Throughout the nearly 50 years of free agency in Major League Baseball, the high-end money available to players has expanded exponentially.
The emotions, though, remain remarkably similar firstly of long-term megadeals: Gratitude, wonder, and, at times, disbelief at a player’s own luck.
Xander Bogaerts last week made no secret of how he would have reacted earlier this off-season had his agent informed him that signing an 11-year deal was possible, let alone one which carried a guarantee of $280 million.
“I might have kissed him,” Bogaerts said at a news conference at Petco Park in San Diego last week, glancing at his agent, Scott Boras. “I might have. I haven’t yet, but I’d do this.”
Back in 1976, when the pitcher Wayne Garland became the primary player to sign a free-agent contract of at the least 10 years — for $2.3 million, with Cleveland — he called his mother.
“I didn’t get the million dollars,” Garland, who was in search of that sum over five years, told his mom.
“You’re not value it,” she responded.
“I got two million dollars and 10 years,” he answered. She repeated the sentiment.
“She spoke the reality,” Garland, 72, said over the phone from his home in Nashville on Wednesday. “She put it plain and easy.”
Garland was a trailblazer as a member of baseball’s first free-agent class. The trail forged by his 10-year deal leads directly to a few All-Star shortstops who got contracts this month that mix for nearly $1 billion in guarantees.
On Tuesday, Carlos Correa, 28, agreed to terms with the San Francisco Giants on a 13-year, $350 million contract that surpassed the deal signed by the Mets’ Francisco Lindor (10 years, $341 million) for probably the most total dollars committed to a shortstop. Trea Turner, 29, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for 11 years and $300 million. And Bogaerts, 30, got $280 million from the Padres.
When their contracts finally expire, Correa, Turner and Bogaerts will all be of their early 40s. The Giants, Phillies and Padres don’t — and can’t — expect their All Star-caliber play to proceed through the later years of those deals. Eventually, those players are more likely to require position changes and further days off. History would suggest all of them stand an honest likelihood of being traded or released long before their deals expire.
“It’s not an actual science,” Dave Dombrowski, Philadelphia’s president of baseball operations, said of projecting a player’s production as he ages. He added: “One thing I do think is, sometimes you’ve to distinguish between a standard big-league player and an elite athlete. I do think there are some differences in that regard. We’ve done a number of research. An elite athlete can last more at that performance level than other individuals can.”
With this season’s additions, there have been 24 contracts that guaranteed a player at the least 10 years — 13 via free agency and 11 via extensions. No free agent signed to such a deal has remained along with his team for the whole term of the contract.
Dave Winfield’s contract aged higher than most. He signed a 10-year, $23.5 million free-agent cope with the Yankees in 1980, and despite his sour relationship with the Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who called him Mr. May and was eventually suspended for 2 years for paying a gambler to attempt to dig up embarrassing information on him, Winfield made eight All-Star teams in Latest York.
Winfield missed all of 1989 with a back injury and was traded to the Angels in 1990, but the power was still there: In 1992, two years after his 10-year deal had expired, he finished fifth within the American League’s Most Precious Player Award voting and helped Toronto win the World Series. And he was still a superb player at 41 the subsequent season.
Other free-agent deals of 10 or more years were far less successful.
At 41, Albert Pujols, who had signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels in 2012, was released within the tenth yr of his underwhelming tenure in Anaheim, Calif. — his resurgent 2022 season with St. Louis got here a yr after that contract expired. Robinson Canó (10 years, $228 million with Seattle in 2014) washed out of the sport last summer at 39 following two suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs — he still has one season left on the contract.
Alex Rodriguez signed two 10-year deals. The primary ($252 million) was with Texas in 2001, and he was traded to the Yankees only three seasons later. Seven seasons and three M.V.P. Awards into the deal, he exercised an opt-out clause, signing a second 10-year contract ($275 million). He helped lead the Yankees to a World Series title in 2009, but he was suspended for the whole 2014 season due to connections to performance-enhancing drugs and the team released him with a yr left on the deal.
For a time, those failures appeared to sour teams on making such long agreements. But with clubs trying to lower the typical annual value of contracts, partially for competitive balance tax reasons, the long deals have come back in full force. Some have even gone to players who’ve yet to completely establish themselves within the majors.
Fernando Tatis Jr. has had a rocky begin to the 14-year contract he signed with the Padres before the 2021 season, but optimism abounds that his profession could turn around. Other young players signed to speculative megadeals include Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez (12 years, with options that might make it 18), Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco (11 years, with an option for 12) and Atlanta’s Austin Riley (10 years, with an option for 11).
Garland was only 26 when he signed his 10-year deal, which got here after a breakout 1976 season wherein he went 20-7 for the Baltimore Orioles with a 2.67 E.R.A. over 232⅓ innings. With free agency a recent concept, not everybody understood Garland’s motives — even along with his big payday.
“Some people were completely happy for me, some were jealous of me, some people said no person is value that,” Garland said of his contract, which was negotiated by Jerry Kapstein, his agent. Kapstein also secured a 10-year deal for the outfielder Richie Zisk in 1978 — the primary contract of that length given to a position player.
Along with getting extra money — Baltimore had offered him only five years with far lower salaries — Garland liked the thought of joining a winning team (Cleveland had gone 81-78 in 1976). Nevertheless, after posting an American League-leading 19 losses while throwing 282⅔ innings for Cleveland in 1977, the right-handed Garland felt a twinge in his shoulder the subsequent spring and, by April’s end, could barely get the ball to the plate. Garland had suffered a torn rotator cuff and had season-ending surgery. He was never the identical.
It was a distinct world back then.
After his surgery, Garland said, “they made me travel with the team. I had to come back to the ballpark every single day.” They set him up with a walkie talkie within the press box and, from there, he assisted the coach Rocky Colavito in positioning outfielders.
“They made me do it,” Garland said. “If I didn’t do it, I used to be going to get fined.”
Players today aren’t asked to perform such duties, but the varied megadeals have tended to be cut short for certainly one of two reasons: declining ability because the player ages, or a dramatic shift in a team’s philosophy.
“Giancarlo Stanton has come of age, and he’s going to be here an extended time,” Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins’ owner on the time, said upon signing Stanton to an eye-popping 13-year, $325 million extension in 2014.
Three years later, the Marlins were sold and Stanton was traded to the Yankees.
Of the all of the deals — whether via free agency or an extension — that called for 10 or more years, Derek Jeter (10 years, $189 million with the Yankees in 2001) is to date the one recipient to play the total term with the signing team. It was a top-to-bottom success, with Jeter making eight All-Star teams and collecting 1,918 hits over those 10 seasons. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, 39, is entering the ultimate season of a 10-year, $225 million extension and has a likelihood to hitch Jeter as players who accomplished such a cope with the signing team.
It didn’t end so well for Garland, who was released by Cleveland in 1982, five years and 99 appearances into his deal. He said he had a difficult relationship with other players after his injuries and had harsh words with team officials upon his exit, telling them “just make certain you send the check every two weeks.” He was 30.
It wasn’t until he became a coach within the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati organizations within the Nineteen Nineties, he said, that the ice melted.
“I got more thanks after I used to be through playing,” Garland said. “From the younger people saying ‘because of you, you made it higher for all of us.’”
He hasn’t watched baseball in 20 years, he said, and added that he wasn’t even conversant in this off-season’s big-money shortstops.
Nevertheless, when details of Correa’s contract were relayed, Garland said, “God bless him.”