of a contract with 3 years left on it. Instead, they doubled down and trusted him to become this megastar American Hero who was going to break Barry Bond‘s illegitimate home run records and restore balance to The Force. And it was worth it to them because HE WAS GONNA DO IT IN A YANKEES UNIFORM, GODDAMMIT!!!
A-Rod has incentives in the deal (termed a “marketing agreement”) that would earn him another $30 million in bonuses, potentially pushing the total value of this contract above $300 million. He gets $6 million for each of the following historical milestones (which, at the time, some people thought he might actually reach! LOOOOOL): 660 home runs (for tying Willie Mays), 714 home runs (Babe Ruth), 755 home runs (Hank Aaron‘s old record), 762 home runs (Barry Bonds’ juiced up current record), then another $6 million for reaching 763. This means that if he ever got up to 763 (which he now certainly won’t), he’d have been paid $12 million for hitting 2 home runs (762 & 763). That’s #YankeeLogic. This apparently presumed America would have been proud to have seen this purple-lipped, cheating whore break these records. Even in 2008, that was a stretch.
Note: With 654 career home runs to date, if he avoids being banned by MLB for the next year, he’ll probably get to and pass 660, but to think he’ll reach any of the other rungs on the home run record ladder at his age and declining physical condition is beyond absurd.
VERDICT: MEGA, ULTRA, JUMANJI-SIZED BUST. THE WORST, DUMBEST CONTRACT IN THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS.
We mercifully move on…
–ALEX RODRIGUEZ, SS, Texas Rangers (10 years/$252 million, age 26, 2001-10, BORAS) *voided in 2007 via a player opt-out clause to make way for an even worse contract!
Strangely enough, you can make the argument that A-Rod was worth $25 million a year between 2001 and 2007. This, despite the fact that the Rangers never made the playoffs with him on the roster, and I doubt there were a lot of sellouts in Arlington just to watch A-Rod play. But statistically, he was worth it.
VERDICT: BUST for the Rangers years (again, because his presence never helped the team in any tangible way), but WORTH IT for the 3 Yankees years (and I say that reluctantly)
–ALBERT PUJOLS, 1B, L.A. Angels of A. (10 years/$240 million, age 32, 2012-21)
The Cardinals wisely said, “No thanks” to this one. In his first two years with the Angels, an apparently broken down Pujols has played a total of 162 games (that’s an average of half a season each season), hit a combined .275, been a 3.2 WAR player (as opposed to an average 7.9 WAR player in his Cardinal years), and not played in a single playoff game, despite the Angels’ roster of expensive stars. Isn’t one of the perks of having such a superstar and a huge overall payroll that you’ll make the playoffs and contend for the World Series every year? Anyone? Should Pujols miraculously get healthy this offseason and stay healthy until he’s 42 years old, he gets a bonus of $3 million for reaching 3,000 hits and $7 million for reaching 763 home runs. The first now appears highly unlikely (he’s got 2,347 hits right now), and you’ll see an actual zombie apocalypse before Albert Pujols becomes the home run king (he now sits at 492, but to my knowledge, no one has hit a home run while on the Disabled List). But hey, only 8 years left, Angels of Anaheim of Los Angeles!
VERDICT: A BIGGER BUST THAN A PORN STAR’S FAKE TITS.
–ROBINSON CANO, 2B, Seattle Mariners (10 years/$240 million, age 31, 2014-23)
Every reasonable observer judges the Mariners to be complete fucking idiots for doing this. Robinson Cano is not a Face of the Franchise type of guy. He was the Yankees’ best player in 2013, but their attendance and revenue were both down with him as the headliner, yet he and his representation then went out and sold him as a headliner type of player. He has zero star power. He’s not someone that’s gonna be a popular endorser. I suspect that if you were to poll people who don’t follow baseball, 0.017% of them even know who Robinson Cano is. America does not care who Robinson Cano is, but he’s now one of the top 5 highest paid players in baseball, and he’ll be getting paid more every year than all but one or two NFL players, whom Americans do recognize and do care about. Am I missing something here? There are entirely too many illegal drugs being taken in Seattle.
The simple truth is this: you know it’s a bad contract when the Yankees thought it was unreasonable. This case is closed before the trial even begins.
