20 Percent Club: Three Rising Stars Who Won't Come Discounted at Contract Time

Josh LevittSenior Analyst ISeptember 15, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 19:  Grady Sizemore #24 of the Cleveland Indians dives for a ball hit by Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 19, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Over the next few seasons, some of baseball's brightest young stars will become free agents for the first time.

And while baseball fans like myself are excited to see how much money these young stars will get on the open market, simply thinking about a new contract must be a scary thought for the mid-level teams who simply do not have the salary structure to take on huge contracts.

How can the Brewers expect to keep Prince Fielder after 2012 if their payroll remains around $80 million?

Is there any possible way that the Indians can keep Grady Sizemore after 2012 if their payroll remains around $80 million?

And how in the world will the Twins be able to sign Joe Mauer after 2011 if their payroll refuses to rise from $65-$70 million?

The answer: there's simply no way...unless they plan on joining the 20 percent club.
You might be wondering, what exactly is the 20 percent club?

It's the exclusive group of players in MLB whose salary takes up at least one fifth of their team's total payroll. By my count, there were only four members of the 20 percent club this season:

• Michael Young, Rangers: 2009 salary—$16 million; 2009 team payroll—$68 million (23.5 percent)

• Barry Zito, Giants: 2009 salary—$18.5 million; 2009 team payroll—$82 million (22.6 percent)

• Todd Helton, Rockies: 2009 Salary—$16 million; 2009 team payroll—$75 million (22.3 percent)

• Brian Giles, Padres: 2009 Salary—$9 million; 2009 team payroll—$43 million (21.0 percent)

And here are some big names that just missed out on the 20 percent club:

• Carlos Lee, Astros: 2009 Salary—$18.5 million; 2009 team payroll—$102 million (18.1 percent)

• Albert Pujols, Cardinals: 2009 Salary—$16.1 million; 2009 team payroll—$88 million (18.1 percent)

• Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: 2009 Salary—$17 million; 2009 team payroll—$98 million (17.1 percent)

• Jose Guillen, Royals: 2009 Salary—$12 million; 2009 team payroll—$70 million (17.1 percent)

• Eric Chavez, A's: 2009 Salary—$11 million; 2009 team payroll—$66 million (16.7 percent)

• Francisco Cordero, Reds: 2009 Salary—$12 million; 2009 team payroll—$73 million (16.4 percent)

• Justin Morneau, Twins: 2009 Salary—$10.6 million; 2009 team payroll—$65 million (16.3 percent)

Now the question comes down to this: would any of these three teams be willing to make their young star (Fielder, Sizemore, Mauer) a member of the 20 percent club? Let's take a look:

Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

If the Brewers are going to have any chance of keeping Prince Fielder long term, I imagine that it will take a contract upwards of $17-$20 million dollars a season for five to seven years. I have a tough time thinking that the Brewers will be able to comply with Fielder's contract for two reasons.

First, if their payroll stays around $70-$80 million, then Fielder's contract would take up at least 25 percent of the Brewers' payroll. Can the Brewers compete if one fourth of their payroll is locked up with Fielder?

Plus, from 2013-2015, the Brewers will have to deal with the rising cost of Ryan Braun, whose contract will take up roughly 10 percent of the Brewers payroll. Now ask yourself: can the Brewers actually compete if almost 35 percent of their payroll is locked up in only two guys? I doubt it.

Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians

I'll be very upfront about this one; the odds of Sizemore and the Indians coming to terms on a new contract are very slim at this point. Just look at the Indians' recent history with their young stars:

CC Sabathia: traded
Cliff Lee: traded
Victor Martinez: traded

Yikes. It's not looking too good for Sizemore and the Indians. On the open market, Sizemore can probably command a deal around $20 million per year, which is probably far outside the Indians' price range.

But I'll tell you this. The Indians need to keep Grady Sizemore. I'm not sure that I'd feel comfortable committing around 20 percent of the Indians' payroll to him. But at the same time, I think the Indians are somewhat obligated to trying to lock up Sizemore long term simply because they've already dealt so many young stars away.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Even though the Twins claim that they have money to spend on Mauer, I have a tough time figuring out where that money is going to come from. The reality is this: the Twins' payroll has only exceeded $70 million once (in 2007) and Joe Mauer will likely command a contract exceeding $20 million a year.

So unless Mauer is willing to take a hometown discount, I can't see the Twins' allowing one player to take up roughly 30 percent of their payroll.

Thoughts? Do any of these three have a chance to join the 20 percent club?

(Follow Jorge Says No! on Twitter)


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