If you've got $100 million to spend, a hitter is a better bet
Thirteen position players in baseball history have signed nine-figure contracts
That list includes Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols
First baseman Mark Teixeira is likely to join that list this winter
If superagent Scott Boras gets his way -- and we all know that Boras has a knack for doing that -- Mark Teixeira will sign a contract in the next few weeks that will guarantee the free-agent first baseman more than $100 million. He will become the 13th position player in baseball history to sign a nine-figure contract. The world, as we have now learned, will continue to turn.
Kevin Brown, a pitcher, signed baseball's first $100 million contract before the 1999 season, and that didn't stop anything. Since then $100 million deals have become practically commonplace, even for position players. Thirteen such deals have been struck by 12 every-day players. Alex Rodriguez, if you're keeping count, has worked two of them. Manny Ramirez, if Boras is to believed, will sign his second this offseason. (To see a breakdown of how each player in the $100 Million Club has performed before and after signing their big contract, click here.)
One hundred million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a player, no matter how many years a team takes to spread it out. Twenty teams didn't spend that on their entire rosters last year. The Marlins haven't spent close to that in the last three years combined.
Baseball economics being what they are, though, $100 million for a position player isn't completely whacked. It's still a reach to spend that much of a team's payroll on one player, especially if the team is, say, the small-market Reds and not the Yankees. But the fact that it's a guy who actually plays every day helps justify that kind of outlay. And so far the results have been, by and large, favorable for these type of contracts. (The results are a lot better than the mega-deals for pitchers, which I looked into recently. The upshot of that: It's not a good risk at all.)
I say the results for hitters look good so far because this $100 million phenomenon is still new. Every one of the 13 deals -- some are extensions of existing contracts, some new -- has been signed since 2000. So only four have been completed; Jason Giambi's seven-year free-agent deal with the Yankees in 2002, Ken Griffey Jr.'s nine-year extension after being traded from Seattle to Cincinnati in 2000, A-Rod's first one (which he famously opted out of during the 2007 World Series) and Ramirez's (which he effectively ended by approving a trade from the Red Sox to the Dodgers earlier this summer). The rest are in progress.
Still, we can see a lot of success in the 61 combined seasons that the 12 players have put into the 13 contracts. In those seasons:
Nine of the 12 players have helped their teams to 30 playoff appearances, led by Derek Jeter, who has gone to the postseason with the Yankees seven times under his current contract, and trailed by Griffey, who made it in the last year of his deal only after getting traded from the Reds to the White Sox this summer. The only $100 million players who haven't been to the playoffs during their big contracts are Miguel Cabrera (who just finished the first year of his deal with Detroit), Vernon Wells (who just finished the first year of his $126 million extension with Toronto) and Carlos Lee (who's two years into a six-year, $100 million deal with the Astros).
Four players have made it to the World Series during their big contracts: Ramirez (Red Sox), Jeter (Yankees) and Albert Pujols (Cardinals) have all gone twice. Todd Helton went in 2007 with the Rockies.
Ramirez won two World Series rings with the Red Sox (2004, '07) before his trade to the Dodgers last summer. Pujols won a ring with the Cardinals in '06.
Rodriguez has won five home titles, three with the Rangers and two after being traded to the Yankees. (Ramirez won one in '04.) Rodriguez also has two RBI titles. (Ramirez has one.)
Ramirez has the lone batting title while working under a nine-figure deal (.349, in ''02).
Four players notched career-highs in OPS (a combination of on-base and slugging percentage): A-Rod, with a 1.067 in 2007; the Mets' Carlos Beltran, .982 in '06; Lee, .937 in '07; and Pujols, with a whopping 1.115 in '08.
A-Rod has also won three MVP awards since signing his first nine-figure contract, one with Texas and two with New York. Pujols has won two.
Of course, there are players who have struggled under the big contracts, too:
Eight of the 12 set career-lows in games played in a season, though those range from 53 by Griffey in 2003 to a decent but still career-low 143 by Pujols in '06. The injury-plagued Griffey played only 256 games from 2002 through '04, never more than 83 in any year.
Six of the 12 players set single-season career lows for OPS during their whopper contracts. The worst was the Yankees' Giambi, who had a .721 OPS in an '04 season shortened by illness. Ramirez was one of the six, too. He had a career-low .881 OPS in '07, which really isn't low at all. (The league average was .762.)
Here's another way of figuring out how effective these deals are: VORP (value over replacement player). VORP measures the number of runs that a player contributes beyond what an average player at his position would offer, given the same number of plate appearances. VORP, in effect, shows how much better these guys are than the statistically average schmoe.
Since the 2000 season, when the first $100 million deal for a position player was signed:
No fewer than five of the 12 members of the $100 million club have cracked the top 30 among all players in VORP each year (the top 30 is roughly the top 4 percent of players). In '03 nine of the 12 had VORPs in the top 30. In '05 there were eight.
Rodriguez and Pujols have been in the top 30 in VORP every year (Pujols didn't break into the league until 2001), and both have topped the list twice. Jeter and Ramirez have made the top 30 eight times in nine years. Helton has made the list seven times.
Everyone who ever signed a $100 million deal -- with the exception of Lee -- has been ranked in the top 30 in VORP at least once.
Would it be smart, then, for a team to make $100 million offers to Teixeira and Ramirez this winter?
Well, Ramirez will be 37 early next year. A $100 million deal will take at least four years to complete -- Ramirez would be playing well past his 40th birthday then -- and it's a good bet that he's looking for more than $100 million. That means Ramirez is looking to play maybe through the time he's 41 or 42.
Age aside, though, Ramirez is one of the best hitters of his generation, and he has shown little sign of slowing down. After he was traded from Boston to the Dodgers in July he hit .396 in 53 games with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs -- in his first year in the National League.
Teixeira looks like the perfect choice for a big contract. He's young (28), a power hitter (at least 30 home runs every year since his rookie season) with improving plate skills (he walked more than he struck out in 2008), he's durable (never fewer than 132 games) and, like Ramirez, he has Boras for an agent. Many teams would be comfortable giving Teixeira six or seven years at $20 million a year or more. You have to figure Boras is asking for at least that much.
A lot can happen with a player over a long-term contract. Sometimes, as with Griffey and, to a lesser extent, Giambi, it can make a team question the wisdom of the megadeal. But then there's A-Rod, Jeter, Ramirez and Pujols and, who knows, maybe Cabrera, Beltran, Soriano or Lee will lead his team to a World Series in the next few years. Whatever happens, you can bank on this: If a team's going to throw around $100 million, those every-day players are a much safer bet than any starting pitcher out there.