VERDICT: This signing just happened, but it’s a BUST before Cano ever steps onto the field in a Mariners uniform.
–JOEY VOTTO, 1B, Cincinnati Reds (10 years/$225 million, age 30, 2014-23)
Joey Votto was the NL MVP in 2010. He’ll need to do that 3 or 4 more times to earn $22.5 million a year. He’s being paid as a guy who hits for average and for power (the most precious commodity in baseball outside of a left-handed power pitcher), but that 2010 season was the only time in 7 years that he hit more than 30 jacks. I’m gonna go ahead and say the Reds ain’t getting what they paid for.
VERDICT: It’s too early to tell, but I’m sorry, any 10-year contract beginning after a player hits age 30 has to be considered a BUST until someone proves otherwise.
–PRINCE FIELDER, 1B, Detroit Tigers/Texas Rangers (9 years/$214 million, age 28, 2012-20, BORAS)
The Tigers were stupid fucks for agreeing to it, and the Rangers are even stupider fucks for willingly taking it on. There’s no indication whatsoever that this a-hole takes any joy from playing baseball. He was born with prodigious hitting talent, but isn’t committed to making the most of it. Imagine if he cared enough to lose 50 pounds? He’d be a monster (a monstrous baseball talent, not a big fat Godzilla monster like he is now). He got the huge contract he was looking for, and now he’s just gonna chill. Truly inspiring. As he hits 30 next season, we find his production slowly declining, but it’s his pathetic performance in the playoffs that should anger Tigers fans most. If you’re paying a guy this much money on a very talented team, he needs to perform when it matters, else what’s the fucking point? Had he even been decent the last 2 postseasons, the Tigers would probably be back-to-back World Series champs. Thankfully for them, the Rangers were more than happy to give him a shot, and I’m sure that’ll go just awesome for them. Ironically, the only thing he’s consistently excelled at is not getting injured. Shockingly, he’s played all 162 games 4 times, 161 games once, and never fewer than 157 since becoming a full-time player. Of course, this will change after he suffers his first heart attack on the field, but until then, kudos to him for at least being durable.
As evidence to the previous point, Son of Cecil has played 39 career playoff games with a .194 average and .620 OPS. Woot woot! Oh, and Fat Fielder gets a $500,000 bonus for the first MVP award he’ll never win. But bravo to him on getting paid $778,182 in the contract for every [alleged] pound he weighs.
And now, here’s Prince Fielder being a fat, clumsy boob:
–DEREK JETER, NUMBA 2, SS, New York Yankees (10 years/$189 million, age 27, 2001-10)
There’s no arguing against it. He was (and still is) the Face of the Franchise, a great team captain, and one of America’s most popular athletes, regardless of the sport. Even though they only won 1 World Series after this contract was signed, the Yanks got their money’s worth in on-field performance, off-field performance, and value to the franchise. In truth, this was probably a bargain for them.
VERDICT: WORTH IT.
–JOE MAUER, C/1B, Minnesota Twins (8 years/$184 million, age 28, 2011-18)
The Twins are making a wise move switching him permanently to first base beginning in 2014. That’ll save him from significant wear and tear on defense, which may help him put up better offensive numbers. To this point, his stats have been nice, but not overwhelming. He hits for fantastic average but very little power, having belted 20+ home runs only once in 10 seasons. He had an MVP season in 2009, but hasn’t approached those numbers since. I wonder… how much of this contract is based on the fact that Mauer is from Minnesota and the ability of the Twins to play the “hometown hero stays at home” marketing card? I’m betting that was worth at least $50 million at the negotiating table (which is absolutely ridiculous if you think about it). Regardless, I seriously doubt Mauer’s presence is putting butts in seats at the Twins’ new stadium, and the team hasn’t been a serious playoff contender since making this deal. So I ask…how is the team benefiting from this? What is it exactly that makes this guy worth $23 million a year until he’s 35? I’m curious to see what he does at the plate after moving away from the catcher position, but right now, it looks like instead of taking the Hometown Discount, Joe Mauer made the Twins pay a Hometown Ransom.
