The 100 Million Dollar Contract Over Time

All this recent talk about the contract status of Barry Zito caused me to visit the Cot’s Baseball Contracts page on the most expensive players of all time. Any FanGraphs reader worth their salt already knows this, but there are only 26 players in all of baseball history that have ever been given total contracts worth more than $100M. The first player to break the $100M barrier was Kevin Brown, signing a 7-year, $105M deal before the 1999 season. Since then the barrier has been utterly destroyed, culminating so far in Alex Rodriguez’s recent 10 year, $275M deal (although of course, that could be passed this upcoming offseason by Albert Pujols).

But 1999 is a long time ago (as scary as that may be). Seven of the $100M contracts have already finished, and another three of them are finishing this season. Although $100M is an arbitrary cut-off, can these completed contracts tell us anything about the wisdom or folly of large, long-term contracts?  Let’s take a peek, shall we?

First of all, the 10 completed (or near complete) contracts are as follows:

Alex Rodriguez – 10 years, $252M
Derek Jeter – 10 years, $189M
Manny Ramirez – 8 years, $160M
Todd Helton – 9 years, $141M
Mike Hampton – 8 years, $121M
Jason Giambi – 7 years, $120M
Carlos Beltran – 7 years, $119M
Ken Griffey Jr. – 9 years, $116M
Kevin Brown – 7 years, $105M
Albert Pujols –  7 years, $100M

That doesn’t tell us much all by itself, though, so let’s break these guys up into semi-arbitrary groups and see how their production fared over the course of their contracts. For this, I’m using charts loosely based off the concept of Weighted WAR (wWAR), which was introduced by Adam Darowski over at Beyond the Boxscore:

(Click to em-biggen)

I call this the “Day-um” group, since they all managed to be pretty remarkably productive over the course of their contracts. Pujols and Rodriguez are both absolute monsters, but the most surprising thing to me is Jeter’s production; through this lens, his contract doesn’t seem so bad. Of course, he was paid an incredibly hefty sum, but he’s fared much, much better than many of the other $100M contracts. Like, um, these:

This would be the “Injuries Suck” group, with Mike Hampton, Ken Griffey Jr., and Kevin Brown all getting hit hard by injuries during their $100M contracts. To be fair, even though he suffered injures as well, Kevin Brown was much better than both Griffey and Hampton. He had three seasons where (by WAR) he was a legitimate Cy Young contender, and he had two other seasons that weren’t spectacular but were better than average. They fall into the “Meh” category because you hope for better for a $100M contract, but it’s not as if Brown was ineffective those years.

Griffy and Hampton, though – those two contracts were pretty rough. Mike Hampton’s contract was particularly bad: even at his best, he never produced more than 3 WAR in a season over those eight years. At least Griffey produced when he was healthy, getting two seasons that cracked into the “Excellent” level.

And finally, we hit the “We Got Injured, But Were Still Awesome” crew:

Beltran still has one year left on his contract, so he could theoretically have a bounce-back year. Even if he flames out this season, though, his peak production in the first few seasons of his contract was unreal – the highest three year peak out of anyone given a $100M contract not named Pujols or A-Rod. As for the other two in this graph, Todd Helton’s career has slowly gone downhill due to injuries and age, but he produced above the “Excellence” level for five out of the eight years of his contract. And Giambi’s production arc looks similar to Kevin Brown’s, but without quite as big a bounce-back.

So that was fun, but does looking at contracts in this light tell us anything? It’s nothing radical or earth-shattering, but one thing stands out to me: injuries are the real wild card. All of these players were elite talents and produced as such when healthy, yet only four of them managed to stay relatively healthy through the length of their contracts. These four players were also the four that were the most consistent with their production over the course of their contracts, and probably provided their original teams with the best return on investment.

In light of the Pujols contract talks a week or so ago, this is a point worth remembering. Long-term contracts are a huge risk. People can hypothesize all they want, but who knows exactly how a specific player will age? Who can predict if a player will suffer a debilitating injury five years from now? Elite players are rare; elite players that will stay healthy and productive over the course of seven seasons are rarer still.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


24 Responses to “The 100 Million Dollar Contract Over Time”

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  1. Rick says:

    It does seem suggest that health is the #1 concern. If they stay healthy, they’ll earn the contract. Amazing that teams are spending more to keep players healthy.

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    • To be entirely fair, there have been other $100M contracts where even with the player staying healthy, they haven’t lived up to that level of play. Vernon Wells and Barry Zito pop to mind….those contracts just haven’t expired yet.

      I may do another graph for contracts that are at least three years in. That group is much different: Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Barry Zito, and Carlos Lee.

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      • Spiggy says:

        That’s fair, but much has been made of health concerns having affected Vernon’s poor performance, at least in 2009.

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      • Jeff says:

        and when you make this new one in a few years, I will bet Cabera belongs right where you put Pujols and Arod….

        Besides his adjustment year moving to the AL, he has been a 5WAR player…

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      • MiM says:

        If you do newer contracts, you may have to raise the minimum from $100 million to like $120 million due to inflation. I’m not sure if that would make a difference or not, but just food for thought.

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  2. Kyle says:

    Also these graphs might look completely different for the next batch of players, assuming they arent using steroids

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  3. GVeers says:

    I think you mean “production arc.”

