One of the things that’s always irked me as a Nats fan is the continual presence of Jayson Werth‘s 7yr/$126M contract on the ever present lists of “Worst Contracts in Baseball.” Or the fact that when Ryan Zimmerman signed his $100M extension, an anonymous front office member was quoted as saying that the Nats now had “two $100M contracts but no $100M players.” (paraphrased from memory, can’t find the original quote).
Lets face it: professional baseball (and to an extent most Professional Sports) is a unique industry when it comes to paying for performance. Most players perform in their peak professional years for pennies on the dollar (especially those in pre-arbitration years) as compared to their general “worth” on the Free Agent market. Teams can lock up players for at least 6 years and sometimes 8-9 years (depending on the amount of time they spent in the minors) once they are signed. In most cases players are first reaching free agency in their early 30s, whereas most would agree that a player’s peak performance age is probably in the 27-28 timeframe. That means that by the time a star is finally ready to cash in and sign that life-defining guaranteed contract …. they’re mostly on the downside of their career. This means that teams are almost always paying for players’ decline years, and it almost always means that teams are generally regretting these huge contracts almost the moment they’re signed.
Teams that want to add through Free Agency thus are almost always paying ahead for past performance. And usually this means that, especially by the end of a long FA contract, teams are vastly overpaying for the performance they’re getting on the field.
So I asked this question; has anyone ever signed a “good” $100M+ contract? Good meaning, did the player perform up to the value of the contract the entire way through it? A group of friends of mine argued about the same topic while drinking beer in the bleachers at Nationals Park last week; lets revisit the conversation.
According to Cot’s site (now at Baseball Prospectus), there have been 35 such contracts of $100,000,000 or more. I’ve divided these contracts into three categories: those that are in the past or are sufficiently worked through in 2012 as to pass judgement, those that were signed starting with 2011 (so they only have a season and a quarter to judge), and those that started in 2012 or in the future. Of these 35 contracts, they break down as follows:
- Old enough to be Judge-able: 20
- Started in 2011: 5
- Started in 2012 or in the future: 10 (lots of big contracts handed out this past off season).
How would you judge these contracts? Lets go by category: The rank is the rank of all time total value amongst all of these 35 contracts.
Category 1: Judgeable $100M contracts
|Rank||Player||Amount (Years)||Knee Jerk Opinion on value|
|1||Alex Rodriguez||$275,000,000 (2008-17)||Future Albatross: paying A-rod $28M at age 41|
|2||Alex Rodriguez||$252,000,000 (2001-10)||Great production for most of this contract|
|6||Derek Jeter||$189,000,000 (2001-10)||Hard to Argue Jeter wasn’t worth it…|
|8||Mark Teixeira||$180,000,000 (2009-16)||2009 was great; a .242 hitter since.|
|9||CC Sabathia||$161,000,000 (2009-15)||Continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.|
|10t||Manny Ramirez||$160,000,000 (2001-08)||One of the greatest per-dollar value large contracts ever|
|14||Miguel Cabrera||$152,300,000 (2008-15)||Great value so far; perennial MVP candidate|
|16||Todd Helton||$141,500,000 (2003-11)||Early part of contract good; last few years meager. A push|
|17||Johan Santana||$137,500,000 (2008-13)||Major injuries plaguing contract|
|18||Alfonso Soriano||$136,000,000 (2007-14)||Considered one of the worst contracts in baseball|
|20t||Vernon Wells||$126,000,000 (2008-14)||Severely underperforming; one of most immovable contracts|
|20t||Barry Zito||$126,000,000 (2007-13)||5th starter stuff, bumped from rotation by career minor leaguer|
|25||Mike Hampton||$121,000,000 (2001-08)||Major disappointment, traded twice|
|26t||Jason Giambi||$120,000,000 (2002-08)||Great early value in NY; injuries and lack of production late. A push|
|26t||Matt Holliday||$120,000,000 (2010-16)||Quietly earning this contract.|
|29||Carlos Beltran||$119,000,000 (2005-11)||Injuries plagued middle of contract; good value otherwise|
