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From the Strange to the Lavish, a Look Inside MLB Stars' Personal Contract Perks

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistDecember 22, 2014

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There is a price for everything. And if you doubt that, just take a gander at the small print in some of those gazillion-dollar MLB contracts.

OK, so we exaggerate. A little. There is no small print. It's all large print.

Check out Jon Lester's newly minted $155 million deal, reinstalling the "broad shoulders" part to The City of Broad Shoulders. Not only did Chicago send flowers to Lester's wife and gift the switch-hitter (lefty ace and avid hunter) with camouflage Cubs caps during the recruiting process, it agreed to a contractual clause whereby Lester has access to 25 hours of personal flights on a private plane per year of the six-year deal. All the better for his wife and two children to commute to postseason games.

"I was ready to soak myself in deer urine," Theo Epstein, Chicago's president of baseball operations, quipped at last week's press conference.

Hey, whatever it takes to win.

Ever since Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally became the first two free agents in history during the winter of 1974-75, MLB executives have been united on one front: Hot-stove success, much like Kentucky and Duke basketball, often is contingent on who boxes out the hardest and whose elbows are the sharpest in the offseason.

Yes, as it was in the beginning, it now and ever shall be….

The Red Sox last month agreed to provide Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval with a hotel suite on the road in addition to providing him with $95 million over five years. For that cake, Panda could purchase an entire hotel, plus enough chocolate mints to top his pillow for life. Yet he got the suite.

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

So did Hanley Ramirez, who signed with the Red Sox for four years and $88 million on the same day as Sandoval. Plus, the team agreed to provide Ramirez with the option to purchase six premium tickets for each game.

Of course, the Red Sox nearly were on the receiving end of a perk themselves before they dealt right-hander John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals last July. When Lackey signed with Boston as a free agent in December 2009, he consented to pitch in 2015 at the MLB minimum salary if he missed "significant" time because of a pre-existing elbow injury. One Tommy John surgery and one trade later, Lackey will be pitching for the Cardinals this summer for a mere $500,000.

Just like the schedule in April: You win some, you lose some. The website Cot's Contracts provides all the glorious details, perk by perk, as fascinating as the late-night box scores.

Lackey and Cardinals teammate Matt Holliday, like Sandoval, Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and many other superstars, have contracts that call for hotel suites on the road. That perk is among the most common going right now for the big shooters.

"Used to be, under the old collective bargaining agreement, guys shared a room on the road," former agent Barry Axelrod says. "Now, everyone gets his own room.

"We used to have to negotiate that. The last thing you'd say in negotiations was, 'OK, I guess we can live with that. But a single room on the road, right?'

"Now guys want suites on the road."

And get them.

Here's one you don't see every day: When Axelrod was negotiating a deal for former Padres slugger Phil Nevin in the early 2000s, the threat of contraction was in the air from the commissioner's office, and the city of San Diego was still bickering over whether to build a new ballpark.

"We built in some provisions that said if construction on the stadium had not begun by a certain date, then he would have the right to terminate the contract," Axelrod said. "If the Padres were ever relocated, he would have the right to terminate the contract. And if the Padres were contracted, he would have the right to terminate the deal.

"That, obviously, was unique to the time and the place."

So, too, are a handful of others: Harold Baines, then the Baltimore Orioles' DH, once had a clause calling for a $50,000 bonus if he won a Gold Glove award. The previous season: He had played exactly one game in the field.

12 Apr 1998:  Outfielder Harold Baines of the Baltimore Orioles in action during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan.  The Orioles defeated the Tigers 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Laforet  /Allsport
Vincent Laforet/Getty Images

The Phillies once awarded first baseman Rico Brogna a $50,000 incentive if he was named MVP of the World Series. The year before, they had finished 33 games out of first place.

The Diamondbacks, in signing Troy Glaus to a four-year, $45 million deal in 2004, included a clause awarding the third baseman $250,000 annually for personal business expenses. Translation: It was for his wife's equestrian training and equipment.

Though incentive clauses for All-Star appearances and MVP awards remain standard in today's multimillion contracts, many of the more entertaining perks have gone the way of Charles O. Finley (who offered the early 1970s Oakland A's bonuses, you'll recall, for growing mustaches) and his pet mule largely because salaries have skyrocketed.

"You almost feel like an idiot, getting a team to agree to pay someone $15 million per year and then asking them, oh, by the way, can you throw in a free [stadium] suite at the games?" Axelrod says. "There are guys who still negotiate that. But many teams today say, 'For $15 million a year, you can buy it.'

"Anything else too crazy today feels gimmicky. You feel silly for asking."

Associated Press

This from a man who once asked the late Padres owner and fast-food maven Ray Kroc for a McDonald's franchise for a young player who was looking for reasons not to sign because he wanted to accept a scholarship to play football and baseball at UCLA. Theory was, overask, get rejected, hello, Bruins.

Kroc nearly obliged, exploding that if Rollie Fingers had been turned down his request for a McDonald's franchise, you could sure as #@!! bet that this young draft pick wouldn't get one. But the money was good enough that the kid, Brian Greer—San Diego's first-round selection in 1977—signed anyway.

Generally, the most extravagant perks found in today's contracts are included when a club signs a Japanese free agent. And those sure don't feel gimmicky.

Ichiro Suzuki's contract in Seattle, for example, included not only standard performance bonuses, but clauses calling for an interpreter, trainer and transportation for spring training and regular-season games, four annual round-trip airline tickets from Seattle to Japan and annual housing allowances up to $36,000 a year (2012).

Masahiro Tanaka's deal includes an interpreter at a salary of $85,000 annually and four first-class, round-trip airline tickets between Japan and New York.

The Yankees, as you may suspect, continue to represent the Gilded Age for players in search of perks. Alex Rodriguez in 2008 was given the opportunity to purchase the four best available season tickets in Yankee Stadium. Then, when the new place opened across the street, from 2009-17, he has the option to purchase four Legends Suites or comparable season tickets.

Aug 15, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Carlos Beltran (36) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Beltran? His current three-year, $45 million deal is fairly tame. In his previous agreement with the Mets, he had a 15-person suite at home games, and the club agreed to lease an "ocular enhancer machine"—a pitching machine-type device that threw numbered and multicolored tennis balls at 150 mph.

Lester has no ocular enhancer machine. Nor a McDonald's franchise. Nor a demand for vats of M&Ms, with the green ones all having been removed (like your favorite rock 'n' roll band).

And happily for Mrs. Epstein, Theo did not have to soak himself in deer urine to get the deal done.

He did, however, break a personal precedent by giving Lester, who resides in Sharpsburg, Georgia, a no-trade clause (first time Epstein has ever done that for a player).

And there are Lester's 25 hours of flights annually on a private plane, a clause reminiscent of the then-record seven-year, $105 million deal ace Kevin Brown signed with the Dodgers before the 1999 season. In that, the Dodgers agreed to provide a charter jet 12 times a season so Brown's wife and children could commute from the family's home in Macon, Georgia, to Los Angeles.

Must be something about Georgia. Do they think everywhere else is the end of the earth?

Or are ace pitchers from there simply better schooled in the art of acquiring perks?

Oddly enough, unlike the Giants and Red Sox, the Cubs were the lone club not to dispatch a recruiting team to Lester's home in Georgia to woo him.

"We wanted him to come to Chicago to show him how easy the flight was," Epstein said.

He did, and still got the extra private plane flights. Whatever it takes.

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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