The Man With the Golden Arm - Greg Fiume
A brief examination of the largest contracts handed out by each team
With reports of the Mariners and Felix Hernandez nearing agreement on a 7 year / $175 million contract another major league team has joined the (less and less) rarefied air of the 9-figure club. This will be the first $100 million contract awarded by the Mariners. Their previous most lucrative contract was a 5 year / $90m deal with Ichiro Suzuki. The Mariners will become the 21st of the 30 major league organizations to have awarded a player a contract of $100m or more.
Hernandez's deal will be the 41st contract worth $100m or greater and will make him the highest paid pitcher of all time. The first was a 7 year / $105m deal given to a soon to be 34 year old Kevin Brown by the Los Angeles Dodgers on December 12th, 1998. Brown's deal absolutely annihilated the previous record contract given to a pitcher, Pedro Martinez's 6 year / $75m deal signed a year earlier. Ah, but one good trick deserves another, and two years to the day after Brown signed his deal, Mike Hampton put his John Hancock to a contract worth $121m over 8 years. This would make Hampton the richest player in the game, besting the $116.5m 9 year contract Ken Griffey Jr. had signed with the Reds in February of 2000. But alas, Hampton's reign would last but 2 days, as Alex Rodriguez would come along and plant his flag as the highest paid athlete in sports history. A-Rod's 10 year / $252m deal with the Texas Rangers was absolutely jaw dropping at the time. And would be still to this day...if he and the Yankees hadn't one-upped themselves with a 10 year / $275m contract agreement after A-Rod had opted out of the final 3 years of his previous deal. How's that working out for them now?
The most 9 figure deals have gone to 1Bmen (11): Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Albert Pujols w/ St. Louis, Carlos Lee, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Pujols w/ LA, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto. There have been 11 $100m deals given to outfielders, but it can be broken down as such: 6 to LFers (Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Holliday, Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton), 4 to CFers (Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Beltran, Vernon Wells, Matt Kemp), and 1 to a RFer (Jayson Werth).
Pitchers have received 10 such contracts (6 to LHP, 4 to RHP): Brown, Hampton, Barry Zito, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zach Greinke, Felix Hernandez. 3B and SS have each received 4 such deals. For third basemen: Ryan Zimmerman, A-Rod with the Yanks, David Wright, Evan Longoria. SS: A-Rod with the Rangers, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes. And only 1catcher has attained the $100m summit, Joe Mauer. The only full-time position to not receive a $100m contract thus far is 2nd base, likely due to the high risk of injury for the position in conjunction with the typical light-hitting nature of those who play the position. Robinson Cano could well be the first to reach the mark come next off season.
The Yankees have, obviously, handed out the most 9 figure contracts with 5: Jeter, Giambi, A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia. 5 clubs have made 3 $100m deals (Red Sox: Manny, A-Gonz, Crawford; Phillies: Howard, Lee, Hamels; Mets: Beltran, Santana, Wright; Dodgers: Brown, Kemp, Greinke; Rockies: Hampton, Helton, Tulowitzki). The most recent team to join the $100m contract club prior to the Mariners was the Rays back in November, when they surprisingly locked up Evan Longoria to a 6 year / $100m extension that will run through the years 2017-2022. The Angels have given out 9 figure contracts in each of past two off seasons (Pujols, Hamilton). They had never spent as much prior to the Pujols deal. The Nationals seem to have timed their two $100m deals perfectly, with Jayson Werth (2018) and Ryan Zimmerman (2020) coming off the books just as Strasburg and Harper will be requiring huge free agent payouts, should the team aspire to retain them.
As stated previously, the Mariners will become the 21st ML team to hand out a 9 figure contract. The nine clubs who have yet to cross such a threshold are the: Braves, Orioles, A's, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Indians, Royals, and Padres. Here's a breakdown of the largest contracts each of these clubs have awarded:
- Braves: Chipper Jones, 6 / $90m, (2001-2006)
- Orioles: Adam Jones, 6 / $85.5m (2013-2018)
- A's: Eric Chavez, 6 / $66m, (2005-2010)
- White Sox: John Danks, 5 / $65m, (2012-2016)
- Diamondbacks: Miguel Montero, 5 / $60m, (2013-2017)
- Pirates: Jason Kendell, 6 / $60m, (2002-2007)
- Indians: Travis Hafner, 4 / $57m, (2009-2012)
- Royals: Gil Meche, 5 / $55m (2007-2011); Mike Sweeney, 5 / $55m (2003-2007)
- Padres: Jake Peavey, 3 / $52m (2010-2012)
One day, each of these clubs will likely award a player a $100m+ contract. Revenues in the game are exploding at the moment as new media deals lead to an incredible influx of cash. The Braves will most certainly have to if they hope to retain Jason Heyward long term. Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy are the likely candidates to be the first $100m dollar Oriole. It's surprising to see how chaste the White Sox have been. But I imagine they'll eclipse $100m in the not to distant future. As for the other clubs, it could be some time before any of them even approach the 9 figure mark for any one player. Their markets are just too small to support such an onerous burden. Perhaps if the A's get the go ahead to move to San Jose they'll begin to see the revenues that would allow them to shell out larger gauge contracts. The Royals are owned by an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune. Maybe they'll open up the vault for a player at some point. The Padres recently signed a $1 billion TV rights deal. So they have a strong revenue stream with which to work through that. Maybe they'll lock up Chase Headley for life with a $100m deal. As for the Indians and Pirates, I can only shrug my shoulders.