“Earning” the big bucks?

American dollar bills raining down According to the MLB Salary Rankings the following players earned pocketed the biggest salaries in 2015. Some earned their money and others did not but it is fun to be an arm-chair quarterback and review the results. You can argue that nobody deserves the kind of money that baseball players receive today but you would be shoveling sand against the tide. Owners are willing to pay these players the big bucks because in some cases they want to win at any cost and in other cases because (in my opinion) they are just plain stupid.

Here in Minnesota we have Minnesota born Joe Mauer earning $23 million a year and he still has three years on his contract. Fans have been all over Mauer for his performance or lack there of for a number of years now but the complaining has gotten louder and more vocal since Mauer threw away his catching gear and bought himself a first baseman’s mitt. It hasn’t helped that the team lost 90+ games each season from 2011 through 2014 before turning things around in 2015.

  1. The highest paid player was Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw who pocketed a cool $32,571,428 in 2015. The Dodgers won their division with 92 wins but lost in the NLDS and they were done. Kershaw was the highest paid player in baseball in 2015 but an argument can be made that he was only the second best pitcher in the Dodgers starting rotation.  Kershaw has five more years remaining on his contract and each season will cost at least $34.5 million. Was Kershaw worth $32 million this year? I don’t think so, he had a good year but was not worth $32+ million.
  2. The second highest paid player in baseball this year was Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander at $28,000,000. Verlander will be 33 when he starts the 2016 season and he is guaranteed $28 million a year for four more seasons and then there is a $22 million vesting option for the following season (2020) if he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Did Verlander earn his keep in 2015? No way, he only started 20 games and won five of them, so the cost per win was $5.6 million. Ouch!
  3. The third spot on the big money list is a tie between pitchers Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke along with first baseman Ryan Howard at $25,000,000. Nobody won fewer games (63) than the hapless Phillies, the manager resigned, the GM was fired and Cliff Lee due to injuries contributed zero innings pitched to the Phillies cause. The Phillies have a team option on the 37 year-old Lee in 2016 for $27.5 million but more than likely will buy him out for $12.5 million. The soon to be 36 year-old Ryan Howard’s case for $25 million was darn just as bad. Howard hit .229 with a .227 OBP in 129 games. Howard has the Phillies on the hook for another $25 million in 2016 and a team option at $23 million in 2017 with a $10 million buyout. Howard should be arrested for “grand theft”. Lee was hurt but that is no excuse, he contributed zippo and hasn’t had double-digit wins since 2013. Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke had a very good season and if you argue that a good pitcher is worth $25 million a season then “the Donald” (Yes that is really his first name) is your guy based on his 19-3 record and 1.66 ERA.
  4. The next man up is King Felix, the ace of the Mariners staff. Felix Hernandez was 18-9 with a 3.53 ERA, it was his highest ERA since 2007 and he fell short of 200 strikeouts for the first time since 2008. However, he did all this for a team that won just 76 games. Hernandez who will only be 30 when the 2016 season begins earned his $24,857,000 salary in 2015 and will make between $25 million each season for the next four years. Oddly enough the team has a $1 million option on him in 2020 based on some injury stipulations.
  5. From  King Felix we go to Prince Albert Pujols the soon to be 36 year-old first baseman in the land of the Angels. Pujols who earned $24 million bounced back in 2015 with 40 round trippers and 95 RBI in 157 games but he hit only .244 and his OBP has been dropping like a rock since 2010. But Pujols has to love fantasy land because he will collect $25 million next season and then is guaranteed a million dollar raise each season through 2020. In 2021 when Pujols is 41 the Angels have a $30 million option and best of all, Pujols has a 10 year $10 million personal services deal with the team once he quits playing. We should change Pujols nickname from Prince Albert to Jesse James. Earth to Angels……..anybody there? This contract makes Joe Mauer’s deal look like child’s play. Next man up is another prince, Prince Fielder 1B and DH from the Texas Rangers. After missing most of 2014 due to injury the Prince bounced back this past season and was selected as the AL Come-Back player of the year. Keep in mind that Fielder has been in the big leagues for 10 full seasons and in nine of those seasons he played in 157 or more games and four times he played in 162 games. The man comes to play. The six-time All-Star hit .305 and had 23 home runs and 98 RBI also made $24 million this season and will continue to be paid at that rate for five more season’s. Only $18 million of the money is paid by the Rangers as the Tigers will chip in $6 million each year. Did Prince earn his money? You make the call, but I should tell you that 13 other major league players hit more than 23 home runs and knocked in more than 98 runs and did not make this kind of money. Let’s move on to the third of the $24 million dollar amigo’s, Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano has been in the big leagues for 11 season’s, nine of them with the Yankees. Cano is a very good player but at 33 years of age is on the decline. However, his salary is not as he is owed $192 million by the Mariners over the next 8 season’s and in his last season under this deal he will be 40 years old. Good luck with that deal!
  6. Next man up is Yankee 1B Mark Teixeira who earned $23,1215,000 this past season and is in the books to earn the same amount in his final year of his contract in 2016. Tex will be 36 early next season and last played a full season in 2011. Teixeira did hit .255 with 31 home runs this past year in that bandbox that they call Yankee Stadium. Can Tex look in the mirror and ask himself “Did I earned my pay?” I don’t think so, even in today’s world of inflated salaries you have to show up for work more than 69% of the time to make that kind of money.
  7. We move on to the fifth pitcher making this list, 35 year-old lefty CC Sabathia from the New York Yankees who made $23 million this past season. CC is guaranteed $25 million for 2016 and $25 million more in 2017 if he avoids a couple of injury stipulations. The man has made at least 28 starts a year in 14 of his 15 big league seasons, you have to give the big guy credit for that. Does he still pitch like a $23 million pitcher? No way!

