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In today’s world, people define success by using many different standards. These measures include happiness, wisdom, or even helping other members of society. Unfortunately all of these people foolishly overlook the true answer–earning a $100 million contract to play for a Major League Baseball team. Who doesn’t want to play a kiddie game for disgusting amounts of money?
CC Sabathia, Jose Reyes, and Albert Pujols have already agreed to these mega deals this offseason. Prince Fielder is not too far behind. But while these contracts are great for the players, they appear to always end poorly to the teams that hand them out. To make matters more troubling, these laughable mistakes do not seem to deter these same franchises from allowing history to repeat itself. Why is the $100 million disaster contract handed out as often as ever?
Despite the multitude of players who have been signed for $100 million or greater, only three have ended in success (Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols [the 2004-2011 contract]). Three. As in one…two…three. The logical conclusion would be that $100 million contracts are probably not worth the money unless the player is indisputably a once in a lifetime transcendental talent. In that case, three appears to be a very appropriate number. However, there are more than three nine figure contracts currently signed in baseball right now. In fact, there are 22.
THE BIG 22:
Let’s sort these contracts into three categories. Category one is for train wrecks. Category two is for players who performed decently, but not close to being worthy of the contract they received. Category three is for contracts that at the end of the day were undeniable successes, probably Cooperstown worthy. While many of the Big 22 are in their early stages of these deals, it is surprisingly not difficult to predict which category they will fall in. With room for debate, this is how I would sort them with explanations where they seem necessary:
Players: Jayson Werth, Barry Zito
Explanation: Can anyone actually defend these? Is Werth really signed for six more years?
Players: Carlos Lee, Ryan Braun, Jose Reyes, Matt Holliday, Vernon Wells, CC Sabathia, Ryan Howard, Alfonso Soriano, Johan Santana, Todd Helton, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, Alex Rodriguez, Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Albert Pujols
Explanation: There is a wide range of players in this group who could potentially be categorized into the other two. But, take a step back for a minute. Some players had great years, but were derailed by injury and decline in others (Santana, Beltran, etc.). As much as people blast Vernon Wells and Carlos Lee, they aren’t hurting their teams by playing–their caliber of play is just nowhere close to the level it needs to be to justify their bloated contracts. Other players such as Todd Helton have actually had quite a few good seasons, but they simply did not deserve as much as they made for their efforts.
Others will be upset over my placement of popular players such as Kemp, Tulowitzki, and Cabrera. In return I ask this: will any of these players still be the elite in five years? Six years? Seven Years? Even in three years, these guys could be commanding salaries they do not deserve. Mauer was a league favorite two years ago. I’m not sure he can even play catcher today. Things change too fast to make such a big investment.
Explanation: Even I’m a little surprised by this. See the issue here?
If $100 million deals are reserved for the best of the best, and not a single member of the Big 22 can boast to deserving such a contract, then there is clearly a problem. Issue number one is obvious–we live in a world where we only value the best. And when the best isn’t available, we convince ourselves that what we have is actually the best. Jayson Werth was a good outfielder…but as one of two above average outfielders in the free agent market last season, teams convinced themselves that he was significantly better than he probably was. Obviously the lack of a salary cap doesn’t help the situation. Jose Reyes had a good season and is the best free agent shortstop. So, obviously the Marlins will disregard his injury-riddled past and commit six years to him. Let’s see how they feel about that one in year four. What about Albert Pujols? Sure, I’ll take him for a few years now. But can the Angels really depend on him to be a force in eight or nine years? No way.
The next problem is contract duration. The contracts teams are handing out can span anywhere from six to ten years. People already talk about Mark Teixeira as a player in decline. How many more years does he have left on his contract? It shows a complete lack of rational thought to sign a player in his early thirties and expect him keep up production into his late thirties or early forties. It just isn’t going to happen.
By the time baseball players reach free agency, they are too old to have that many years invested into them. For this reason, I would say Ryan Howard’s deal is slightly more auspicious simply due to the fact he is only locked up for five years. The Red Sox tried to dodge the age problem by giving expensive, long term deals to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford on the nice side of thirty. Nevertheless, Crawford already looks like a dud. Maybe it’s a sign that these contracts are not meant to be?
Of course, one also has to consider that these players are not robots. Once they have this guaranteed money, do they really care? In some cases maybe they do. But I’ll bet most of the time, they become complacent and lazy like the rest of us. Do you blame them?
A last thought to consider is that athletes are more than athletes…they are often viewed as celebrities in our society. That being said, besides Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who in MLB is that marketable? I’d honestly be more excited to bump into James Posey, an NBA bench player, than Albert Pujols. The Patriots can probably pay off a chunk of Tom Brady’s salary by only using the profits they make from selling his jersey. Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers amounts of money well beyond what the team even pays him. Are MLB players really capable of commanding a market in the same way NBA or NFL players are capable?
I am by no means proposing that MLB institute a salary cap. What I would urge for is more responsibility on behalf of the owners. Next time a 32-year-old outfielder with a history of injuries is coming off a career season, think a minute before signing him to a fifteen-year contract. Of course, teams can make the argument “If we don’t do it, another team will.” If you want to cripple your franchise, then by all means, go ahead. Of the Big 22, a handful of those teams are small market franchises. A stupid contract isn’t going to kill them, but it will certainly do enough to ruin their payroll for a decade. But teams are not smartening up. The Rockies are almost done with Todd Helton and they responded by giving Troy Tulowitzki ten years. Really?
Boston fans complain about the contracts given to John Lackey and J.D. Drew, but in comparison to some of these deals, the Red Sox were lucky. Until front offices learn from these mistakes, the future of MLB is not promising. Can you imagine a world where teams are strapped with apathetic and disinterested athletes who are signed to astronomical, long-term deals?
Wait a minute…