'Til Death Do Us Part: Are Outlandish Contracts Good for Baseball?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIDecember 7, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 23:  Jayson Werth #28 of the Philadelphia Phillies connects for a first inning sacrifice fly against the San Francisco Giants in Game Six of the NLCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 23, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As baseball continues to evolve and new players crop up, talent is becoming a premium.

Small market teams have to keep a different mentality than their large market counterparts. The Kansas City Royals will always operate differently than the New York Yankees; building a team through the draft and using their better players as trade chips rather than sign the big-name players available through free agency.

But while that fact will probably never change, there is a new, alarming trend in baseball which could prove damaging to the game itself.

More and more, teams are signing players to huge contracts that lock their payroll into a single player, thereby preventing them from growing in constructive ways.

There have always been teams like the Yankees (I hate to use them as the example, but they're the best one), who swoop in a sign players to contracts no other team can match.

In 2008, the Yankees signed first baseman Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million contract. They basically came in at the last moment and bidding against themselves, over paid Teixeira by untold millions.

While it yielded them a World Series Championship, it's hard to justify Tex's contract. Most recently, free agent outfielder Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $125 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

The signing raised eyebrows across the baseball world and many general managers have called the deal "irresponsible."

Though the owner of the Nationals, Ted Lerner, is one of the richest team owners in baseball, the Naitonals are still a small market team.

Despite fielding a sub-.500 team every season, Nationals fans can look forward to No.1 draft picks every season (Bryce Harper and Stephen Strausberg for example), but having such a huge contract invested in Werth could make it impossible to sign these draft picks to acceptable contracts down the road.

Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, already under contract through 2013, just signed a 10-year, $157 million contract. Tulo is coming off a huge season (.315/27/95), but the contract will take him through age 35 and he has had issues with injury in every season. Since his first full season in 2007, Tulowitzki hasn't started more than 155 games, and missed 40 games with a broken wrist last season.

With ace Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez needing new contracts soon, how much money will the Rockies have to pay them? If it costs them two players to pay Tulowitzki, it wasn't worth it.

National's GM Mike Rizzo justified the Werth contract by saying that, in order to lure the big name players to small market teams, sometimes it's necessary to overpay. In other words, why would a player chose a team less likely to win consistently than a team that is always in contention if not for the money?

A fair point. But such contracts can only hurt in the long run by destroying payroll flexibility. What's the point if Jayson Werth will be the best player on the team for his entire seven-year contract? Do the Nationals expect to win anything in the next seven years?

Yes, seven years is a very long time, but how many losing seasons have the Pittsburgh Pirates had to endure?

18 if you really don't know.

People who disagree with me might point out Alex Rodriguez's contract (10-year, $275 million signed in 2007) as a long term deal which is beneficial to both sides. A-Rod gets his millions while the Yankees get one of the best offensive players into the middle of the lineup. All true. But can you really say A-Rod is not overpaid, no matter what kind of stats he puts up?

Angels fans are worried now that the Werth contract will price them out of the running for Carl Crawford. They're worried that if a player like Werth can get seven years and $125 million, how much will a better overall player like Crawford want.

That is the perfect example of the consequences of these big deals. The Angles are the best fit for Crawford, but will they have to go to eight, even nine years and $130-150 million to sign him? Maybe.

Paying players huge, payroll eclipsing salaries isn't anything new of course, but are we going to see more seven, eight, nine and ten year contracts from small market teams desperate to attract the big players?