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  4. Ben says:

    Is Todd Helton a HoFer? I finally just checked his stats on baseball reference, and he was really good there for a while. Anyone know if there’s a way to see altitude-adjusted lifetime stats?

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    • Mr. wOBAto says:

      Altitude cuts both ways, these are Jeff Cirrillo’s age 26-31 seasons by total OPS and road OPS which one is easier to see when he went to Colorado?.

      Total
      1996 .325/.391/.504 .894
      1997 .288/.367/.426 .793
      1998 .321/.402/.445 .847
      1999 .326/.401/.461 .862
      2000 .326/.392/.477 .869
      2001 .313/.364/.473 .838

      Road
      1996 .350/.404/.548 .951
      1997 .289/.371/.436 .807
      1998 .329/.409/.469 .878
      1999 .300/.375/.454 .828
      2000 .239/.299/.329 .628
      2001 .266/.327/.383 .710

      That .299 road OBP was 86 points lower than his career average at that point, the Coors hangover has never been fully explored, and until it is guys like Helton and Walker won’t get enough credit.

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  5. anon says:

    OK.. now look at the ages of those players at the start of the contract:

    Alex Rodriguez – 10 years, $252M 25
    Derek Jeter – 10 years, $189M 26
    Manny Ramirez – 8 years, $160M 28
    Todd Helton – 9 years, $141M 29
    Mike Hampton – 8 years, $121M 28
    Jason Giambi – 7 years, $120M 31
    Carlos Beltran – 7 years, $119M 27
    Ken Griffey Jr. – 9 years, $116M 30
    Kevin Brown – 7 years, $105M 34
    Albert Pujols – 7 years, $100M 24

    28 is the borderline age. Everyone younger had great success. Everyone older did not. I mean, it would seem like common sense to me… but signing a 30 year old player to anything over 5 years is just moronic.

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    • Beautiful! Yup, this is the next step….I thought about touching on it, but the article was long already as is.

      The age factor is huge. Most of these contracts were given to players at or slightly past their prime, and heading towards their 30s and all sorts of possible injury scenarios. Good times.

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      • borbes says:

        <-anon

        This is why I laughed at the Carl Crawford signing. He's already showed signs of knee problems, he's 29, and they sign him for 7 years $142m. I don't see him being anywhere near worth that.

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      • R M says:

        Must be a Yankees fan. Substitute “laughed” with “soiled your pants” and you’ve got it.

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  6. thestone says:

    In order to really evaluate whether these contracts were the right decision or not, I think you’d have to look at more than just WAR. If a GM’s objective is to win a World Series, for example, a GM may consider it a necessary evil to get an elite player even if in some of the contract years the player will under-perform. I see several World Championships for the above players. Would these teams have won without these contracts?

    Also, you’d have to look at the alternate scenario…what would the teams have done with the money had they not signed the elite player and what production would they have gotten, etc.?. And average players get injured too so some of the investment may have been “wasted” due to injury anyway.

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  7. TylerTheCreator says:

    The Crawford signing is fine, it might be a slight overpay but Boston is a special circumstance. His presence over say a Ryan Kalish bumps them over the threshold from being a contender to favorite to win the WS. He’ll be 35 in his last year of the deal. The Jayson Werth deal is the one to criticize.

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    • coachofall says:

      Boston isnt a favorite to win the world series unless they get some serious progression from their aging starting rotation. Reality is after Lester and to a lesser extent Bucholtz….there are essentially 4 question marks. The AL East is up for grabs

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      • borbes says:

        I agree with this to an extent. Even with all the injuries and questionable pitching, they still were contenders last year. Just getting healthy would have made them a playoff team at least. A lot of focus is on the Crawford and A.Gon signing, but they also added 2 solid bullpen arms.

        You only need 3 starting pitchers in the post-season. They have 2 in Lester and Bucholz. They just need one other guy to breakout/bounce back. Even if they don’t, they have an offense that can carry them when healthy.

        And yes, Werth’s contract is more ridiculous than Crawfords, but I live in St Pete so… :)

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      • R M says:

        4 question marks?

        Jon Lester: 3.29 xFIP
        Josh Beckett: 4.01 xFIP (Battled injury consistently last year….people forget quickly how dominant this guy has been, and at 30, there’s not really any reason to expect decline.)
        Clay Buchholz: 4.20 xFIP (With his stuff, you can bet this will be better next season)
        John Lackey: 4.32 xFIP (noticeable improvement as he got adjusted to the AL East)
        Daisuke Matsuzaka: 4.79 xFIP

        Last time I checked, a 4.xx FIP isn’t a question mark, especially from your 5th starter.

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  8. Andy W says:

    It’s incredible how amazingly bad the Griffey contract ended up. Most people thought (as did I as a huge Reds fan) that they were getting a hometown discount, and one of, if not the, best players in the game. Instead, they got an albatross of a contract, and an oft injured player who really gave very little over the life of the contract.

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  9. miffleball says:

    Also worth noting is that while there were individually disappointing for many of these players, brown, giambi, beltran and helton all posted total WAR over the life of their contracts that equaled their pay. What was remarkable about arod, pujols, jeter and manny was how much they OVERperformed their contracts

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  10. SOB in TO says:

    Injuries are a risk.

    That’s why insurance is bought to lessen the impact.

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