CC Sabathia and the Most Overblown Contract Sagas in MLB History

Alec Snyder@@alec_snyder62Contributor IIINovember 10, 2011

CC Sabathia and the Most Overblown Contract Sagas in MLB History

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    As we settle into the offseason once again, we take a look at some of the big-name free agents available. All-Stars such as shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher C.J. Wilson and first basemen Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are among this year's biggest free-agent names, and all will receive high eight-figure to even high nine-figure contracts with whomever they sign.

    Pujols, one of the best available free agents of all time, will undoubtedly receive at least $150, if not $200 million with whatever team he signs with. Dating back to spring training of this past season, the Pujols contract saga has persisted all season long, but the fun is just beginning.

    It's entertaining to think back on players who signed big contracts, but recalling the drama and hype that had surrounded them is an even more interesting topic. Almost every free-agent class has that one player whom the media can't take their eyes off. This year, it's Pujols. But what about in years past?

    Three years ago (and even this year, to an extent), it was ace starting pitcher CC Sabathia, who received the biggest contract for a starting pitcher ever when he signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with none other than the New York Yankees. With an opt-out clause available after his third season (this year), Sabathia was dangerously close to re-entering the free-agent market, but the Yankees extended him another season at the 11th hour before he was able to be signed by any team.

    Sabathia is just one example of an overblown contract saga. In this slideshow, you'll get to reminisce many of the free-agent deals that enveloped the baseball world, and how they have turned out since. Please note that these choices will be in no particular order.

    Let's get to it.

CC Sabathia

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    Why not start where we left off?

    CC Sabathia was arguably the lone bright spot on the Cleveland Indians' otherwise mediocre roster for the early-to-mid 2000s. Despite the Tribe's losing ways, Sabathia pushed his team to a playoff berth in 2007, winning the AL Cy Young Award in the process, and boosting his free-agent value for the following offseason.

    As the 2008 trade deadline came around, Sabathia was understandably a hot commodity. With the Yankees looming overhead, the Milwaukee Brewers burst onto the scene and ultimately acquired the hefty ace in hopes that he would lead the team to the playoffs. He did just that, and the Brewers won the NL Wild Card, their first postseason berth since winning it all in 1982.

    While the Brewers lost to the eventual-World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, the talk of the baseball world was Sabathia's contract. As the 2008 offseason progressed, it became more and more apparent that CC Sabathia was bound for the Big Apple as a member of the Yankees. The million dollar question, though, was not where he would sign, but for how much.

    Sabathia ultimately signed the largest contract for a starting pitcher in MLB history, a feat that still stands today. He signed with the Yankees on a seven-year deal worth $161 million. He's led the Yankees' pitching staff since and has done quite a job, too.

    In his first season as a Bronx Bomber, Sabathia won it all and was a top-three finisher in the AL Cy Young voting a year later. But as the 2011 season concluded, widespread rumors circled around the mill that Sabathia would opt out of contract via a clause that allowed him to do so after his third season in the deal (2011). It seemed imminent that Sabathia would hit free agency again, meaning that he could potentially sign with another team, yet the Yankees locked him up at the 11th hour, extending his already-lucrative deal by one year at a $25 million value and guaranteeing a total of $30 million (Sabathia will earn at least $5 million via a buyout the year after if his $25 million option does not vest).

Cliff Lee

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    With two of the top three free agents in the 2010 offseason being outfielders in Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, one might expect that most of the contract hype would revolve around one of them. However, while each did receive a portion of media attention, it was starting pitcher Cliff Lee who got the lion's share.

    Lee started out as a pitcher in the Montreal Expos' minor-league system and was a prospect in what has since been dubbed one of the worst trades of all time when the Indians traded Bartolo Colon for Lee, Brandon Philips and Grady Sizemore. Colon remained with the team for two months, while the prospects traded all became All-Stars, with Lee even receiving the 2008 AL Cy Young Award.

    On July 29, 2009, Lee was traded by the Indians to the Phillies along with outfielder Ben Francisco in exchange four prospects: starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald. Lee, who had been average at best prior to the trade, dazzled for the Phillies down the stretch and went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 33 strikeouts and pitched two complete games in his first career postseason, consisting of five starts. While the Phillies lost the World Series to the Yankees, Lee was hailed as the standout ace of a pitching staff that was desperately in need of one for so long.

