According to IMDB, Gone with the Wind pulled in nearly $200 million at the American box office. The Sound of Music pulled in just over $163 million. This makes them two of the highest-grossing films in US movie history. Those numbers are also utterly trounced by Fast & Furious 6′s $239 million. It can be said, technically accurately, that Fast & Furious 6 has been a higher-grossing film than the other two mentioned. But that sort of technical accuracy is deceptive accuracy, and, of course, we need to make adjustments. The raw numbers don’t tell us anything of value.
Listen to Twitter and you’ll find out in a hurry that the baseball industry was shocked by news of the new Miguel Cabrera contract. Cabrera’s now guaranteed $292 million through 2023, and beyond that there are another two options. It’s a massive deal for the Tigers, and a massive commitment, and seemingly a massive risk, that the Tigers didn’t need to take right away. Everyone’s floored by the magnitude of the thing. But then, we’ve seen this thing before. Cabrera’s contract isn’t the biggest contract ever, and in fact it’s hardly even in the conversation.
The factor to keep in mind is MLB’s ever-increasing revenue. It’s no secret that teams are spending more now than ever, and it appears that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. So we don’t have to settle for raw, unadjusted contract terms. What if we expressed contracts as percentages of total MLB player spending? Then, in theory, we could actually compare contracts covering different years.
It isn’t hard to gather historical opening-day payroll data. It’s harder to gather future opening-day payroll data, on account of we aren’t in the future yet. But what we do have is information for 2014, and another thing we have is this article from Matt Swartz. Using his numbers, I’ve projected payroll numbers through 2023. The table below covers 1999 – 2023, because 1999 is when baseball’s first nine-figure contract began. It’s that pool of contracts we’ll compare later on.
|Year||OD Payroll (billions)||%Change|
Miguel Cabrera’s new money is $248 million, beginning in 2016. Over the eight years, MLB is projected to spend about $38.8 billion in opening-day payroll. So Cabrera’s contract is projected to represent 0.64% of all opening-day player spending. There have, so far, been 53 nine-figure contracts handed out to players by teams. Where does Cabrera’s new deal rank among them?
|Player||Salary (millions)||Years||%MLB OD Payroll|
|Ken Griffey Jr||116.5||2000-08||0.60%|
Wouldn’t you know it, but Miguel Cabrera’s new contract is exactly equal, here, to…Miguel Cabrera’s current contract. Of course, during the new contract, Cabrera will be older and presumably worse, but that’s one of the funnest of fun facts from the table of data. It’s also evident how much of a hometown discount Dustin Pedroia took, and it’s clear that the Rockies have Troy Tulowitzki under team-friendly terms. Also, the Evan Longoria bit. Longoria is rich, and he’s going to get richer, but he could be richer still if he drove a tougher bargain. He’ll survive.
Cabrera’s deal is right in the middle of the pack. It’s comparable to the deal that Todd Helton signed with Colorado, and it’s a bit bigger than the Prince Fielder deal with Detroit from a few years back. Joe Mauer’s deal is bigger, relatively speaking. But I shouldn’t waste any more of your time — let’s just all look at the top. Alex Rodriguez’s current contract is enormous. The first one he signed was enormous-er. It accounted for more than a full percent of all player spending. A-Rod doesn’t just compare to Cabrera, here — the former’s deal slaughters the latter’s.
What if the Tigers had given Cabrera the relative A-Rod terms for 2016-2023? What he’ll actually get is $248 million. However, 1.09% of projected spending would be $421 million, and 0.87% of projected spending would be $336 million. Obviously, the Tigers aren’t getting a bargain with this contract, and we don’t know how smoothly Cabrera is going to age, but there have been substantially bigger commitments in recent history. It’s just less obvious when you fail to account for baseball’s considerable rate of inflation.
It’s probably too big or too long of a commitment. It’s also probably time we stop expressing such shock at the dollar figures being thrown around. Baseball is doing incredibly well, and that’s going to carry well into the future. Teams and players are adjusting to the reality. If certain observers aren’t, that’s on them.
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