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The Mass Media

Sports Spiel: Are Massive Contracts Worth it?


Courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr




With the 2013 MLB season just around the corner, we have a few new faces to the $20-million-per-year club. We can now add Zach Grienke, Felix Hernandez and Josh Hamilton to the list. While Hernandez and Hamilton have certainly proved their worth up to this point in their careers, we cannot know for sure if these three will indeed be worth the annual price tag of over $20 million. However, who is worth that price tag? It is a relatively new concept and we have yet to see many players finish out their contracts with such a high salary.

Going into this new season, there are 20 players that have that $20-million salary bullseye on their backs. It is almost evenly split between the two leagues. There are nine players from the American League and 11 from the National League. That sounds fair, but what doesn’t sound fair is out of those 11 players in the National League with a 20 million dollar a year contract, only three of them made the all-star team in 2012. And what is more saddening is that only three of those players made the playoffs last year — and they are all on the same team.

The players that are deserving of their 20-plus million dollar annual salary are in short company. Three of them sit on the two highest payrolls in the league. Mark Teixeira signed an eight-year deal worth $160 million back in 2008, and he is earning it! “Tex” is notorious for slow starts, but baseball lasts six and half months, so cool it! Since he has been in New York, he has been awarded the Gold Glove three times, he has been in the MVP race three times, he received the Silver Slugger Award and he was selected to an all-star game. He does have one World Series with the Yanks, but he does not produce in the postseason. Keep in mind that he has four more years to build on his resume, so he stays on the list.

The next is C.C. Sabathia. He inked a seven-year deal worth $161 million before the 2009 season, then extended the deal so that he could retire a Yankee. For the four years he has pitched in New York he has gone over 200 innings each year, along with almost one strikeout per inning. He has appeared in the All-Star Game, MVP ballot and the Cy Young ballot three times each. This past season he only recorded 15 wins but the previous three he notched 19, 21 and 19. Since joining the Bombers, C.C. has recorded a 7-2 record along with 75 strikeouts in the postseason, and won one World Series. In the 2009 championship year, during the postseason, he posted a 3-1 record with 32 strikeouts during 35.4 innings of work. His ERA is not flattering but with two years left in pinstripes I would say he has earned his coin.

In 2008, Miguel Cabrera signed a eight-year contract worth $185.3 million in Detroit. Since Manny Ramirez retired, this Venezuelan has now become the most feared right-handed hitter in the game. Since arriving in Detriot, Miguel has hit 183 home runs, 600 RBIs and won the MVP last year. He has also won a Silver Slugger Award and he has been to three all-star games. How else does Miguel earn his keep? Oh right, winning the triple crown, and that hadn’t been done in 45 years. I could add Justin Verlander to this list but I’m on the fence about labeling him the Dan Marino of the MLB and not being able to win big games. Everybody else on the list of $20-million men has either been hurt significantly or has been about as average as you or me taking the SATs.

So how can you tell who has been worthy of the $20-million price tag?

Lets use a stat line that looks like this: what would you want the player to have on his resume so that you, the owner, can be satisfied with your investment? I want a guy to get me to the playoffs, win the World Series, perhaps more than once, maybe win the MVP. I want this player to be an MVP candidate every year, also maybe win a batting title or a home run title. I want a presence at the plate that will win a handful of Silver Slugger Awards. Thirty home runs per year is acceptable; also keep a .300 batting average and 100 RBIs per year is ok. If a player can deliver all of that, then to me he is worth the $20-million price tag. I’ll put up with the headaches because you delivered the hardware. Enjoy your retirement, Manny, wherever you may be.