    However, when the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays on December 13, 2009, they shipped off Lee to the Seattle Mariners as well. Lee spent the first half of the 2010 season as a Mariner until July 9, when he was traded along with Mark Lowe to the Texas Rangers. Lee led the Rangers to their first-ever World Series appearance, a series which they lost to the San Francisco Giants in five games.

    As the 2010 offseason came around, it was Cliff Lee's turn to settle down. Having been traded three times in two seasons (being a member of four teams), Lee wanted to sign with a team knowing that he wouldn't be in danger of being traded. The saga was huge—Lee's two bidders for the longest time were the Rangers, and the Yankees, who had also tried to pry Lee away from the Mariners at the trade deadline, but a potential deal fell through and the Rangers swooped in.

    Contract offers for Lee ranged from six years to seven years, from $138 million to $148 million and beyond. Team presidents and GMs from each team were flying in to Lee's Arkansas home to speak with him and persuade him to join their team. However, the weekend after MLB's annual Winter Meetings, Lee signed his contract, yet it was with a mystery team that worked their way into the mix at the last minute—the Phillies. Lee signed a five-year, $120 million deal with the Phils with a vesting option for a sixth year, having said that he never wanted to leave in the first place.

    Lee was a stud for the Phillies this past season, going 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 238 strikeouts and pitching six shutouts, a Phillies record. Lee is an NL Cy Young Award candidate this year, and while the award will likely go to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Lee could very well finish in the top three.

Barry Zito

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    Barry Zito was among the best starting pitchers in baseball in the early 2000s. Having pitched to a 17-8 record with a 3.49 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and fanning 205 batters in 214.1 IP in just his sophomore season of 2001 with the Oakland Athletics, Zito looked to be ace-bound. And for quite some time, he was. In 2002, Zito posted a 23-5 record with a 2.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 182 strikeouts and three CG (two were shutouts) en route to the AL Cy Young Award.

    Zito had it all, yet after winning his award, he began to regress each successive season. In 2003, the year after he won the Cy Young, Zito went just 14-12, his ERA climbing back up to 3.30. In 2004, Zito was even worse, posting a monstrous 4.48 ERA and 1.39 WHIP along with an 11-11 record. So much for becoming an ace.

    2005 continued along that sluggish pace, yet 2006 was kind to Zito. He went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA, although his WHIP was high at 1.40. However, despite his downward spiral over the years, Zito always managed to be durable, starting at least 34 games in every season through 2006 (excluding his rookie year).

    With the three-time All-Star Zito being one of the best pitchers available in the 2006 offseason, many teams were interested. Initially, the Texas Rangers and New York Mets held interest, but it ultimately came down to a bidding war between his former team, the Oakland As, and the San Francisco Giants across the bay. Zito ultimately chose to go to San Fran and sign what was then the largest contract ever signed by a starting pitcher—a seven-year, $126 million contract, being the fourth player to sign a deal worth over $100 million that year. The Giants, who had coveted an ace pitcher for so long, finally got their man...or did they?

    Since signing with San Francisco, Zito has yet to post a winning season, holding a losing record in each of his first five seasons of the seven-year deal. He even led the majors in losses with 17 in 2008, and as a Giant, Zito has gone 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Zito's contract has been considered one of the worst of all time, and until they traded Jonathan Sanchez a few days ago, Zito was considered being moved to the bullpen.

Derek Jeter

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    Just making this clear: When we're talking about Derek Jeter's contract saga, we're not referring to his 10-year, $189 million extension he signed before the 2001 season. We're talking about the drama and predicament that ensued last offseason.

    Jeter has had an illustrious career with the Yankees. He's won five World Series, has been a five-time Gold Glove Award recipient, a four-time Silver Slugger Award recipient and a 12-time All-Star. In addition, Jeter has also won an AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1996, a World Series MVP Award in 2000 and has been a two-time recipient of the Hank Aaron Award. Lastly, Jeter is also a member of the 3,000 hits club, a feat he just accomplished this past season.

