The day Baseball's contracts went nuclear
Since 1999, Major League Baseball teams have handed out 26 nine-figure contracts to players, some more than once. A total of more than $3.7 billion has been spent by these clubs for the game’s best players.
However, most $100+ million contracts rarely pan out. We’ve all read articles bashing Mike Hampton’s deal with Colorado, Barry Zito’s contract in San Francisco and Alfonso Soriano’s deal with the Cubbies. But I’ve yet to come across an article praising those $100+ million dollar contracts where the player actually lived up to it—perhaps because they are so rare. In the following slides I will examine players who signed mega contracts and the teams, at least from a baseball sense, did not regret them.
Before doing so however I will set a couple of ground rules.
First and foremost I am not taking into consideration whether or not the deal hampered the club financially—case in point the Alex Rodriguez deal with Texas; that $252 million contract crippled the club finances but it wasn’t because of Rodriguez’s performance.
Secondly I’m not even going to consider players who still have the majority of their contract years to play. CC Sabathia, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee and many others have signed nine figure deals in the past three seasons. As it stands now the only one that looks truly horrible is Werth’s deal, but that's not a given either. Mauer, Sabathia, Lee or anyone else not mentioned could fail to live up to the backend of their deals and thereby blacklist contracts that were once considered golden.
Finally I am not taking steroids or other performance enhancing drugs into account. They have no bearing in this argument, regardless if a listed player is a known user; this list is about contracts and whether or not the player lived up to his part, no matter how he chose do so.
I hope you like it. Have fun, enjoy the read and let me know what you think...
Anyone want to disagree this was a good contract for St. Louis?
Back in 2004 the Cardinals realized what they had in Albert Pujols and signed him to an eight-year, $100 million deal. He has not disappointed. I could sit here and list all of his statistics—his amazing hall of fame-caliber numbers—but what would be the point? We all know them, we all know he’s the greatest hitter (and perhaps player) of his generation. Three MVPs, two home runs crowns, an OPS of better than 1.000, a couple gold gloves and eight all-star appearances (yes, I’m giving him credit for the game this July already, as there’s no way he won’t be there) make this deal perhaps the best—and easiest to defend—$100 million contract.
It’s Pujols’ next contract that might not make it into this category.
When Ramirez left Cleveland for Boston following the 2000 season, he was rewarded with what was one of the richest contracts in sports history—eight years and $160 million.
That’s a lot of money to pay anyone, but even with “Manny being Manny” he lived up to the deal. For most of the eight years, Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the game, led the Red Sox to the 2004 and 2007 World Series Titles and was a dominant force in the lineup.
There have always been questions about Ramirez’s drive, his effort and his sometimes asinine play but his numbers speak for themselves.
Alex Rodriguez has signed the two richest deals to date in baseball history.
Following the 2000 season he was perhaps the most sought-after free-agent in sports history. At 25 years old he was already a batting champion, a 40/40 man and one of the better defensive shortstops in the league. He had the game’s best agent in Scott Boras, who negotiated an historic 10-year, $252 million contract.
Despite the steroid issue that has come out in years since Rodriguez fulfilled his end of the deal, he won five home run crowns in the next seven years, earned two MVPs (yes, I know he technically won three but I can’t and won’t recognize a player as “most valuable” on a last place club; I just won’t) and even his “down years” during this time would, if averaged consistently over the life of his career, land him in the Hall of Fame one day.
While Tom Hicks has been ridiculed for giving out such an outlandish contract, the one Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees following the 2007 season is the much more questionable one.
I’m hesitant to list Jeter’s contract as a “win”, simply because for his production. He was overpaid, and the Yankees could have signed him for $70 million less (there was a 10-year, $118.9 million deal in place—but Steinbrenner was hesitant to have the game’s highest paid player or to set new thresholds at that time for some reason). However, Jeter played well nearly every year of the contract, helped his team win multiple pennants and World Series Championships and played just as well after signing it then he did before so.
The Yankees could easily afford it and don't regret it. A win-win for both teams.
This is the one I hesitated most to put on the list as it nearly breaks all the rules I set forth.
Cabrera is only halfway through his eight-year, $152 million deal and it could easily go horribly wrong over the next few years, especially if Cabrera’s well documented problem with alcohol damages his playing ability.
However, I felt of all the players in this category he has the best chance to live up to his contract and get another one (while probably not as long or lucrative). Age plays a big factor in that as when his current deal runs out, Cabrera won’t yet have turned 33 years old. In the first four years of his deal he has been a great player and only seems to be hitting his prime now. He’s a tremendous hitter, has played (and won) in the postseason and should have little trouble living up to the second half of his contract, the same of which is difficult to say about many other players.