Alfonso Soriano’s contract is the fifth-largest in baseball history. The Top 5, with the first year of their new contract and their age during that season:
- Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $252 million (2001, 25)
- Derek Jeter, 10 years, $189 million (2001, 27)
- Manny Ramirez, 8 years, $160 million (2001, 29)
- Todd Helton, 11 years, $141.5 million (2003, 29)
- Alfonso Soriano, 8 years, $136 million (2007, 31)
The common factor among the top 4 is that they all were younger than 30 — Rodriguez will be 35 when his contract expires, Jeter and Ramirez will be old men in baseball terms at 37 each, while Helton will be an ancient 40.
Putting aside whether athletes deserve those sums and all that hogwash, it’s pretty well accepted that you should be a special player to receive a deal longer than five or six years and for more than $100 million. Where does Soriano stack up in this list?
Rodriguez was only 25 when he signed six years ago what remains the biggest baseball contract in history. At that time, he had played five full seasons and had cups of coffee in two others. He hit more than 35 HR in four of the five seasons and had hit more than 40 the last three seasons.
His totals at the time:
.309/.372/.561 in 790 games with 189 HR, 595 RBI 133 SB, and a 79 percent stolen base success rate.
In the six seasons since, he’s been even better, never hitting fewer than 35 HR and four times hitting more than 45 (at least 50 twice). As mentioned, he’s gone nine consecutive seasons with at least 35 HR and 106 RBI. Here’s what his numbers look like since the contract was inked:
.302/.396/.583 in 965 games with 275 HR, 752 RBI, 108 SB and 82 percent SB rate. His home run rate also has increased.
Jeter was 27. His deal was signed the same off-season as A-Rod’s and Manny’s. I don’t remember it making as big a splash, probably because it was a contract extension and because by then the baseball world was numb. In his five full seasons to that point, Jeter had hit below .300 only once (.291 in 1997). His OBP never dropped below .370. He had at least 25 doubles in each season. He was no Nomar Garciaparra, who put up similar numbers with greater power, but he was clearly an elite ballplayer.
At the time, he was hitting:
.322/.394/.468 in 786 games with 78 HR, 153 2B, 414 RBI, 108 SB and a 74.5 percent SB rate.
Six seasons later, Jeter has hit below .300 twice more but never below .290, making 11 straight years with at least a .290 average. Aside from 2004, he’s never dropped below a .370 OBP. His power has remained constant between 10 and 20 HR, and his stolen bases have fluctuated between roughly 15 and 30. In other words, he has been exactly the same player in 11 full seasons — 200 hits, .300/.390/.450, 25 stolen bases. The picture of consistency.
Ramirez at 29 was an amazing player — one who could hit for average and power, and could drive in runs like no one else. In six full seasons, he had hit for 30 HR five times, 100 RBI five times, a .300 average five times, a .375 OBP six times, a .530 SLG six times, 30 doubles five times. He was coming off a tremendous season in which he hit 38 HR despite missing 45 games (a whopping .697 slugging percentage). In 1999, he had 100 RBI by the All-Star Break. When he signed his contract, his career numbers stood at:
.313/.407/.592 in 967 games with 236 HR, 237 2B and 804 RBI. Speed was not part of Ramirez’s game.
Since then, he’s been — well, an amazing player, etc. In six seasons, he’s never hit fewer than 35 HR or driven in fewer than 102 runs. 2005 was the only year in which his average dropped below .300 or his OBP dropped below .400. His totals in his second set of six full seasons (note the consistency and the improvement in his power numbers):
.316/.416/.610 in 850 games with 234 HR, 201 2B and 712 RBI. Speed still is not part of Ramirez’s game.
Helton was equally impressive at the time of his payday two years after the top three signed. In five full seasons, he never hit below .315 and hit fewer than 30 homers and drove in fewer than 100 runs just once each. In 2000, he hit .372 and the next year slamed 49 home runs:
.333/.419/.613 in 821 games with 186 HR, 230 2B and 623 RBI. Speed was not part of Helton’s game either.
The numbers are surreal, but Coors Field was an extreme hitters’ park during Helton’s peak years (he has a .372 career average at home, .294 on the road). Since his monstrous deal, Helton has declined significantly as Coors has evened out and as injuries have taken their toll. Although maintaining his high averages, his power numbers have nosedived, peaking at 33 home runs in the first year of his contract and sinking to 15 last year, a season in which he posted career lows in average, OBP and slugging. Back problems haven’t helped.
.333/.444/.567 in 597 games with 100 HR, 183 2B and 373 RBI.
That brings us to Alfonso Soriano — the oldest and, frankly, the worst of the five.
He’s hit .300 on the nose once in six full seasons. 2006 was his first season to touch .350 in OBP. He’s hit .500 in slugging three times in six seasons. Strikeouts generally are incidental. Power hitters strike out more than contact hitters, and Ks are better than double plays. But Soriano does not walk, meaning that when he does not hit the ball out of the park, he is likely striking out. He has hit at least 30 HR in four of his first six seasons, true, but that’s a ratio below that of Rodriguez (4/5), Ramirez (5/6) and Helton (5/5). He’s driven in 100 runs in two of the six, something that is largely beyond a player’s control particularly when he is the leadoff hitter.
Of the five, Soriano is the only one not to have a career average of at least .300, an OBP of at least .370 and excepting Jeter a SLG of at least .560 at the time of his megadeal. While he hits tons of doubles and can steal bases, he cost his team this year by failing to steal at least 75 percent of his attempts. Likewise, the statistical anomaly of being a 40/40/40 player didn’t push him above David Wright, Lance Berkman or Miguel Cabrera in NL win shares this season:
.280/.325/.510 in 961 games with 208 HR, 240 2B, 560 RBI and 210 SB with a 77 percent steal rate.
Putting the five players at the time of their megacontracts then:
- .309/.372/.561 in 790 games with 189 HR, 194 2B, 595 RBI, 133 SB, 79% SB rate.
- .322/.394/.468 in 786 games with 78 HR, 153 2B, 414 RBI, 108 SB 74.5% SB rate.
- .313/.407/.592 in 967 games with 236 HR, 237 2B and 804 RBI.
- .333/.419/.613 in 821 games with 186 HR, 230 2B and 623 RBI.
- .280/.325/.510 in 961 games with 208 HR, 240 2B, 560 RBI and 210 SB 77% SB rate.
Soriano’s numbers are decidedly worse despite playing in more games and being an older player. He’s 50 points worse at reaching base, 30 points worse at getting hits, 50 points worse at hitting for power. With no pattern of being able to consistently reach base or overcome his poor plate discipline, what is the reasonable expectation — even accounting for the boost Wrigley Field should provide him — that Soriano is putting up even these less-than-great stats in Year 5 of the contract (age 36), let alone Year 7 or Year 8?
That’s why I’ve called this a dog of a deal for Chicago.