Long-term contracts. They're the worst nightmare of owners, general managers, and fans alike, and no team in MLB is feeling the negative effects of them right now more than the New York Yankees. It's why they let Robbie Cano walk, it's why they want to get under the luxury tax threshold to avoid paying so many extra tax dollars, and it's why they've floundered at, around, or slightly above the mediocrity line for the last 2 seasons while still boasting annual payrolls north of $200 million.
When the offseason began and we threw the line out for post ideas, one of the reader suggestions was an analysis of the team's long-term contracts and whether the players' production in the early part of the deal was enough to make it worth it when they fell apart at the end of the deal. This week I'm going to attempt to perform that analysis on the 3 big deals currently weighing the Yankee roster and payroll down like old, expensive anchors: Mark Teixeira's, CC Sabathia's, and A-Rod's.
Since we're talking big contracts, it only makes sense to start with the biggest and the dumbest- the Alex Rodriguez deal.
The Deal- 10 years/$275 million, with a $10 million signing bonus and $30 million worth of home run milestone-related bonuses. Signed on December 13, 2007.
The Setting- Alex was 32 years old and coming off his second MVP award in the last 3 seasons in 2007, winning in a landslide after putting up a .314/.422/.645 slash line, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 143 R scored, and accumulating 9.6 fWAR. In his first 4 years with the Yankees from 2004-'07, A-Rod won 2 MVPs, 2 Silver Slugger awards, played in 4 All-Star Games, and led the AL in HR, R, SLG, and OPS 2 times apiece.
He was also coming off the controversial opt-out decision, announced by his agent at the time, Scott Boras, in the middle of the '07 World Series. That led to a lot of early offseason media drama between he and the team that ended with A-Rod bypassing Boras and reaching out to Yankee ownership directly to apologize and begin talks for a new deal. Once that happened and things were smoothed over, the details of the new contract came together pretty quickly before being finalized and made official in December.
The First 5 Years: 2008-2012
- Hit .282/.370/.503 with 129 HR, 447 RBI, and 397 R in 620 games.
- Won 1 Silver Slugger ('08), played in 3 ASGs ('08, '10, '11), and led the AL in SLG in '08 (.573).
- Won 1 World Series title in 2009 and was the postseason MVP, hitting .365/.500/.808 with 6 HR, 18 RBI, 15 R in 15 games.
- Went 12-75 (.160 BA) with 0 HR and 24 K in 21 postseason games from 2010-2012.
- Played in 76.5% of 810 possible regular season games. Missed at least 24 games in each season.
- Got paid $151 million in total salary. According to FanGraphs' WAR value calculator, his 19.7 fWAR was worth $87 million.
The Next 5 years: 2013-2017
- Hit .244/.348/.423 with 7 HR, 19 RBI, and 21 R in 44 games in 2013.
- Was suspended for all of the 2014 season for PED violations.
- Played in 13.6% of 324 possible regular season games due to the suspension and a second surgery on his right hip.
- Got paid $28 million in salary in 2013 and $2.869 million in 2014. FanGraphs estimated his 0.5 fWAR in the last 2 years to be worth $2.4 million.
- Is owed $61 million in remaining salary over the next 3 years, his age 40, 41, and 42 seasons, plus the $6 million in bonus money for each HR milestone reached.
- Early projections for 2015 make A-Rod out to be a below-average offensive player.
The breakdown of the last 7 years is basically a textbook case in why signing players to long-term deals when they're already in their 30s is a bad idea. This is the contract that wrote the book on that strategy and in looking back, it's crazy to think that other teams have followed this path even after seeing how badly it's turned out for the Yankees. A-Rod's decline started almost immediately after he signed the new 10-year deal. From an MVP season and 158 games played in '07, to an 8th place MVP finish and 138 games played in '08, to a 10th place finish and 124 games played in '09. Alex was firmly entrenched in his permanent decline less than a third of the way through the contract and he has played in less than half of the Yankees' games over the last 4 seasons as he's moved into his late-30s.
In addition to the sharp decline in production and increasing problems staying on the field due to lingering hip, knee, and general leg problems, Alex has also brought a ton of negative off-the-field attention to himself (and the Yankees through association) with his connections to PEDs. In 2009 it was the SI report detailing his early-2000s steroid use with the Texas Rangers. In 2010 it was the connection to convicted PED distributor Anthony Galea. And in 2013 it was his strong ties to the Biogenesis clinic. All 3 stories damaged his reputation, all 3 further strained an already shaky relationship with the Yankee organization, and the final one led to his season-long suspension this past season and the efforts on the part of the Yankee front office to void the remainder of his contract.
The 7 years since the deal was signed have had decidedly more bad than good, and that's putting it very mildly. Considering how little value the team has gotten in return for its $275 million investment and the fact that they're still on the hook for 3 more years of high dollar values and negative press, it seems like a no-brainer that the decision to sign A-Rod was not worth it. Until you remember the 2009 postseason. That was the last time the Yankees were in the World Series and it was the last time they won the World Series. It's also a World Series that they don't win without A-Rod. His performance in the '09 playoffs, PED-aided or not, was one of the all-time best. He almost single-handedly got the Yankees through the first 2 rounds against the Twins and Angels, and that's a fact that even the biggest of A-Rod haters have to acknowledge. If the Yankees don't sign Alex Rodriguez in the 2007 offseason, they don't win the 2009 World Series.
So the question you have to ask yourself when answering "was it worth it?" is how much you as a Yankee fan value winning championships. Even with that 1 title attributed to him, it might not be enough to definitively state that the deal was worth it. While it's undeniable that the Yankees don't win in '09 without him, who knows how things could be different today if A-Rod and his money weren't on the team. How much better shape would the roster and payroll be in today without him? Where else could the team have spent money in previous offseasons to make the team better today? Could they have won a championship in the last 5 years? Who knows.
What is known is that A-Rod is planning to be back in 2015 and the Yankees are preparing to have him back in the lineup. They don't know what position he'll play or how often, and they don't know how many games his aged, brittle body will be able to play before succumbing to injury. It seems highly unlikely that they'll get even $100 million worth of production back on the $275 mil+ in salary, and in that respect, it was definitely not worth signing A-Rod. But when you factor in all that added revenue that came with him, from attendance to merchandise to TV to playoff money and beyond, and the title in '09, maybe it was.