Thursday, December 20, 2012

Baseball GMs & 100 Million dollar Contracts. When will they learn?

In the aftermath of this year's winter meetings and a couple of free agent signings I starting thinking about this trend we are seeing in baseball regarding contracts. Now a days we see absurd contracts on a yearly basis. Every year a few players will get a  6+ year 140 million+ dollar contract which pays them 20+ mil per season until they're 37+ years old. This off season we have seen three such deals starting of course with my Mets signing David Wright to the tune of 7 years 122 mil extension to the 16 mil he's due this season, so 8 years 138mil. As a Met fan am I happy he signed? Yes. Is he worth that much? No, but yes. More on that in a minute. Then the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Zack Greinke for 6 years 147 mil, followed by the Anaheim Angels signed Josh Hamilton for 5 years 125mil a couple days later.

In doing my research I found that this trend of hefty contracts started almost 15 years ago, in 1998 when Kevin Brown became baseball's first 100 million dollar man after signing with the Dodgers for 7 years and 105 mil. In 2000 following a trade from the Mariners to the Reds, one of my favorite players ever, the kid Ken Griffey Jr. signed a 9 year 116 mil contract. Following that 2000 season, Dan O'Dowd signed former Met great Mike Hampton to the richest contract in baseball history at the time 8 years 123.8 Mil. It only stood as the highest contract ever for 2 days. Enter Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, who signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10 year, 252 million dollar contract on December 11th, 2000. That signing became the highest paying contract in sports history and more than doubled Mike Hampton's. Some people applauded Hicks for the signing as they felt he snatched up the most coveted free agent baseball had ever seen, or at least since young Barry Bonds hit the market in '92. A-Rod was 25, a 5 tool player, whom many thought would one day be the best player in the game, if he wasn't already. He was coming of a .316 AVG-41 HR-132 RBI-134 R-Gold Glove caliber season. Signing him was a no-brainer, but at what price? Hicks thought that number was 252 Million over 10 years. 25 mil a season. Never had that money been paid to one player, 25 mil per season. Outrageous, even for someone as talented as A-Rod. 

With the contract Texas committed to using 1/4th of their payroll on one player for the next 10 years. By setting this precedent with A-Rod, Hicks made it impossible for other teams and GM's to have a chance at signing players for a respectable amount. Other GM's took note and realized what they would have to dish out 20 mil, or close to it, to keep their best players or best free agents. Players have asked for outrageous contracts in negotiations, and no matter how outrageous it's not close to A-Rod's deal. We have seen that players have won as there have been several subsequent outrageous contracts (17+ mil per season):

(SS) Derek Jeter: 10y, 189m, 18.9per
(OF) Manny Ramirez: 8y, 160m, 20per

(1B) Jason Giambi 7y, 120m, 17.1per

(OF) Carlos Beltran: 7y, 119m, 17per

(OF) Vernon Wells: 7y, 126m, 18per
(OF) Alfonso Soriano: 8y, 136m, 17per
(P) Barry Zito: 7y, 126m, 18per

(3B) A-Rod: 10y, 275m, 27.5per
(P) Johan Santana: 6y, 137.5m, 22.9per
(3B) Miguel Cabrera: 8y, 152.3m, 19per

(1B) Mark Teixeira: 8y, 180m, 22.5per
(P) CC Sabathia: 7y ,161m, 23per

(1B) Ryan Howard 5y, 125m, 25per
(C) Joe Mauer: 8y, 184m, 23per
(OF) Matt Holliday: 7y, 120m, 17.1per

(P) Cliff Lee 5y, 120m, 24per
(1B) Adrian Gonzalez: 7y, 154m, 22per
(OF) Carl Crawford: 7y, 142m, 20.2per
(OF) Jayson Werth: 7y, 126m, 18per

(1B) Albert Pujols: 10y, 240m, 24per
(P) Cole Hamels: 6y, 144m, 24per
(1B) Joey Votto: 10 years, 225 Mil, 22.5per
(1B) Prince Fielder: 9 Years, 214 Mil, 23.7per
(OF) Matt Cain: 6y, 127.5m, 21.1per
(OF) Matt Kemp: 8 Years, 160 Mil, 20per
(SS) Jose Reyes: 6y, 106m, 17.6per
and the 3 previously mentioned signings of this offseason. I know I'm missing a few too.

Well we know how everything worked out for Tom Hicks. A-Rod had 3 good steroid using seasons while in Texas, hit 156 home runs and won an MVP one year despite his team finishing last. Hicks couldn't keep spending that amount of money on him and was forced to trade him to the Yankees and eat a portion of the contract. Texas eventually filled for bankruptcy and Hicks sold the team to Nolan Ryan. A-Rod has had a few good regular seasons with the Yankees, won two more MVP awards, and even hit well in one postseason to help the Yankees win a ring. However, he opted out of his original contract in 2007 to sign the highest paid contract in sports history, again! This time 10 years, 275 Mil. Now he is 37, got pinch hit for and benched in the ALCS last season and is getting ready to have his second hip surgery in 3 years. He is still owed 116 million over the next 5 years. 

I'd say that it has certainly went bad for the Rangers and is now going bad for the Yankees. Most of the contracts on that list didn't pan out. In fact, I can only point to a handful that were "worth" it: Jeter, Ramirez, Cabrera, CC and maybe Teixeira. However the trend hasn't stopped. Bloated contracts keep coming because there is no way players will ask for anything less than what has been previously given. Additionally, and more importantly teams are forced to dish out close to 20 mil per season to keep their best players or add players to help. If they can't do that they watch him go, listen to their fans cry and their team loses. If they can keep him, fans are happy in the short-term but feel the financial burden years later when he no longer produces at the same level and the team can't bring in anyone else because they are weighed down by the contract. This is happening now with A-Rod, many of the others on the list and sure to happen to any of the recent signings. All of theses 100 million dollar contracts amount to short term happiness, most of the time very short term, and long term sadness and regret.

Now in the case of my Mets and David Wright. Wright is our best player, face of the franchise and now, since the trade of R.A. Dickey, the only reason to go to a Mets game next year. Because of this we absolutely had to sign him to an extension. Not only that, we had to offer 17.25mil per season or he would have walked to some team that would. Is he worth 17.25 mil? In short no player is. However, because of what he means to us and his status as one of the top 3 or 4 3rd basemen in baseball he might be close to worth it, for now. He will play like he is worth it for the next 3-4 years (I hope) but on the backside of the deal he certainly won't be. Then we'll be dishing out 17 mil for a shell of himself. What hurts most is that we probably won't be in contention for much of the first half of his deal and when we start getting better in the back half (if this young pitching comes around) we won't be able to afford other players because of his contract. In total this contract, like most 100 million dollar contracts, adds up to short term semi-happiness long term depression and regret. When will these GMs learn?