Note: It’s interesting that immediately after getting paaaaaaiiiiiiiid, the hometown boy bought a $20 million mansion in L.A. for he and his wife, and then a $14 million apartment in Manhattan. I’m not saying what I think of that, but those are the facts. It’s also interesting that the Twins put Mauer on trade waivers in 2012, apparently just to see if anybody was stupid enough to offer to take this calamity of a contract off their hands. Unfortunately for them, the majority of these shitty contracts also come with a no-trade clause, Mauer’s included. I hear the Dodgers don’t have an issue with shitty contracts…
Note 2: Here’s another guy whose face I’m betting most Americans couldn’t identify if their lives depended on it. If I were to put Joe Mauer in a 5-man lineup, and the other 4 guys were all 6’9″ black NBA players, how many people would correctly guess which one Joe Mauer was? I want this experiment carried out immediately.
VERDICT: TRENDING TOWARDS BUST.
–JUSTIN VERLANDER, SP, Detroit Tigers (7 years/$180 million, age 30, 2013-19)
For now (until Clayton Kershaw signs his big deal), Mr. Verlander is the owner of the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher. And it is biiiiiiiiig. Look, in theory, Verlander is still the best pitcher in baseball. BUT, he just stepped over the line to the wrong side of 30, and it has been widely reported that he’s begun to lose some of that 100mph velocity that made him what he is [check out the Google results for “justin verlander velocity drop” if you need convincing]. You also worry about a workhorse like him (he’s thrown 200+ innings every year since 2007 and more than 218 every year since 2009) breaking down sooner than his peers. You LOVE him while he’s pitching like this, but counting on it to continue for another 7 years (and paying him like it’s guaranteed to happen) is, I dunno, stupid. This is just too much money to risk, even on someone this good. He’s due to make $28 million every year between 2015-19. That’s more than any player in baseball history not named A-Rod has made in one season. If he gets injured or simply can’t give you the same innings durability as time wears on, he ain’t worth that money. Put it this way; in order to earn $28 million a year, he’d have to match his career year in 2011 (when he went a magical 24-5 and won both the Cy Young and MVP awards) every single year of this contract. That…is not going to happen, and if his subpar (by his standards) 2013 season is any example, he may already have started on his journey from Superstartown to Averageville.
Note: On top of being filthy rich, this dude briefly dated Kate Upton last year, so he can go straight to hell with his perfect life.
VERDICT: Until someone proves otherwise, paying anyone this much money for this long after age 30 is BUST of an idea (especially if it’s a pitcher).
–MARK TEIXEIRA, 1B, New York Yankees (8 years/$180 million, age 29, 2009-16, BORAS)
In hindsight, all I can say is THANK YOU to the Yankees for swooping in and outbidding the Red Sox for him that offseason. Theo Epstein desperately wanted Teixeira on the Sox (and had for years), but to our good fortune, the Yankees were even more dumberer that year. Teixeira’s first 3 years in pinstripes were actually very productive (he maintained his power numbers, but his batting average has been on a steady decline), but in the last 2 years at age 32 and 33, he’s been oft-injured and steadily declining in production. He played 15 games in 2013 due to a wrist injury originally suffered in the World Baseball Classic. You may have surmised that wrist injuries are no bueno for power hitters. Even if he somehow returns to his production from just 2 years ago, he’s not worth $22.5 million a year. This is ANOTHER guy who non-baseball fans probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup, even if the other 4 guys in the lineup were Clay Matthews Fatheads. Zero personality. Zero marketing presence outside of baseball (which I believe is absolutely a necessary factor if I’m paying somebody this much money). If I’m a Yankees fan, I don’t hate this contract…yet, but objectively, the final 3 years don’t look promising.
VERDICT: TOO EARLY TO TELL, BUT TRENDING TOWARDS BUST.
–FELIX HERNANDEZ, SP, Seattle Mariners (7 years/$175 million, age 27, 2013-19)
King Felix was his usual dominant self in 2013, earning that ginormous $19.857 million salary. He’s never had any serious injuries, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll be great for several years to come (his K/9 rate of 9.5 in 2013 was a career-best), but will he still be this good when he makes $26 million in 2017 and ’18, and then $27 million for the final year of the deal at age 33? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but as with any long-term deal for a pitcher, it’s a known risk. One thing’s for sure, when the Mariners want you, they pay up. But I guess they have to pay a premium in order to convince a player to live and play in Seattle. I’m pretty sure it’s in the contract somewhere that you have to be in Seattle a lot to play for the Mariners. No offense to Seattle, which I’m sure is a beautiful city, but we can all agree it’s not the sexiest destination for professional athletes.
