We talk a lot about contracts in sports these days. Just listen to one of the sports radio stations for 10 minutes and all you’ll hear is people arguing over whether the Red Sox should give David Ortiz an extension or re-sign Stephen Drew.
Regardless of who the player is, the core argument is always whether a player is worth the money they’re being paid. Once a player signs a contract, their salary inevitably becomes as big a part of their public perception as their onfield production.
For guys who have huge contracts — and especially the guys who don’t live up to them — it’s often as if people stop looking at them as a person or as an athlete, but instead as a walking dollar sign.
Take someone like Carl Crawford, who had about as disastrous a tenure with the Red Sox as anybody in recent memory. He signed a seven-year, $142 million contract before the 2011 season, becoming the first player in Red Sox history to earn more than $20 million per season.
The Crawford signing obviously would have been looked at as a disappointment no matter how much (or little) he was making, but if his deal were more in line with someone like Shane Victorino, would people have hated him as much for it? I doubt it.
Maybe a better example would be Adrian Gonzalez, the other prized acquisition made by the Red Sox before the 2011 season. Gonzalez’s deal was even bigger than Crawford’s at seven years and $154 million, but unlike Crawford, Gonzalez actually produced for Boston. Just not as much as many fans would have liked.
Fans looked at both of those guys as huge albatrosses, and when the Los Angeles Dodgers picked them and Josh Beckett up midway through the 2012 season, the general consensus among fans was that the Red Sox lucked out big time by getting out from under those awful and burdensome deals.
Crawford and Gonzalez’s contracts were awful, no doubt, but were they really such a burden? They don’t seem to be slowing down the Dodgers, who have been handing out $100 million contracts to everybody in sight these past two years.
Think back to last month, when the Dodgers gave Clayton Kershaw a record-breaking deal that will pay him $30.7 million a year over the next seven years. They did that even though they already had $26 million a year invested in Zach Grienke, $21 million in Matt Kemp, $17 million in Beckett and $16 million in Hanley Ramirez, on top of the aforementioned Crawford and Gonzalez deals.
We’re used to the Yankees playing the “Evil Empire” role, but what the Dodgers have done represents the beginning of a seismic change in the financial landscape of Major League Baseball.
Starting this year, new agreements between MLB and ESPN, Fox and TBS will take effect, and the league will receive $1.5 billion in TV revenue annually through the 2021 season. That’s double what the league made last year, and will provide each team with an extra $25 million of spending money that wasn’t available before.
That bump won’t translate into higher payrolls for everybody — I’m guessing the Oakland Athletics and Miami Marlins won’t go and break the bank overnight — but most teams are going to take advantage, either by locking up their own guys or by making big splashes in free agency.
Case in point, the Seattle Mariners signing away Robinson Cano from the Yankees. If you had told me three years ago that the Mariners were going to give Cano a 10-year, $240 million contract — doubling the recent contract signed by Dustin Pedroia — to steal one of the best players in baseball away from the Yankees, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what happened.
This is going to start happening more and more often, and across the league you’re going to see players getting paid figures that would have sounded preposterous even a couple of years ago.
Soon $20 million a year won’t sound like such a big deal anymore, and as the landscape begins to change, we as fans need adjust accordingly.
The Red Sox still need to spend their money intelligently, and the luxury tax is still something that needs to be considered, but this isn’t the NFL, there’s no salary cap, and “overpaying” a guy by two or three million dollars a year isn’t going to sink anyone, especially not a team as flush with cash as the Red Sox are.
So when you ask yourself whether the Red Sox should give a guy like David Ortiz a new contract, don’t quibble over the details, just ask yourself this: Do you want this player on your team, and will you still want him by the time the contract runs out?
In Ortiz’s case, the answer to both questions is undeniably yes, so pay the man his money, and don’t let an extra couple million dollars of somebody else’s money put a damper on your experience of getting to watch Ortiz play in Boston for another two seasons.