The Bigger They Are…

A question was posed to me last week about large contracts and how players do in the first year after signing them. This was, of course, regarding Matt Holliday’s record-setting Cardinal contract. As Chris noted yesterday, Holliday is heating up, winning the NL Player of the Week award, but I’m too curious to not do this project, so here we go!

People are always noting how well players do when they are coming up on free agency. Most notably in recent Cardinals history one can point to players like Joel Pinero, who played reasonably well and expected a paycheck the Cardinals were unwilling to sign, and Matt Holliday himself, who went absolutely bananas after the trade bringing him to St. Louis and got the contract he and superagent Scott Boras were desiring. But how do these players do after the big payout? Here’s how the top ten largest contracts in baseball history (as listed by Cot’s Baseball Contracts) have looked in the first year after signing…

  1. Alex Rodriguez – Yankees, $275 million, 10 years – A-Rod won his second MVP award as a Yankee in 2007, which, as far as any team dealing with Scott Boras is concerned, feels like the kiss of death in terms of negotiation wiggle room. So in 2008, after getting his shiny new contract, A-Rod’s statistics lowered across the board. Now, don’t get me wrong, batting .302 (down from .314) and having an OPS of .967 (down from 1.065) is still good, but not as good. Verdict: Not great, not bad.
  2. Alex Rodriguez – Rangers, $252 million, 10 years – Did you just throw up a little in your mouth? I did. (I also made the mistake of seeing how much A-Rod makes per PA in 2010. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve made that much yet in my short life.) So, from 2000 to 2001, A-Rod generated roughly the same, if not slightly better, counting numbers than the year before, although he took 60 more plate attempts from one year to the next. Verdict: Decent.
  3. Derek Jeter – Yankees, $189 million, 10 years – Jeter is sickeningly consistent, across the board, every year. It should come as no surprise that he put up fairly similar counting numbers after his new contract, although the percentages did drop, from .339/.416/.481 in 2000 to .311/.377/.480 in 2001. The steady slugging percentage can be contributed to a jump in home runs in ’01. Verdict: Not bad.
  4. Joe Mauer – Twins, $184 million, 8 years – Joe’s big payday came just this winter, when the Twins locked him up for a contract that made Minnesotan’s blush and the rest of baseball seemingly nod in approval. This contract has also become one of the pieces that people are going to point to when the Cardinals sit down with Albert Pujols after this season. Many stated that whatever happened to one player would dictate what happens to the other, and that wouldn’t surprise me in the least. As for the numbers, Mauer’s contract technically doesn’t kick in until next year, but this year he is having a down year. Then again, it is kind of hard to live up to a .365/.444/.587 line. Verdict: Too soon to call.
  5. Mark Texiera – Yankees, $180 million, 8 years – At first very quick glance, these numbers fooled me, due to spikes in home runs and slugging percentage, which led from Tex being 20th in the MVP balloting in 2008 to 2nd in 2009. Please, someone try to convince me that there is no East coast bias in baseball. Balancing everything out, his numbers from one year to the next were basically a wash. Verdict: Push.
  6. CC Sabathia – Yankees, $161 million, 7 years – I know Brewer fans that still think they should have signed Sabathia after his brilliant half season with Milwaukee in 2008. (Their next conversation is on how they probably won’t be able to sign Prince Fielder after this year…) Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why. CC had far and away his best year when he was playing for his contract. Before and since that year, he hasn’t been as good. To be fair, he is the best pitcher on Cot’s list, but I think he is far from the best pitcher in baseball. Verdict: Not bad.
  7. Manny Ramirez – Red Sox, $160 million, 8 years – Interesting. Manny actually played in his lowest number of games in 2000 with the Indians after being out all of June and half of July with an injury. After making the jump to Boston, Manny had one of his worst years at the plate. His strikeouts jumped by 30 from the year before (and his 147 is still the highest of his career by 25), his BA dropped from .351 to .306, and Boston fans everywhere found out that Manny is absolutely clueless playing left in front of the Green Monster. Verdict: Letdown, but there was a long way to fall.
  8. Miguel Cabrera – Tigers, $152.3 million, 8 years – Cabrera actually did not have a career year in 2007 before his big contract year. No, really, he didn’t. By my account, he wasn’t even the best player on his team, Hanley Ramirez was. The year before this was his best year, then his contract year was lower, and then the year after signing his contract things dropped even more. That is, everything but his home runs and runs batted in (I have to say it – chicks dig the long ball?). Verdict: I want more than home runs, thanks.
  9. Todd Helton – Rockies, $141.5 million, 9 years – This one was somewhat predictable if you know what kind of player Helton has been over the years. 2000-2004 were his best five years in the majors to date, and 2002 was his contract year. Would you believe that this was his worst of the 5 years? When I say worst – he hit .329/.429/.577. Nice. The Rockies knew what they had, and rewarded Helton in kind. He responded and had a .358/.438/.630 year in the first year after his contract was signed. Verdict: Solid player that didn’t let up.
  10. Johan Santana – Mets, $137.5 million, 6 years – If you are only looking at the 2007 and 2008 years – the years before/after signing his big contract – it would look like Santana had a bump in his stats after moving to the Big Apple. In all actuality Santana was moving more towards what he had been doing for most of his career, as 2007 was the worst year he’d had since 2003. Verdict: Solid.
There’s your top ten, and no, Matt Holliday did not make the list. (His $120 million paycheck checks in at a tie for number sixteen with Jason Giambi.) What should we expect of Mr. Holliday this year? Of the ten players listed, I really only feel like three of them performed better than they did in the year before their contracts. Call it whatever you want – for some it’s moving to a new city, for some they might let up now that their meal ticket has been punched, and for some they feel like they have to live up to the hype that comes with big money (Barry Zito is on line one). The fact is that most of these players did – if anything – see a drop in their production the year after cashing in.
Scott Rovak – US PRESSWIRE

Now, I’m well aware that it’s been said ad nausem that Holliday heats up with the weather. With the last week or so it certainly seems that this is the case this year as well. 5 home runs in 4 games is impressive, but he’s 11 for his last 17 and has 10 RBI as well. Obviously, that torrid pace is not going to hold up for long, but it is a very encouraging sign for many fans who were really scratching their heads wondering where the guy we watched for the last few months of last year had gone.

To me, the beautiful thing about baseball is that it is impossible to predict. The Pirates don’t lose every game and Stephen Strasburg is going to have a bad day eventually. We don’t know what Matt Holliday will do this year, but I’m hoping it looks a lot more like his former teammate Todd Helton and not at all like Manny. My mom doesn’t like how Manny looks anyway.

0 thoughts on “The Bigger They Are…

  1. >Seriously impressed, one of the best articles I've seen in a long long time. I would say Derek Jeter is one of the few players that are worth any contract just because he is Mr. Clutch (clutch players brings wins home)

  2. >On the other hand, there's Vernon Wells and Alex Rios (way to go with those, Blue Jays!), Kevin Brown, Denny Neagle, Mike Hampton, Carlos Lee, Mo Vaughn, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Pavano.

  3. >Andy – no disagreements here. He's done it for a long time and in a tough city.Michael – there's a reason I stopped after 10, and it wasn't just because I was tired. ;)

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