Nine figure contracts are all the rage in baseball over the past few seasons. Of the 36 contracts worth at least $100 million signed in league history, 17 of them took effect in the year 2010 or later, and 23 of them have taken effect in 2008 or later. Massive contracts have a terrible attachment to a decline in performance for players, but is that thinking actually sound? I'm going to take a look at the 13 contracts worth a total of $100 million that have taken effect before 2008, and see how they have worked out for the teams and the players that signed them.
Kevin Brown, $105 million (1999-2005)
The first $100 million player in baseball was…Kevin Brown? Yep. The Dodgers inked Brown to a seven year, $105 million deal before the 1999 season, and it looked bad even then, with Brown turning 34 before that 1999 season even began and coming off of the best season of his career in 1998 with the NL champion Padres. Brown stayed with the Dodgers for five of the seven years of the deal, getting traded to the Yankees after the 2003 season for Jeff Weaver, Yhency Brazoban, and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden. Through two seasons, the contract looked good for the Dodgers after Brown had back to back 230 inning seasons with a pair of sixth place Cy Young finishes. But he fell off a cliff soon after, qualifying for the ERA title just once in the final five seasons of the deal (2003). in the seven years of this contract, the Dodgers got three seasons worth at least 6.0 fWAR. The other four were worth less than 3.0 fWAR, including the final two with the Yankees.
Ken Griffey Jr, $116.5 million (2000-2008)
After the Cincinnati Reds dealt a package highlighed by Mike Cameron for Griffey, many expected The Kid to be the face of the Reds franchise for years to come while he enjoyed the prime of his career. Of course, things didn't happen that way. Griffey had 600 plate appearances just twice in his Reds career (2000 and 2007), playing in less than 100 games three times during his tenure in Cincinnati. Griffey hit 40 homers just once after the trade (in 2000) after hitting at least 40 in six of seven years prior to the trade. Ironically, during the four years where Cameron was in Seattle (2000-2003), he outproduced Griffey over his entire career with the Reds in fWAR 19.7 to 11.8.
Alex Rodriguez, $252 million (2001-2010)
Derek Jeter, $189 million (2001-2010)
Manny Ramirez, $160 million (2001-2008)
Mike Hampton $121 million (2001-2008)
The offseason after the 2000 season was when big contracts hit the fan. Rodriguez, Jeter, and Ramirez were all young, budding superstars when they signed their contracts with the Rangers, Yankees, and Red Sox respectively, but Hampton was a pitcher who had warning bells going off around him before the ink on his contract with the Rockies was even dry. After two seasons in Colorado with an ERA over 5.00 (and somehow, more walks than strikeouts in 30 starts in 2002), the Rockies ate a large portion of Hampton's contract and shipped him to the Marlins, who ate a piece of his contract before immediately moving him to the Braves. Hampton actually pitched suitably for the Braves in 2003 and 2004 and for the first half of 2005 until blowing his elbow out. He'd miss the rest of 2005 with the injury, and all of 2006 recovering from his Tommy John surgery. In the spring of 2007, Hampton tore his oblique and then blew his elbow out again, not throwing a pitch during the regular season. In 2008, he made just 13 starts of 4.85 ERA ball for the Braves, missing time with pectoral and groin injuries before his contract finally expired at the end of the season. Hampton made about $60 million over the last four years of the contract and threw a *total* of 147 1/3 innings for a team that didn't even sign him to that deal. Unbelievable.
Everyone knows about Rodriguez, Ramirez, and Jeter and what resulted from their contracts. Rodriguez had three insanely productive years in Texas before being traded to the Yankees, where he won the last two of his three MVP awards under the original contract before opting out after 2007 and inking an even bigger extension (that will end very poorly for the Yankees). Ramirez was a ridiculously productive hitter with the Red Sox during the life of his deal, helping the team win two World Championships before being dealt halfway through the final year on his contract. Finally, there's the much-maligned Jeter, who chugged right along during his nine figure contract as the Jeter than Yankees fan have known and loved for his entire career.