Speaking of the Mariners, it’s a shame Hernandez has been stuck on that middling team his whole career, because if he’d played for a winning team, there’s little doubt he could’ve eventually become a 300-game winner. In Seattle, he’s lucky to get more than 14 wins (it’s only happened once in 8 full seasons). To reach 200 wins by the end of this contract, he’d have to average 15 a year for the next 6 years, which seems nearly impossible given his track record. Good timing for Hernandez though, because if he’s still very good-to-great at age 33, he can get yet another huge contract probably for another 4-5 years. It’s also entirely possible that they tear up this deal when he turns 30 and give him a new 6-7 year deal. Life is good for Felix Hernandez, and in hindsight I frequently wish I had taken up baseball as a kid.
VERDICT: AFTER ONE YEAR, SO FAR SO GOOD.
–BUSTER POSEY, C, San Francisco Giants (9 years/$167 million, age 26, 2013-21)
Posey is further proof that it only takes one MVP-level season to secure a $150 million+ contract in MLB. Granted, 2012 was a fairly productive year for Posey: he caught Matt Cain‘s perfect game, he won the NL MVP, and then he won his second World Series championship. It’s no wonder the Giants decided to give him this massive contract when he still had 3 years of arbitration left on his rookie deal. This is the largest contract ever given to someone at this stage of their career. Because when you’re a baseball team in today’s climate, why overpay somebody later when you can do it now? He’s very good, but he ain’t $20 million good. The Giants needn’t worry about that, though. Since the stupid contract is sooo long, he’s got 8 more seasons to earn it!
VERDICT: ENJOY THAT MONEY, BUST-ER POSEY. (See what I did there? Didja?)
–CC SABATHIA, SP, New York Yankees (5 years/$122 million, age 32, 2012-16)
This was originally a 7-year, $161 million deal signed in 2009, but for some idiotic reason that contract had an opt-out clause just 2 years into it (in case Sabathia got cold feet, I guess), but instead of opting out after 2011, they added a year onto it instead (don’t ask). The contract has a hilariously specific option for the 2017 season, which becomes guaranteed (at $25 million) if the following conditions are met: “2017 salary guaranteed if Sabathia 1) does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, 2) does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or 3) does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury.” Now, obviously it says “left arm” because he’s a left-handed pitcher, but I find it humorous that the contract basically reads, “If his left arm still works at the end of the 2016 season, you will pay him $25 million to come back for 2017.” More Yankee contract idiocy.
Sabathia has been a consistent force for the Yanks, continuing to rack up 200+ innings every year with impressive statistics. That said, the lingering question has always been, “How long can a guy this big stay this consistent without any major injuries?” It’s a valid concern, and he did have a subpar year in 2013 (a 14-13 record with a career-high 4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP,) that was blamed by most in the know on a notable drop in his fastball velocity. His ERA in his first 4 Yankee seasons was a combined 3.22, so that is a big jump, but he’ll have to be mediocre again for it to be a pattern. He sure as hell didn’t earn $23 million in 2013, but he did in his first 4 Yankee years. He turns 34 during the 2014 season, so we’ll see what happens. He has to break down eventually, right?
VERDICT: WORTH IT SO FAR, BUT HE AIN’T GETTING ANY YOUNGER (OR SLIMMER).
–MATT KEMP, OF, L.A. Dodgers (8 years/$160 million, age 27, 2012-19)
After coming off a gargantuan season in 2011 (161 games played, 115 runs, 195 hits, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 steals (!), a .324 average and a .986 OPS), he hasn’t come anywhere near that potential since. He had about 59 different injuries in 2013 that limited him to just 73 games. This, after playing only 106 games in 2012. He had been incredibly durable prior to 2012, but he’s trending in the complete wrong direction…to put it mildly. All I can say is that it isn’t a good sign when a power-hitting speedster has shoulder AND ankle surgery in the same year. It’s also not good that the Dodgers appear desperate to trade him this offseason only 2 years into the deal, and they’re apparently willing to pay up to half of the contract to any team willing to take him. He’s still only 29, but it sure looks like he’s never going to be the same, and if I’m a GM for another team, I wouldn’t go near him coming off those injuries unless the Dodgers agreed to pay MORE than 50% of the contract.
