Nine-digit deals often lead to buyer's remorse
Blockbuster signings have led to more busts than boons
Now that Albert Pujols has signed with the Angels for about a quarter-billion dollars on the heels of Jose Reyes' nine-figure deal with the Marlins, two more contracts have been added to the list of the most lucrative in baseball history.
With Prince Fielder poised to add a fourth $100 million contract, this winter already has pushed the membership of the $100 Million Club to 28 players, including two who have signed a pair of contracts for at least that much money -- Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.
But history, some of it very fresh, has shown that the numbers don't always add up when players and teams get into the stratosphere of nine-figure contracts.
Often, the risks have outweighed the rewards through the years. Generally, the very top of the heap at least have paid dividends, but many of the 30 contracts of $100 million or more have fallen short of expectations or were downright busts.
It's a big risk to take, putting nine figures on a contract. Not everybody can do it financially, but not everyone thinks it's such a bright idea anyway.
You can count Brewers general manager Doug Melvin among those content to allow other clubs to throw caution to the wind, along with the big bucks.
"You have to keep in mind what your club is going to look like two or three years down the road," Melvin said at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. "That's the danger teams get into when they get into this free-agency thing."
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson
Of course, it should be noted that Melvin was the GM in Texas when the granddaddy contract of them all -- the 10-year, $252 million Alex Rodriguez deal -- changed the landscape of lucrative signings. However, it's well established that it was then-owner Tom Hicks and agent Scott Boras who concocted that blockbuster, not so much Melvin.
Since then, the biggest spenders, especially at the Winter Meetings, have had more than their share of duds. Melvin, whose Brewers all but backed out of the Fielder sweepstakes while in Dallas, says there's a litany of evidence to stay away from the big-money deals.
Said Melvin: "The Minnesota Twins, they sign Joe Mauer [to keep him from becoming a free agent]. The Seattle Mariners were the winners and the losers of the Winter Meetings one year with Chone Figgins. The Red Sox with Carl Crawford [at the 2010 Winter Meetings] and John Lackey [in '09] -- they were the winners but now they're the losers. The Cubs were the winners when they signed [Alfonso] Soriano, and now they're the losers.
"I don't understand why that's not written more. All the teams that are the big winners at the Winter Meetings are always the losers three years from now. Everybody wants to spend the money."
The Angels and Marlins certainly did at the Winter Meetings.
The outcomes of this winter's nine-digit cases remain to be seen, with two in the books and one more expected. Pujols enters his monster deal as the player of his generation, Reyes has been injury-prone but might be the game's most spectacular athlete, and Fielder is one of the game's best young power hitters. All three have potential to deliver the goods for years to come.
But, hey, don't they all? Otherwise, they wouldn't have gotten the big bucks.
For general manager Jerry Dipoto and the Angels, there's no turning back. Dipoto said Thursday the slight dip in Pujols' numbers in 2011 wasn't at all a deterrent to go long with the superstar hitter, who by the way managed to hit 37 homers and add a three-homer World Series game en route to his second World Series ring.
"I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation," Dipoto said as the agreement was announced. "And if a decline still places you in the top-five MVPs in the league, and we understand that players will go through peaks and valleys of sort, Albert has spent many years operating at the peaks.
"And if we want to call a decline going from superhuman to just great, I don't think we've seen the last great days of Albert Pujols, obviously, or we wouldn't be sitting here today."
|Here are the 30 contracts of more than $100 million that have been signed since Kevin Brown's deal first broke the barrier in 1999 (asterisks identify contract extensions).|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||CIN||$116.5M||2000-08*|
|Sources: Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Associated Press and MLB.com archives|
Pujols certainly has the credentials to make this contract one the Angels won't live to regret. That's true of many of the top deals ever signed, from Derek Jeter's $189 million pact with the Yankees through the 2000s to Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox, the last year-plus of which was spent with the Dodgers, or even the A-Rod deal that took it all up a notch.
The same can be said for current nine-digit contracts such as the Yankees' CC Sabathia (seven years, $161 million, plus an extension of one more year), Mark Teixeira (seven years, $180 million), the Phillies' Ryan Howard (five years, $125 million) and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (eight years, $152 million). It's been just one year, but Adrian Gonzalez is off to a good start on his six-year, $154 million extension with the Red Sox, one of several recent extensions including Mauer (eight years, $184M), the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (eight years, $160M) and Troy Tulowitzki (10 years, $157.75M).
But Melvin's right more often than not in his skepticism about teams diving in with both feet with the mega millions.
Last year's a perfect place to establish a cynical view about lucrative long-term deals. To different degrees, the three free agents who signed deals of more than $100 million last winter fell short of paying dividends in their first season. Crawford of the Red Sox (seven years, $142 million) and Jayson Werth of the Nationals (seven years, $126 million) both struggled and certainly didn't give their teams value for the size of their contracts. And, to a lesser degree, Cliff Lee (five years, $120 million) didn't push the Phillies back to the World Series, as advertised.
All three still have time remaining on those whopper contracts, so there's still opportunity to change the first impression. But too many nine-digit deals over the years have been tough contracts for teams to swallow.
Mike Hampton, the lefty whose $121 million contract over eight years with the Rockies stands out as the biggest nine-digit bust among the select group of megadeals, saw his ERA doubled in the Mile High City in two fitful years. Hampton was traded to Florida, and then two days later to Atlanta, with the Rockies paying about $40 million for a 21-28 record and 5.75 ERA in 62 starts. Fighting through injury and ineffectiveness, Hampton had a couple of good years for the Braves. But his totals for the eight years and nine digits of salary: 71-62 with a 4.46 ERA in 180 starts.
Really, the caution flag went out on the very first $100 million deal -- the seven-year, $105 million deal Kevin Brown signed with the Dodgers. He was strong his first couple of seasons with Los Angeles, but after being traded to the Yankees wound up with a 6.50 ERA his final season in 2005, at age 40.
Among big free-agent signings in recent years, full benefits have been elusive on some. Carlos Beltran's seven-year, $119 million deal and Johan Santana's $137.5 million deal through 2013 haven't gotten the Mets where they wanted to go, and Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants has been a well-documented dud, financially speaking.
It cuts both ways, too. Jason Giambi didn't get the World Series ring and everything else he might have hoped for when he left the A's and signed a seven-year, $120 million deal with the Yankees in 2002. Carlos Lee hasn't found riches on the field the way he did off it with a $100 million deal with the Astros, signed prior to '07.
But the risk is obviously on the side of the teams when it comes to the blockbuster contract, and teams continue to take that risk this winter.
How big a risk they are taking, only time will tell.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.