Jason Giambi, $120 million (2002-2008)
With Tino Martinez aging, the Yankees signed his replacement in the MVP winning Giambi, and for the first two seasons of the deal, Giambi raked, homering 41 times in each of the first two years. But then he missed half of 2004, and his range at first base was toast after that. A 4.3 fWAR 2005 was the only time over the rest of his career he'd top three wins in a season, though he did have three more 30 homer seasons and continue to walk at a double digit rate.
Todd Helton, $141.5 million (2003-2011)
Early in his career, Helton looked like the second coming of Coors Field mashers, bashing at least 30 homers in each of the four seasons prior to this contract taking effect and posting some absolutely silly slash lines. Of course, this contract began mere months before he turned 30, and Helton hit a wall not even halfway through the extension. He hasn't had a 20 homer season since 2005 (when he hit exactly 20), and he's gone from "elite" to "average" in an extremely quick time period.
Albert Pujols, $100 million (2004-2010)
The Cardinals giving this extension to Pujols is the best bargain on this list. In the seven years during this contract, Pujols gave the team 59.1 wins of value, won three MVP awards, and helped the Cardinals to the 2006 World Championship. St Louis won the 2011 World Series after exercising an option on Pujols for that season, and then let him walk to the Angels, where the money in his contract doubled just in time for Pujols to put together the worst season of his career in 2012. This contract that the Cardinals gave him worked out extremely well for them, as they paid an average of $14.3 million per season for no less than 7.5 wins a season. Just insane.
Carlos Beltran, $119 million (2005-2011)
Beltran is often bashed to hell by Mets fans because of his contract, but after struggling in the first year of the deal, he was awesome from 2006 to 2008, totaling 21 fWAR. But then, he got hurt and missed half of 2009 and 2010 before rebounding to play a full 2011 season and getting dealt to the Giants at midseason for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Based on how some of the contracts on this list turned out, the Mets could have done a lot worse with Beltran's deal. His knee issues in 2009 and 2010 took this train off the tracks, but the Mets got insane peak value out of him.
Carlos Lee, $100 million (2007-2012)
This contract didn't make much sense when it was signed, and it doesn't make much sense now. Lee contributed 10.5 wins above replacement to the Astros over the life of the contract, homering 30 times in just the first year of the contract after four straight 30 homer seasons going into it. Houston never finished higher than third in the NL Central over the life of the contract, and finished above .500 just once. So….how'd that go for you, Astros?
Alfonso Soriano, $136 million (2007-2014)
The Cubs are still dealing with this disaster, and the Soriano they've gotten is nothing like the player who had a 40/40 season with the Nationals in 2006. In fact, Soriano doesn't even have a 20 steal season with Chicago, and has just two 30 homer seasons. Washington turned Soriano from a butcher at second base into a fantastic left fielder, but his defensive ability has deteriorated in his later years. In his six years as a Cub, Soriano has had one fantastic season, three good ones, one bad one, and one disaster. Thankfully, the Cubs are still bringing in money hand over fist, so it's not as if the organization is under a threat of relocating or anything along those lines.
Barry Zito, $126 million (2007-2013)
Zito's Giants career has been a mess. He's never thrown 200 innings in a season, he's never had an ERA below 4.00, and he's had just one season where he's been worth 2.0 fWAR. But yet, the Giants have won a pair of World Championships with Zito on the team, and have finished above .500 in each of the last four seasons. If Zito's role on the team was to be the top of the rotation ace while he's surrounded by a cadre of league average pitchers, there would likely be an overwhelming amount of animosity towards Zito and his contract. But with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum both in the fold, Zito can take a less important role with the team and focus on being that league average pitcher that the team could use behind their aces. Besides, flags fly forever, and the Giants have raised a pair of them in the last three years while paying Zito his mint.
In summary, what does this mean? Well, more often than not, handing out large contracts don't end well for teams. They have a better chance of working out if the player is younger than 30 though, which is something that teams courting Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, and Mike Napoli should keep in mind this winter.