VERDICT: A MEGABUST SO FAR.
–MANNY RAMIREZ, OF, Boston Red Sox (8 years/$160 million, age 29, 2001-08, BORAS)
I wasn’t even a baseball fan in 2001 and I remember hearing the shock & awe in the media over this deal being announced. But there’s no arguing with history. Despite his many on-field antics, behind-the-scenes douchebaggery and his general aloofness, the guy produced on the field year in and year out and was always entertaining. A lot of people came to Fenway specifically to see Manny play, and that’s the definition of a star. His average stats from his time in Boston looked like this: 142 games played, 97 runs, 163 hits, 34 doubles, 36 HR, 115 RBI, with a .315 average and 1.010 OPS. That’s average, which means half the time he was much better! That’s ridiculous. And oh yeah, he was a major factor in 2 World Series wins. Love him or hate him, that’s Manny Being Manny™.
VERDICT: WORTH IT.
–TROY TULOWITZKI, SS, Colorado Rockies (10 years/$157.75 million, age 26, 2011-20)
$15.8 million a year for Troy Tulowitzki is a great price in today’s market. For 10 years? I dunno. I understand why Colorado did this; he’s one of their only 2 “star” players and they couldn’t afford to lose him. If it had been 8 years instead of 10, I’d say this is a perfect contract. 10 years of guaranteed money is just so risky for any player, no matter how young they are when they sign. 36 isn’t too old if he stays healthy, but what if he gets injured in the next couple of years and is only a shadow of himself for the remaining 5 or 6 years? Then the contract is a debacle. He’s been injured in 2 of the first 3 years of the deal, but still produces when he’s healthy, so if he can stay healthy for an entire year for multiple years, they should easily get their money’s worth. That’s a big “if” though. In 7 full seasons so far, he’s only played 140+ games 3 times.
VERDICT: TOO EARLY TO TELL, BUT IT LOOKS OKAY.
–ADRIAN GONZALEZ, 1B, Boston Red Sox/L.A. Dodgers (7 years/$154 million, age 30, 2012-18)
This should have been a great signing by the Red Sox. I supported it at the time on the grounds that based on his history and tendencies, he should have put up monster numbers at Fenway Park. Unfortunately, as it turns out, his brief stint with the Sox was felled by the great intangible: A-Gon is a big softie, and couldn’t cut it under the Boston spotlight. He didn’t like tough questions from the media, and he couldn’t handle blunt criticism. As such, Sox GM Ben Cherington was able to ship Gonzalez out of town as part of the greatest trade in Red Sox history. (Thank you again, Dodgers!) Interestingly enough, it seems Gonzalez hasn’t been worth the trouble to them either, as he’s lost a considerable amount of his power. After hitting 40 homers for the Padres in 2009, he’s hit 31, 27, 18 and 22 in 4 years since. The whole reason he got the big contract was because he was supposedly a legit power-hitting first baseman, something every team covets. He still hits for decent average (usually hovering just above .290), but his OPS has been steadily dipping because he doesn’t walk as much anymore, either. He’s from Southern California and can’t even put up big stats there. Nice guy and all, but I’m glad the Sox are rid of him.
VERDICT: He’s not a $20 million player, so, ya know…BUSTAROO!
–JACOBY ELLSBURY, CF, New York Yankees (7 years/$153 million, age 30, 2014-20, BORAS)
What’s funny is that signing 30-year old Ellsbury for 7 years effectively represents a youth movement for the Yankees.