This past post season only three of the teams mentioned above (Dodgers, Yankees and Rangers) made the playoffs and none of them advanced past the ALDS round. Just goes to show that money can’t buy you happiness. Let’s take a look at recent World Series winners and see how much money their highest paid player made.

2015 Royals – Alex Gordon at $12.5 million

2014 Giants – Matt Cain at $20 million (pitched total of 90 inning & did not appear in post season play)

2013 Red Sox – John Lackey at $15.25 million

2012 Giants – Barry Zito at $19 million (15-8 with a 4.15 ERA)

2011 Cardinal – Matt Holliday at $16.318 million

2010 Giants – Barry Zito at $18.5 million (9-14 with 4.15 ERA)

The fans keep pressuring team owners to sign their stars and acquire additional free agents to long-term deals. Just for discussion let’s assume a long-term deal is five years or longer. What percentage of long-term deals pays off for the team over the length of the contract? I don’t know of any study that has analyzed that but I believe that the percentage has to be low. Assuming that is the case, why sign players to these long terms?

I believe the main reason is that team owners feel they need to offer long-term deals to be competitive with the other teams competing for the same player. To me that seems just plain dumb. Offer the player a more lucrative deal for a shorter time frame and you will still get players to sign and you will save money and probably a roster spot. Another dumb move by team owners is the fact that they give players the option to bail out on a long-term deal after a certain number of years. Again, D-U-M-B! Why doesn’t the team get an option to terminate the deal after a few years if they wish to do so?

I am not trying to side with the owners here, I am looking to see how teams can avoid getting bogged down with a player or two on the roster making too high a percentage of the overall team payroll and thus making that team un-competitive because they can’t afford to pay the rest of their players.

On the other side of the coin star players draw fans and fans spend money, buy tickets, watch more games on TV and the teams revenue increases. But the excitement of signing a new player to a big deal is short-lived and then fans often turn on the player and the team for not performing based on the huge deal he signed. It appears to me that signing players to shorter deals lessens the owner risk and give the team the opportunity to sign another player and start the excitement all over again.

Joe Mauer 2015The Twins have a unique situation with the St. Paul born Joe Mauer. Mauer signed an eight year deal back in 2010 for $184 million with a full no trade clause. Now, Mauer who was a catcher at the time has moved to first base and his hitting no longer measures up. What do you do with a home born player making that much money, who will be 33 in April, hit 10 home runs and knocked in only 66 runs with a .265 batting average in 666 plate appearances primarily in the number three spot in your batting order? The Twins are not a team that can put a guy making $23 million on the bench and he has a full no trade deal. If you could trade him who would take him? The Twins would have to pay someone big bucks to take him but yet if you leave him in the line-up he is taking up a spot that is not producing as it should for a young team that is getting ready to make the playoffs. What kind of message does that send to the team and the fans? A heck of a dilemma, but have faith, all is not lost, baseball owners and GM’s have proven over the years that there is always somebody out there that is willing to take your deadwood off your hands because there is always a chance that he will have one more great season in him and that they can catch lightning in a bottle one more time.

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