Remember when a 7 year deal for a baseball player was a rarity? When only the truly elite players, those who had established themselves as legitimate stars for years to come truly earned it? Well, those days are officially over. With the Texas Rangers announcing the signing of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a 7 year deal worth $130MM, an old era of contract signings died along with it.
Why did Choo get a contract he clearly didn’t deserve? Here’s a guy who has never made an All-star Team, is one of the most defensively challenged outfielders in baseball, and who has some of the worst right hand left hand splits for a left-handed hitter. His only big accomplishments have been his selection to the 2009 South Korea World Baseball Classic team and his two top 15 finishes in the AL and NL MVP voting, which in truth, is not prestigious at all.
To provide a little perspective, let’s jump back to the 2003-04 offseason. After poring through all the transactions that happened then, I discovered that in that offseason, no contract went beyond seven years, and only two went beyond four. Those two contracts belonged to Vladimir Guerrero, who signed a five year deal with the Anaheim Angels, and Miguel Tejada, who signed a six year deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
Ten years later, we already have three players who have signed deals that have at least 7 years attached to them; Jacoby Ellsbury’s deal with the Yankees, Robinson Cano’s deal with the Mariners, and now Choo’s deal with the Rangers.
Considering the past two classes of free agents have been classified as “weak”, especially by MLB Trade Rumors and Mlb Network, I’m surprised that these deals have come to this point. Ten years ago, Cano probably would have gotten a six or seven year deal, while Ellsbury maybe would have gotten four years and Choo three. This brings up the question: when did the standard of contracts change?
While it can’t be pinpointed exactly, my best guess is that it wasn’t a year that started the trend, but rather a player. This player was a lunchpail guy who did reasonably well in his time as a super sub, gained a reputation as a decent hitter, and the fact that he played on a perennial contender (at the time) which effectively and wrongfully inflated his value.
Yes, it’s Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, the patron saint of megadeals given to middling players. After years as an on-the-cusp major leaguer, he became a cult hero in Philadelphia during their championship season, as well as their NL Championship season and the season where they were practically viewed by everyone to be a shoo in for the World Series, Werth cashed in on his popularity and signed a 7 year, $126MM deal with the Nationals. Since then, Werth hasn’t exactly lived up to his contract, his 2011 season was highlighted by a .232 average, with 20 home runs and 58 RBI, numbers that ten years ago probably would have netted a player a 2 to 3 year deal. The previous year, Werth had hit .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBI. Although Werth had a generally solid 2013 to renew faith in the DC fans, it is still my belief that Werth was not worthy of a 7 year deal.
Choo’s past season in Cincinnati was highlighted by a Triple Crown line of .285/21/54, numbers which would have probably given him a 3 year deal ten years ago. Couple that with the fact that Choo had spent that season in the National League, which is weaker than the American League, and you have the Rangers walking into another Werthian situation.
What I’m trying to say is that these players are relying on teams to be stupid enough to offer them these megadeals, and teams are stupid enough to grant that deal, thereby cheapening what was once an illustrious fiscal and tenured accomplishment. Unfortunately, this may never stop, and with big stars like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw bound to hit free agency and demand perhaps a 15 year contract, perhaps it will be the 10 year deal that Cano got that becomes the average, and the 7 year is the only way to get a player to commit.