|30||Ken Griffey Jr.||$116,500,000 (2000-08)||Missed most of 3 seasons mid-contract, constantly hurt|
|32||Kevin Brown||$105,000,000 (1999-2005)||72 Wins for $105M, missed parts of 4 seasons.|
|33t||Carlos Lee||$100,000,000 (2007-12)||Decent performance if not spectacular; Too much $/year though|
|33t||Albert Pujols||$100,000,000 (2004-10)||If anything, underpaid during this stretch.|
Category 2: Too Early to really tell (signed/started in 2011) Contracts:
|Rank||Player||Amount (Years)||Early Reports Are..|
|7||Joe Mauer||$184,000,000 (2011-18)||Injuries early in contract; struggling so far in 2012.|
|12||Troy Tulowitzki||$157,750,000 (2011-20)||Hard to argue with production; injury prone though|
|15||Carl Crawford||$142,000,000 (2011-17)||Played relatively poorly in 1st yr, hurt 2nd.|
|20t||Jayson Werth||$126,000,000 (2011-17)||Wide-spread opinion of major over-pay; out most of 2012|
|26t||Cliff Lee||$120,000,000 (2011-15)||One of the best pitchers in baseball|
Category 3: 2012 and Future Extensions
|Rank||Player||Amount (Years)||Industry Opinion seems to be…|
|3||Albert Pujols||$240,000,000 (2012-21)||Future Albatross? Slow 2012 start, tons of money in late 30s|
|4||Joey Votto||$225,000,000 (2014-23)||Too much for too long?|
|5||Prince Fielder||$214,000,000 (2012-20)||Bad body won’t age well|
|10t||Matt Kemp||$160,000,000 (2012-19)||Best player in baseball rocketed out of the gate in 2012.|
|13||Adrian Gonzalez||$154,000,000 (2012-18)||Red Sox issues in general dragging him down but was good in 1st season|
|19||Matt Cain||$127,500,000 (2012-17)||Lot of money to a pitcher with a career W/L record below .500|
|23||Ryan Howard||$125,000,000 (2012-16)||Achilles heel injury to start; $25m/ year for decline|
|24||CC Sabathia||$122,000,000 (2012-16)||Continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.|
|31||Jose Reyes||$106,000,000 (2012-17)||Concerned about contract year boost in productivity?|
|33t||Ryan Zimmerman||$100,000,000 (2014-19)||Great player if healthy … but seemingly never healthy|
- Of the 20 judge-able $100M contracts, 10 were unquestionably bad, 7 were good and the other 3 were arguable one way or the other (which, is still “bad” in that they weren’t huge successes).
- 3 of the 5 2011 contracts are widely panned as of this moment.
- Of the 10 nine figure contracts starting this year or later, at least 4 have been badly panned and really only Matt Kemp‘s contract looks like a winner from the onset. Then again, judging a 6 year contract on 2 months of production is (goes without saying) the definition of a small sample size.
I’ve only identified 11 of these 35 contracts that were either “worth it” or which seem to be trending well. So the answer to my blog question is definitely, “Yes, there have been a handful of 9-figure deals worth the money.” However, 18 of these 35 contracts were either patently bad or are trending that way soon. The other 7 that I’ve put somewhere in the middle may very well be considered losses; when you commit $100M as a franchise you expect near Hall of Fame productivity.
The lesson that I take away is this: a 6-9 year commitment for $18-$25M/year should be a guaranteed lock of productivity for your team, but as these contracts show it almost seems like a coin flip as to whether your franchise-defining contract will actually work out. That’s scary stuff to consider as a GM and/or an owner.
Bonus Analysis: Team by Team: 18 of the 30 teams in baseball have rolled the dice on a 9 figure salary; how have they fared?
|Los Angeles Angels||1||1|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||2||1||1|
|New York Mets||2||1||1|
|New York Yankees||6||3||2||1|
Look how many teams have tried once or twice and failed every time. And notice that sometimes even a “good” contract can still be crippling. Alex Rodriguez earned every penny of his massive contract in Texas … but the owners capped payroll and couldn’t build a good team around him, so the contract was viewed as a massive anchor for the team. He had to be traded so that the team could rebuild (and as it turned out, be sold to a more competent owner).
Back to our Nats: Washington has handed out two 9-figure deals and both (while still early) are being panned in the media. Werth‘s wrist injury and Zimmerman‘s continual dings aren’t helping. Lets just hope that the kids keep competing and driving us forward.