    Jeter seems like he's got it all going for him, and in many ways he does. He's very humble and always stays out of the media spotlight. When he signed his mega 10-year, $189 million extension before the 2001 season, things started to heat up for him, but they eventually settled back down.

    However, last offseason was a change of the norm. Jeter was a free agent for the first time in his career, and at age 36, he wanted either a new contract from the Yankees or he would retire. The ongoing feud of how much Jeter should make and how many years he should receive arguably got more attention than the Cliff Lee saga from last year.

    What infuriated Jeter were a couple of factors. The first is that he believed that his veteran team was cheating him out of money. Jeter, being the face of that franchise as well as their team captain, felt that he deserved to be paid handsomely. The second factor was the fact that most of the negotiations were made public. While that's a part of the free agency process nowadays, in that the numbers are publicly known, it's reasonable that he was upset about this.

    Jeter and the Yankees eventually agreed to a three-year, $51 million deal with an $8 million player option for a fourth year. Jeter was arguably extremely overpaid, yet being the face of the Yankees, he got what he felt he deserved. And as long as Yankee Universe doesn't care, then there shouldn't be any issue.

Manny Ramirez

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    Manny Ramirez has always been known as one of the more reckless players in recent years. He's always found a way to get into some sort of argument or fight, and he's always stood by his actions. At least the man keeps his integrity.

    Ramirez has racked up numerous awards over the years, including nine Silver Sluggers, the 2004 World Series MVP, as well as winning two World Series in his career and being a 12-time All-Star.

    Manny, like many others on this list, started out his career on the Cleveland Indians and was a star player for them from 1993 to 2000. He left the team after the 2000 season and signed a huge eight-year, $160 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Teams were vying for his services for whatever they could pay, yet it was the Red Sox who came out on top and signed the free-agent left fielder.

    Manny enjoyed great success during his tenure in Boston, easily becoming a fan favorite. Ownership, on the other hand, was not so keen on Ramirez, even attempting to send him out through irrevocable waivers after the 2003 season, in which they lost a seven-game ALCS to none other than their long-standing rivals, the Yankees. Despite Ramirez being a perennial leader in offensive categories, his off-the-field antics were not respected, calling for a potential trade.

    Boston would soon find out that they made the right decision in keeping Manny when they won the 2004 World Series, their first in 86 years, with Ramirez being named the series MVP.

    Ramirez reached many milestones as a member of the Red Sox, having hit his 300th, 400th and 500th home runs with the team over the years. During 2008, Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he signed a two-year, $45 million deal with them after the season after a long process of disagreeing upon his salary. He enjoyed success there as well until testing positive for an illegal substance in the 2009 season, suspending him for 50 games. He still did well through 2009 and part of 2010 until he was placed on trade waivers and the Chicago White Sox picked him up.

    After that season, Ramirez signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays worth $2 million along with his former Boston teammate Johnny Damon. However, Ramirez's season (and career) came to an abrupt end when he failed a drug test yet again. Rather than face a 100-game suspension, Ramirez retired from the MLB.

Alex Rodriguez

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    Alex Rodriguez is baseball's highest-paid player ever. Having signed two contracts each worth in excess of $250 million, despite the first one not lasting its entire initial tenure, Rodriguez has racked up at least $350 million over his career.

    A-Rod was drafted first overall out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 1993 draft. He quickly broke out as a star, regularly hitting over 40 home runs, stealing at east 30 bases, hitting over .300 and batting in over 100 RBI. He even hit for the cycle in 1997 and was the third player ever to have a 40-40 home run/stolen bases count when he did so in the 1998 season, hitting 42 home runs and stealing 46 bases.

    After the 2000 season, his last in Seattle, Rodriguez was coveted by nearly every team in baseball. Arguably the best player to come around in a generation, A-Rod's services were wanted by most teams, but only the teams on top would stand a chance...right?

    Wrong. Before the 2001 season, A-Rod signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the AL West last-place Texas Rangers. This was the most lucrative contract in sports history at the time, and it remains one of the most lucrative contracts ever to be signed today. Rodriguez's power numbers dramatically increased at this time, with Rodriguez hitting 52 home runs in his first season as a Ranger, and he remained among the league leaders in most other stats as well. In 2003, after being snubbed multiple times, Rodriguez finally won his first MVP award.

