Giancarlo Stanton Wins Lottery, but No Pro Athlete Is Worth $325 Million

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterNovember 18, 2014

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Are you jealous of Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins outfielder who, as you've heard by now, has agreed to a record-setting contract that will pay him $325 million over 13 years? You shouldn't be—you're part of the reason why the National League All-Star and MVP runner-up is getting all that bank.

Yep, the 25-year-old Stanton is this close to finalizing a contract that will be the largest in the history of American professional sports once he signs on the dotted line, as the Miami Herald is reporting.

And while all of us might be wishing we were Stanton right about now—or at least one of his good buddies—we shouldn't be hating on him at all for netting an amount that's larger than, oh, the gross domestic product of a handful of small countries.

After all, it's not the Marlins who are paying Stanton's salary. It's us, the fans and consumers, the television subscribers and ticket-buyers.

The question, though, is whether Stanton, one of Major League Baseball's brightest young stars, is worth $325 million. For that matter, is any athlete?

After his monstrous MVP campaign in 2007, A-Rod inked for $275 million over 10 more years.
After his monstrous MVP campaign in 2007, A-Rod inked for $275 million over 10 more years.Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press

Stanton will be the highest-paid baseball player ever—based on a single contract—surpassing the 10-year, $275 million deal Alex Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees after the 2007 season.

Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera, who won consecutive MVPs then re-upped with the Detroit Tigers in March to bring his total to $292 million, doesn't have a nine-figure deal that starts with a "$" and the number "3."

And as great as those two stars have been for most of their careers, the history of MLBers who have landed even $100 million contracts as free agents is far from promising.

Peyton Manning might be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but is he worth a nine-figure deal starting with a "3"?
Peyton Manning might be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but is he worth a nine-figure deal starting with a "3"?Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Any long-term, big-money pact with any athlete in any sport—from Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos in the NFL to LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid in La Liga—carries with it all kinds of risks.

Time alone does a number on athletes as they inevitably age and see their skills diminish. That's a given.

But there's also risk of injury that could end a career, with one wrong step or hard hit or errant fastball—like the one from Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers that took out Stanton in September—ending his season and at least initially putting his life in danger.

Yet before Stanton even gets back in the batter's box against a big league pitcher, the Marlins—a notoriously cheap franchise—appear to be fine with the idea of forking over the most money any player in MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL has ever earned from one contract.

But here's a twist.

The Marlins shouldn't have a problem making back that $325 million in ticket sales, concessions and skyrocketing television money (both national and regional). Yes, even the Marlins, who checked in with the fourth-lowest attendance during the 2014 season and entered last year with the lowest payroll in MLB at less than $42 million.

That's less than twice what they'll be paying Stanton in average annual value going forward, according to the back of this here napkin.

"[This] means everything to the franchise," owner Jeffrey Loria told the Herald. "We have a face of the franchise for the next 13 years. I expect him to be a Marlin for 13 years.

"We can afford it," Loria added.

That's coming from the guy who runs a team that has spent $303 million—$22 million less than Stanton’s new deal—on its entire major league roster the past five seasons combined, per the Herald.

Here's the other twist, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes:

[MLB] is a $9 billion industry, and in a $9 billion industry the special performers get paid. Stanton is special. I will not insult anyone by suggesting $25 million annually is a bargain. But Stanton is probably worth $35 million a season right now, likely will be for the next five years. Stretching the contract over this length of time allows the Marlins to pay less per year.

In other words, baseball is operating in an entirely different ballpark (pun intended) financially, one where asking if a player is "worth" his salary is almost missing the point.

If the Marlins—of all teams—really can afford it, as Loria claims, that tells us everything we need to know.

Ultimately, though, there's a simple, basic reason why no professional athlete actually is worth what Stanton is now getting. Not Peyton or LeBron or Cristiano.

Because sports, when reduced to their most elemental aspect, are games, leisure, entertainment.

Sorry, LeBron, even you aren't worth $300 mil.
Sorry, LeBron, even you aren't worth $300 mil.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

The same goes for television and film, two other mediums that pay massive—even obscene—amounts to big-name stars who are, more or less, pretending.

Fun? Check. Dramatic? Yep. At times breathtaking? Sure. But essential or even necessary? Sorry, no.

And no, the irony isn't lost on yours truly, who happens to make a living while watching, covering and writing all about—you guessed it—sports.

Speaking of making a living, there's no realistic connection in this world between the importance of one's job to society and the size of one's salary. But then, the same was true a century ago when New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth's salary exceeded the president's.

Does that make it right?

The bottom line is that athletes, like actors and other entertainers (Hi there, Kim K!), can command and make as much as they do because that is what the market ultimately will bear, thanks to the consumers.

So don't blame Stanton for getting $325 million or even the normally frugal Marlins for giving it to him. If anyone's to blame, it's us. We're the ones who have decided Stanton's worth it. Even if he's not.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.


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