The Marlins made the first big move of the winter meetings Sunday night, agreeing to sign Jose Reyes to a six-year contract worth $106 million. It’s obviously the largest contract in franchise history, more than doubling the four-year, $52 million pact signed by Carlos Delgado prior to the 2005 season. It’s also the second largest contract ever given to a free agent shortstop, and the fourth largest ever given to a shortstop overall.
Reyes joined some exclusive company with his contract, becoming just the fourth shortstop to secure a nine-figure contract. Two of the other three guys are first ballot Hall of Famers, and the third is one of the five best players in the world. The Marlins are hoping Reyes will live up to those standards during the next six years, as well as spark interest in Miami’s Latin American community. Here is a breakdown of how four of baseball’s wealthiest shortstops performed during the life of their contract…
Alex Rodriguez – ten years, $252 million
For all intents and purposes, A-Rod was the perfect free agent when he hit the open market after the 2000 season. He was a 25-year-old shortstop that played above-average defense and already had three 8+ WAR seasons and five 4.5+ WAR seasons to credit. Tom Hicks and the Rangers took a lot of heat for bidding against themselves and overpaying, but at least they overpaid for the right kind of player — an up-the-middle superstar in his mid-20’s.
A-Rod’s tenure with the Rangers lasted just three years, during which he played in 485 of 486 possible games, racked up 27.1 WAR, and won an MVP Award (probably should have been two). He voluntarily moved to third base to facilitate his trade to the Yankees, costing himself a handful of runs a year in positional adjustment. Rodriguez won two more MVP Awards in New York and picked up another 30 WAR over the next four seasons before opting out of the final three years of his contract. A-Rod was paid $171 million during the seven years of the contract and provided approximately $181.9 million in value with his on-field production.
Derek Jeter – ten years, $189 million
Unlike Reyes and A-Rod, Jeter was not a free agent when this deal was signed (before the 2001 season). The Yankees and their eventual captain agreed to this contract one year before he was scheduled to hit free agency, one year after they had tentatively agreed to a seven-year, $118.5 million deal. Believe it or not, George Steinbrenner did not want to set a salary record, so the seven-year agreement fell through and was replaced by a one-year, $10 million pact.
Jeter was 26 years old when he landed the contract and was coming off four straight 3.8+ WAR seasons, including 6.5 and 7.5 WAR in 1998 and 1999, respectively. As you know, Jeter’s offense was never a problem, it was his defense. He produced 246.3 runs with his bat and baserunning during the life of his contract, but gave back 59.5 runs with his glove. All told, Jeter produced 47.8 WAR during his deal, which was worth approximately $169 million in on-field value.
Troy Tulowitzki – seven years, $134 million
Depending on who you ask, Tulo signed either a seven-year, $134 million contract, or a ten-year, $157.75 million contract. I tend to fall into the former category because he was already under contract for $23.75 million from 2011-2013, but we’re arguing technicalities. The Rockies extended their franchise player three years before he was scheduled to hit free agency, and more than likely four years before he was scheduled to hit free agency thanks to the 2014 club option in the original deal.
Anyway, Tulowitzki — who wears number two because he idolized Jeter growing up; I’m sure that makes Derek feel old — had produced three 5.6+ WAR seasons in his first four years as a big leaguer at the time of the huge extension. He tacked on another 6.3 WAR in 2011. Colorado did take on serious risk with the extension, but like I said with A-Rod, a superstar up-the-middle player in his mid-20’s is a pretty good player to gamble on.
Miguel Tejada – six-years, $72 million
Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar Garciaparra got a lot of attention as the “Big Three” shortstops in the late-90’s, but Tejeda wasn’t that far behind them. Did he deserve the 2002 MVP over A-Rod? No, almost certainly not, but produced four straight 3.2+ WAR seasons leading up to his big payday, which came from the Orioles. Tejeda was a few months short of his 30th birthday when he signed his deal, though he wasn’t great defensively and relied on power rather than on-base skills to drive his offense. He was also insanely durable, having played in at least 159 games every year from 1999-2003.
The first three years of the contract were the three best years of Tejeda’s career, valued at 6.5, 5.1, and 5.2 WAR, respectively. He played in all 162 games in each of those years, making it six consecutive seasons without missing a game. Tejeda managed to stick at shortstop during the life of the deal, producing 25.3 WAR and $94.3 million in on-field value. This contract typically gets a bad rap, but Tejeda did produce.
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Reyes became the fifth shortstop in baseball history to sign a huge contract last night, though I’ll happily acknowledge that the definition of “huge contract” is pretty arbitrary. We have to wait to see how Tulo’s deal turns out, but A-Rod, Jeter, and Tejeda all held up their ends of the bargain. The common link between the three? Durability. Those three combined for just one season with fewer than 140 games played since becoming full-time big leaguers and before landing their big contracts (A-Rod missed a month due to injury in 1999). Reyes, as you know, has been battling hamstring problems for years, including a pair of hammy related DL stints in 2011. The Marlins are bucking the trend a bit here, coming huge dollars to a player with a history of leg problems even though his game is based primarily on speed.