The Bad Contracts in Baseball
Over the past several years we have seen plenty of players sign staggering mega-deals. The deals keep getting deeeper, longer and more creative. Some signings have been warranted, others leave people shaking their heads. Loyal and bandwagon fans share excitement and disappointment when their favorite team’s brass pulls the trigger.
If you want a top player, you have to pay top dollar in free agency, because if your team doesn’t another will. If you have a player that is raised in your farm system, you might see a more team-friendly deal. Then again, you might not. In the end, all professional athletes are concerned about financial security. When they hit the market, they will sign with the highest bidder. We can speculate and believe that athletes will go to a team that will win it all. Put yourself in their shoes. Each has a certain amount of years to play. When opportunity knocks, they are going to answer in a way that is most lucrative for them.
Teams try to lock up a player before their arbitration years hit or they hit the open market. The incumbent usually has the edge, and they might save some pennies. Compare the contract Mike Trout signed recently to that of Giancarlo Stanton. Trout’s contract is smart for both parties. The Angels have the best player in baseball for another six years playing through his prime years. Trout earns a nine-figure salary over those six years and when that contract is up, at age 28, he can still sign a sweet deal while still young. The Angels didn’t have to overspend because they have been competitive for quite some time and are a few pieces away from competing for a ring. They also know Trout can only earn so much during arbitration; they didn’t have to extend too far, as they had no other bidders. Stanton was grossly overpaid because the Marlins had to. The Marlins have been irrelevant for a long time now and couldn’t afford to let him go, which overshadowed that same arbitration-year advantage. In addition, Stanton has one more year of service time on his clock than Trout does.
I will credit the two sides on back loading the deal to allow the club to have some flexibility to produce a winner in the next five or six years. Stanton will earn less in the first three years of his deal than he would in arbitration. What’s the problem then? Miami is not a winner now, but the big deal amps up the pressure. If they don’t win soon, their flexibility shrinks. They will be hard pressed to attract impact guys down the road. They made this move to keep Stanton around. It is risky. If the Marlins were winning year in and year out, they don’t have to pay as much to keep him around. When teams win, most players like the idea of staying with the team that gave them a chance and help build a championship roster.
I’ll be taking a different approach to examining other bad contracts. When you sign a superstar to these player lucrative contracts, there are certain expectations around baseball and with the fans. Awaiting them is plenty of scrutiny and boos if they struggle in year one or get injured during the life of the contract. Typically, guys land free agent deals in their late 20s, a few at 30 or 31. Teams are paying the players for what they have done in the past and hoping to get similar results moving forward.
I’m completely content with shelling out big money for guys like Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and others who have proven their worth. Why? Simply put, my expectations aren’t for them to be MVP candidates for the rest of their careers. Take Cano for instance; I loved the signing. He has another five years to contribute. If you can get a player of his caliber, at his best, for that long the contract is justified.
The Yankees and A-Rod get labeled with a bad contract. This is just not true. I get that it looks bad now due to injuries and suspensions, but look at what he has produced in New York. Hell, look at what he is doing now. Since joining the Bronx Bombers, he has brought two MVP awards and seven All-Star appearances. He was a huge factor in helping win a World Series and numerous playoff appearances. Fans can’t expect greatness for the duration of mega deals, but they do. You’re being naïve if you think Albert Pujols, Cabrera or Cano can be contributing at the same level, in their late thirties. Those guys were great for years, before they hit the open market. They can’t sustain their elite play, but they bring other things to the table. Pitchers are a little different as they don’t bring the everyday impact that position players do. If you’re going to pay pitchers substantial money they need to be dominate and maintain that dominance.
There are plenty of bad contracts in baseball. These are the worst five, not in any order.