The 2014 Major League Baseball season is finally underway. While offseason trades and signings are bound to shake up the standings this year, it seems the size of the contracts has overshadowed the potential impact of the players this season. The Yankees are always looking to spend. This offseason proved no different, as they chose to reload rather than rebuild by signing Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann. Ellsbury is a great player; however, many question whether he was worth $153 million. While his 2011 season was phenomenal, he has failed to match that year’s power, relying more on his speed. At least, he has proven himself in the MLB. Masahiro Tanaka, while compiling an absolutely ridiculous 24-0 record with a 1.27 era, was by far the most heralded pitcher this offseason. The Yankees moved in and signed him for $155 million. No one is ever really surprised at how much the Yankees spend these days. Perhaps that is the tell-tale sign that something odd is happening. Before, absurd contracts were reserved for the best of the best in baseball, yet these days, everyone with a good season feels entitled to a gaudy $100+ million dollar contract. Thus, when the superstars get their new contracts, they need to be bigger and better.
Move over, A-Rod: Miguel Cabrera has just signed the largest contract in MLB history. Cabrera signed with the Tigers for $292 million over 10 years, besting Rodriguez’s $275 million deal several years back. If there were anyone in the MLB deserving of a contract of this size, it would be Miguel Cabrera. He has competed for the triple crown the past two seasons, winning it in 2012, and is a presence. The hitter most comparable to Cabrera would be Albert Pujols. However, when Pujols signed a gigantic deal of his own with the Angels a few seasons ago, his numbers began to dip. The question now is whether he can regain his form at age 34. The larger these mega deals get, the longer they become. Was it wise for the Angels to give a player over 30 a 10 year deal? Contracts have become a statement made by both teams and players. In an era of publicity, it seems as if teams who want to sign or keep their superstar must make these deals not as a kind gesture, but out of necessity. What the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez did with their contracts may have seemed excessive, but the fact that it was the Yankees who gave him this contract proved a good enough explanation. Yet Rodriguez’s contract has seemed to start a trend that is slowly catching on throughout the rest of the league. Of the top 20 highest contracts in MLB history, only six were given before 2010. Five of these six contracts were given to Yankees (including A-Rod, twice). The sixth was for Manny Ramirez. Five of the 20 contracts were given out at some point during this offseason (Cabrera, Cano, Votto, Kershaw and Tanaka).
The reliance on spending in big markets has led to what almost amounts to a class system within the MLB. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers make up the upper financial class as they have the name, history, market and money to purchase virtually whomever they want and thus have potential to be competitive almost every year. Middle of the road teams are able to spend money every once and a while to perhaps retain or sign a superstar, yet must also rely on some homegrown talent and cheaper role players. Then there are the small market teams. While it is entirely possible to create a homegrown contender, the prospect of maintaining such a group without rewarding emerging stars is extremely daunting. To put it bluntly, large market teams have an unfair advantage when it comes to signing and marketing players.
Miguel Cabrera is the best player in baseball right now and was definitely deserving of a large contract. The simple fact of the matter is: contracts have gotten so ridiculous that anything “deserving” is just way too much.