Beyond the Bison: “The Weight”

Julian Dorey, Senior Writer

 

 

Alex Rodriguez. Vernon Wells. Mike Hampton. Albert Pujols. Barry Zito. Johan Santana. Ryan Howard.

This list could go on and on. These names represent the pitfalls of long-term, big-money contracts in the MLB. For years now, the uncapped league has watched annual salary and year commitments from teams increase at a rapid pace. With no rules governing contractual structure like the other American professional sports leagues have (NFL, NBA, and NHL), owners have made an annual show out of reaching deeper and deeper into their coffers just to compete to land a big name in free agency. We have seen this “race” fail time and time again.

Rodriguez’s 10-year contract from all the way back in 2007 (when he was already 32) has been and will continue to be the albatross to end all albatrosses. His production wasn’t worth the $275 million he signed for in the first place. Add that to the fact that his play has steadily declined since then, that he has been embroiled in several steroid controversies, and that he has been suspended accordingly, and you have yourself a new book in the making called “How to Completely Botch a Free Agency Contract for Dummies.”

When the Angels stole the best player in baseball, Pujols, from the Cardinals in 2011, they threw him a 10-year, $254 million deal when he was almost 32. To make matters worse, Pujols’ age had long been questioned among major league executives. The clear decline in his play immediately following that contract has only fueled more speculation.

The general theme here is that the length of the big money contracts is the biggest problem of all. How can you legitimately commit to a player for 10 years in a professional sport? Some Hall of Fame careers have been shorter than that, and most of these players have played in the majors for more than six years when they accept these contracts.

There is simply too much that can happen in seven to 10 years. Injuries, decline in play, a team’s fall from contention, etc. As the contracts wear on, the money becomes immovable (i.e. untradable) and teams are stuck in neutral until the years wind all the way down.

This is why the Miami Marlins giving young star, Giancarlo Stanton, a 13-year, $325 million contract this past week is all the more confusing.

The long-term contract issue has become a buzz topic in baseball recently, with the Rodriguez and Pujols deals serving as exhibits one and two. You would think teams would be taking it slower with the contract lengths they offer out, particularly the financially-strapped Marlins.

But no. The Marlins gave their 25-year-old star with five years of tread already on his tires an additional 13 years. In all fairness, they did change the 10-year standard. But they moved the arrow in the wrong direction.

To make matters worse, the deal is back-loaded, meaning that Stanton will be making around $30 million a year when he is 36, 37, and 38.

Who knows? He might even be retired by then. He certainly hasn’t been a stranger to injury with at least one DL stint in each of his four full MLB seasons. There’s nothing like paying a guy $30 million to sip daiquiris on a beach somewhere.

There is another side to the coin, however. The Marlins, notorious for their bi-annual garage sales of any and all assets that they can no longer afford, may have just wanted to lock in their greatest asset so that they could assure themselves of their ability to trade him for something in the future.

Miami, to its credit, has learned better than anyone over the past decade, that contending teams can do some crazy things as the trade deadline nears—and if Stanton is having a great season sometime in the next two or three years, the Marlins might just be able to reel in a major haul and unload this mega-deal onto a short-term thinking franchise.

Perhaps, though, other teams will be smarter now. We have the evidence of the Rodriguezes, the Pujols, and the Howards all around us. Executives see this and they realize how these contracts kill teams. With that in mind, the Marlins may find that teams simply cross Stanton off their wish lists as a matter of principle.

If this is the case, the dicey franchise down in Miami has only itself to blame. The real question is where does this madness end?

It might be time for the league office to negotiate contract structures into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) because this is getting ridiculous.

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