Look, if it weren’t for that insanely flukey 2011 season (158 games played, 119 runs, 212 hits, 46 doubles, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 steals, a .328 average and .928 OPS), this would look even worse than the A-Rod deal. Imagine what he would’ve gotten had he become a free agent coming off that season? Good lawd. Except for the steals, he hasn’t come anywhere close to duplicating those numbers in the 2 years since. He’s never had an OPS above .781 in 5 other full seasons, never hit more than 9 (NINE) home runs (seriously, 32?! Were they not drug testing that year?), and never driven in more than 60 runs. 2011 was the flukiest season in the history of flukiness. It’s amazing how Scott Boras can spin a tale though, because apparently he told people Ellsbury could in fact do that again if a team really needed him too. I’m sure. (Also, what team would say, “No thanks, we’d rather he stick with the 9 home runs and 55 RBI”?)
Aside from that one aberration of a season, it’s logical to assume he’s being paid for his defensive skill and his speed. Well, somebody who isn’t me go find out how many guys have stolen 40 or more bases after age 33. How many have stolen 25 after age 34? 20 after age 35? You get the point. Unless he suddenly becomes a power hitter, the Yankees will not be getting what they’re paying him for after 2 years, 3 if they’re lucky. Because speed doesn’t age well. Sooooo…what makes him worth $21.8 million a year? He was barely worth the $9 million he got from the Sox in 2013. Look, the guy is a good player (right now anyway), but he’s not a superstar. He just isn’t. He has no personality to speak of, and he avoids the media like the plague, so you get no marketability out of him. He gets injured frequently and then takes his sweet time coming back from his injuries. But yeah, Yankees fans, HE’S ALL YOURS for the next 7 years. And you spent the majority of your free agent money on outfielders (they also DERP’d their way into giving 36-year old Carlos Beltran $45 million over 3 years) in an offseason where PITCHING was by far your biggest concern. Congratulations!
VERDICT: NO WAY IT ISN’T A BUST.
–MIGUEL CABRERA, 3B, Detroit Tigers (8 years/$152.3 million, age 25, 2008-15)
The back-to-back reigning AL MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winner is coming off yet another amazing statistical season, but also another disappointing playoff defeat. He needs to become a much better performer in the playoffs (he’s a career .273 hitter in 52 postseason games versus his astounding .321 lifetime regular season average), but the Tigers have certainly gotten their money’s worth since trading for him after the 2007 season. He doesn’t get injured (the 148 games he played in 2013 was the fewest of his career) and puts up big numbers year in and year out. To be honest, the most shocking thing about this contract is that the Tigers got him this “cheap” to begin with. However, despite his immense on-field skill, he’s a complete non-presence when it comes to national endorsements and general public awareness. He’s the best position player in baseball and I wonder if he’s even a household name in his native Venezuela (he probably is). Cabrera was fortunate to get started so young (he came up to the Marlins’ big league roster in 2003 at age 20) and to get this current deal when he did, because it means he’s going to be a free agent in 2015 at the relatively young age of 32. If he continues to put up these numbers the next two years, there’s little doubt he’ll get another 8-10 year deal for another $175-200 million, which is crazy.
Note: I just realized while writing this post that the Tigers have the best starting pitcher and the best position player in the game. That’s bullshit! Oh wait, the Red Sox still beat em in the ALCS this year. Nevermind. Suck it, mothatruckas!!
VERDICT: WELL WORTH IT.
That’s 19 players who have signed contracts for $150 million or more. Staggering. For perspective, NO ONE in the history of the NFL, NBA or NHL has ever signed a contract that large. The next closest thing in any American sport was Kobe Bryant‘s 7-year, $136.4 million deal with the Lakers that covered ’04-11. Note to parents of young children: get your kids into baseball!
And thus endeth Part 1 of this post. I wanted to do this as one big entry, but we’re already hovering around 6,000 words, and I don’t really want to drop 10,000 words on you all at once. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll cover everyone who signed a deal between $100-149 million. As of this writing, that’s 29 more players, most of them also unworthy. I can’t promise an exact date that I’ll finish it, but I’m aiming for 2 weeks or less (I may have to squeeze in some reviews for the many big December movie releases). Part 2 will include some of the original ridiculous baseball contracts (those of Mike Hampton, Jason Giambi, and Ken Griffey Jr., for example). I’ll also compare how many of the contracts I thought were worth it vs. how many are busts, I’ll tell you who’s next in line for bloated contracts in the 2014-15 offseason, and we’ll ponder who will sign baseball’s inevitable first $300 million contract.