    However, the Rangers traded A-Rod on February 15, 2004 to the New York Yankees for outfielder Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias, covering $67 million of the $179 million remaining on the deal. Although the Boston Red Sox had made a pitch to trade for Rodriguez, their deal was denied by the MLB, and the Yankees came in and took care of business.

    A-Rod has been a staple at third base for the Yankees, winning two more MVPs in 2005 and 2007. After the 2007 season, Rodriguez voided the remainder of his contract (allowed via a specific clause) and re-signed with the Yankees for an even more lucrative 10-year, $275 million deal. Rodriguez has since won his first World Series in 2009 as well. He has also admitted to prior steroid use from 2001 to 2003 as a member of the Rangers.

Kevin Brown

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    Kevin Brown is an interesting story. Brown started out his career with the Rangers, being drafted fourth overall by the team in the 1986 draft. Starting in 1989, Brown was the No. 2 of the staff behind Nolan Ryan, and he pitched to a 12-9 record with a 3.35 ERA. Brown was only average in 1990 and 1991, but in 1992, Brown was great, going 21-11 with a 3.32 ERA, leading the majors in wins, earning his first All-Star nod and placing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

    Brown signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles for the 1995 season and was well below expectations. He then signed with the Florida Marlins on a two-year contract for 1996 and 1997, and he was excellent as a Marlin, placing second in the NL Cy Young Award Voting with a 17-11 record and a majors-best 1.89 ERA, also going to the All-Star game once more.

    For 1998, Brown was back at it and looking sharp, going 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA. However, after the 1998 season, Brown was one of baseball's top available free agents. While a large deal was inevitable for Brown, what he did sign for was completely unexpected. Brown signed with the Dodgers for seven years and $105 million, becoming the first MLB player to ever sign a contract over $100 million.

    For the first couple of seasons of that deal, Brown lived up to expectations, going 18-9 and 13-6 in his first two seasons with a 3.00 and league-leading 2.58 ERA in those respective seasons. However, in that second season (in 2000), Brown was hampered down by injuries, and his numbers began declining quickly. Although 2003 was a rebound season for Brown, going 14-9 with a 2.39 ERA, Brown was traded after the 2003 season to the Yankees, presumably because he had shown up on the Mitchell Report as testing positive.

    As a Yankee, Brown was awful. He didn't pitch to an ERA under 4.50 in either of his two seasons as a member of the Yanks and compiled a 14-13 record in those two years, making just 35 starts between them. Following the end of his contract, Brown retired from baseball, and rightfully so. Brown's contract has since been called one of the worst in baseball history.

Jason Giambi

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    Jason Giambi has been in baseball for quite some time. Giambi, who's also used steroids in his career, has been playing since 1995, when he was a member of the Oakland A's.

    As a member of the A's, Giambi was the team leader in offensive categories as well as being among the league leaders. He came in eighth place for the AL MVP in 1999, and in 2000, he won the award, hitting .333 with 43 home runs and 137 RBI. In 2001, Giambi posted similar numbers (.342 AVG, 38 HR, 120 RBI) but placed second to Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki, who won the Rookie of the Year and MVP Award in his debut 2001 season.

    After 2001, Giambi was a free agent, which is notoriously mentioned in the movie Moneyball. Giambi was willing to return to Oakland if they could pay him a high salary, but without team ownership approval, no such deal could take place. As a result, Giambi signed a seven-year, $120 million deal with the Yankees.

    Giambi did well in the beginning of his contract, adding more All-Star nods to what would become five for his career, as well as a Silver Slugger in his 2002 season to go along with the one he received the year before. Giambi also won the Home Run Derby in 2002 (pictured). He also remained in the top five in MVP voting for the first few years.

    As the contract progressed, Giambi's power regressed, and in 2004, Giambi missed a huge chunk of the season being treated for a benign tumor in his body. When he returned in 2005, his numbers went back up a bit, and he won the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award that season.

    In 2007 and 2008, Giambi was declining quickly, and after the 2008 season, Giambi did the unthinkable when he re-signed with the Athletics. The highlight of that season for him was that he hit his 400th home run, but he was ultimately released by the team in August of the 2009 season. He was signed by the Rockies later that month and has since played there. Most recently, he and the Rockies exercised his $1 million mutual option for next season.

