There were a multitude of interesting contracts handed out this offseason, from big names like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Jose Reyes, to the mid-range starters like CJ Wilson and Mark Buerhle, to the lower level guys like Willie Bloomquist and Alex Gonzalez. Some of these contracts are going to affect their teams for more than just the 2012 season, though. Some will shape franchises for years to come. Here are five contracts signed this offseason that will shape their franchises past this season, in multiple ways.
1. Albert Pujols, Angels. 10 years, $240 million.
The Pujols signing by the Angels does more than improve the team on the field, it absolutely transforms them off the field. Pujols is probably the biggest baseball star in LA now, and I’d wager that he’s behind only Kobe Bryant on the hierarchy of LA athletes. In addition to the ten year contract, there is also a ten year contract for personal services for Pujols after his player contract expires. Not only is Pujols going to be a potential Angels icon for the back-end of his playing career, he’s going to continue to be the face of the franchise after he retires. If that is not “franchise-shaping”, I don’t know what is. Look at it this way: it’s entirely possible for Mike Trout to play his entire Angels career during Pujols’ playing contract. That would obviously be a worse case scenario for the Angels, but imagine Trout hitting free agency in 2018, but the Angels being screwed because of the $114 million still owed to Pujols. Would that not be a complete horror story?
2. Prince Fielder, Tigers. 9 years, $214 million.
Fielder will obviously be helping the Tigers offense in 2012 and beyond, but he could possibly be hurting Miguel Cabrera’s future value as well by shifting him to a more demanding position at third base. With Victor Martinez, who’s pretty much only a DH at this point in time, under contract until 2014, the Tigers have locked themselves into a position where they have three players that can only competently play two positions. Sure, you can make a case for Cabrera playing third and/or Martinez catching, but neither player is good there defensively. Plus, the Tigers have a young All-Star catcher in Alex Avila already. Detroit has also backed themselves into a corner financially, much like the Angels did with the Pujols deal, with their Fielder signing. Martinez will likely be allowed to walk when his contract expires, but what about Cabrera, who will be 32 when his contract expires in 2015? What about 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who will be 31 when his contract expires in 2014? Detroit is locked into Fielder long-term, but Cabrera and Verlander have been two cornerstones of the franchise since joning the Tigers, and I’m not sure the team would be jumping at the chance to let them leave town.
3. Jose Reyes, Marlins. 6 years, $106 million.
Reyes signing with the Marlins is not only a move intended to improve the Fish on the field, this is a move designed to improve them off the field as well. With the opening of their new, exotic ballpark in two months, and the rebranding of the franchise, these aren’t your dad’s Marlins anymore. This is essentially a whole new franchise, determined to make a splash in the NL East this year. Reyes is a boom or bust type player. When healthy, he’s one of the very best players in baseball. But, Reyes has had injury problems over his career that have rendered him ineffective in certain years. In two of his last three seasons, Reyes has been worth under 3.0 fWAR, playing in a high of 133 games over that three year stint. As a speedster, Reyes relies on his legs a lot for his game….and of course, he’s dealt with leg injuries. He’ll be under contract with Miami into his mid-30s, and he probably won’t have the speed he does today by then. Furthermore, the same situation arises in Miami that has risen in LA and Detroit: what happens with current stars in the future? The Marlins high payroll over the past decade has been $60 million. It’s currently at $92 million for 2012. Anibal Sanchez is a free agent in 2013, when the team has $83 million commited. Josh Johnson is a free agent in 2014, when the team has $61 million commited already. If the team tanks at the box office and in the standings, will Miami actually be able to bring either player back and maintain their high payroll, or will they have to let two of their most effective starters walk and potentially cripple the team?
4. Yu Darvish, Rangers. 6 years, $56 million, plus a $51.7 million posting fee.
Darvish’s actual salary in Texas is marginally low. His high over the six year deal is just $11 million, when he’ll only be 31 years old. But when you figure in the posting fee, that salary essentially doubles. Texas hasn’t been spending like a big market team with their recent successes, keeping their payroll under $100 million every year since 2003. The Darvish mania was a rare bit of ballsiness from the Rangers, and will affect both the Rangers future in Japan, and Japanese players heading to America. If Darvish is a smashing success, the Rangers may have more of an itch to sign Japanese players, and Japanese players may be more open to coming to America after seeing a big star like Darvish holding his own in America. But if he’s a bust, the Rangers may not want to sign a Japanese player again, and Japanese starts could look at Darvish, one of the best players in the Nippon League, as a failure in America, which could dissuade other stars from coming to the US. This really isn’t just a franchise shaping signing, it’s a league shaping signing.
5. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies. 4 years, $50 million.
The $12.5 million Papelbon will make on average over the life of this deal is tied for the second highest all-time for a reliever behind Mariano Rivera, the best closer of all-time. Tied with Papelbon is Brad Lidge….who signed his contract with the Phillies. My primitive research tells me that the $50 million guaranteed to Papelbon is the most ever for a reliever. I’m firmly in the camp that overpaying for a reliever, regardless of how good he may be, is a silly manuever. At an average of $12.5 million a year, the Phillies are essentially paying Papelbon to be around a three win pitcher for four years in a row, in his age 31-34 seasons. Three of Papelbon’s six seasons in the majors have been of the three win variety, but two of those three game in his 20s, while one came in his contract year of 2011. You would think that teams would learn not to give huge contracts to relievers after Lidge bombed after signing his three year extension (in those three years, his age 32-34 seasons, Lidge saved 59 games over 123 2/3 innings, with a 4.73 ERA and -0.2 fWAR) and Francisco Cordero’s four year pact with the Reds before the 2008 season went bust quickly (2.8 fWAR over four seasons). You’d think general managers would have learned their lesson, but apparently not. If Papelbon isn’t successful with the Phillies, maybe that will show the GMs what they shouldn’t be doing, and would temper Ruben Amaro’s fetish for signing big-name closers.