Alfonso Soriano

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    Alfonso Soriano has been one of baseball's most overpaid players in recent years. Signed by the Yankees in 1999 after playing two years in Japan, Soriano excelled as a Yankee, placing among the league leaders in home runs, stolen bases, hits, at-bats and runs scored. Soriano remained a Yankee until 2003, when he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the aforementioned Alex Rodriguez deal.

    Soriano did well for the Rangers as well, being named an All-Star in both seasons he spent there (2004 and 2005). As a ranger, he hit .274 with an .814 OPS, stole 48 bases and hit 64 home runs.

    After the 2005 season, Soriano was traded to the Washington Nationals, where he was offered a five-year, $50 million extension, but he ultimately rejected the deal. Soriano, who was primarily a second baseman, was moved to left field by the Nationals, where he has since played. As a National, Soriano had an excellent season, once again being named to the All-Star team and becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to join the 40-40 club, hitting 46 home runs and stealing 41 bases that year. Soriano also became the first player to hit 40 doubles along with the former two in a season, as well as have 20 outfield assists.

    While the Nationals offered Soriano a $70 million contract, he rejected it, electing free agency instead. The market in the 2006 offseason was good to Soriano, with many teams vying for his services. The Cubs won out in the end, signing the now-outfielder to an eight-year, $136 million contract, the largest in Cubs history.

    Soriano performed well in his first season as a Cub, leading the team in almost all offensive categories. Soriano also made the All-Star team in 2008, despite injury and production struggles, yet due to a broken bone in his hand, he had to miss the game.

    Soriano was awful in 2009, but in 2010, he hit his 300th career home run off Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox. Since then, his offense has still plummeted, and his defense is now terrible. What's worse is that Soriano is locked up through the 2014 season, and unless the Cubs find a suitor for him in a trade, they're stuck with him.

Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols leads what may be the biggest saga of all time, yet the fun is just beginning.

    Pujols was drafted out of high school by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft, signing for just $60,000. In 2001, Pujols made the active roster out of spring training, largely due to injuries to other players. He started out playing third base, but also played first base and the corner outfield spots. He hit .329 in his rookie season with 37 home runs and 130 RBI en route to a unanimous Rookie of the Year Award. In 2002, Pujols played left field due to the acquisition of Scott Rolen from the Phillies, and he hit .314 with 34 dingers and 127 RBI.

    However, due to some injury issues, Pujols was moved permanently to first base for the 2003 season, where he has played since. He hit .353 that year with 43 homers and 124 RBI, as well as having a 30-game hitting streak that year.

    Prior to the 2004 season, Pujols signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension that ran through the 2010 season. It also had a club option for 2011. Pujols had a superb season in 2004, yet despite a slightly worse season in 2005, he won the NL MVP Award, his first of three. Pujols continued his streak of .300/30/100 seasons (AVG, HR, RBI) and won the MVP Award again in 2008 and 2009.

    Pujols has won a plethora of awards throughout his career. Along with the three MVPs, Pujols has been named an All-Star nine times, had won the NL Hank Aaron Award twice, has been named a Silver Slugger six times, a Gold Glover two times, an NL Player of the Month six times, an NL Player of the Week 11 times, the 2004 NLCS MVP, the recipient of the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award and has won the World Series twice, among others. He is arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and he'll only be 32 at the start of next season, so he's still got a lot of time left.

    With Pujols being the top free agent in this year's market, he could command one of the biggest contracts of all time, in excess of $200 million and over eight years. Despite a 2011 season in which injuries, among other things, depressed his stats a bit, for an off-year, the stats were still pretty damn good. Now that he's able to sign with any team, will he return to St. Louis, or sign with a new team?

    It's hard to imagine Pujols in a uniform other than that of the Cardinals, but if the price is right, he could go elsewhere. He's been dealing with the contract situation since spring training, when he and the Cardinals couldn't work out an extension. But with hype circling Pujols since day one of spring training last February through today, until he signs, we'll be seeing and hearing a lot about Albert Pujols.

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