Big Money

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:

  1. Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $252 million (2001, 25)
  2. Derek Jeter, 10 years, $189 million (2001, 27)
  3. Manny Ramirez, 8 years, $160 million (2001, 29)
  4. Todd Helton, 11 years, $141.5 million (2003, 29)
  5. 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:

  1. .309/.372/.561 in 790 games with 189 HR, 194 2B, 595 RBI, 133 SB, 79% SB rate.
  2. .322/.394/.468 in 786 games with 78 HR, 153 2B, 414 RBI, 108 SB 74.5% SB rate.
  3. .313/.407/.592 in 967 games with 236 HR, 237 2B and 804 RBI.
  4. .333/.419/.613 in 821 games with 186 HR, 230 2B and 623 RBI.
  5. .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.

27 comments… add one
  • I’m a big fan of telling people who believe baseball players are overpaid that they can’t be overpaid because clearly the teams feel they are worth exactly that amount. Players are worth what they will be paid, like any other commodity.
    So, in response to what Brad said in the Random Musings thread, I agree — the Cubs probably see the Soriano signing as a marketing tool, an attendance rejuvenator, etc., and there’s no real way to quantify that through stats. To the Cubs, Soriano is worth that extreme amount of money. You can’t argue with that.
    Based on his baseball performance alone, however, he’s just not a player of the caliber of these other four. And while three of those four have certainly been worth the contracts in hindsight, I don’t think Soriano’s deal will be looked at the same way as Manny’s or Jeter’s eight years from now (the A-Rod contract is of course a subject of much debate). Or even five or four years from now.

    Paul SF November 21, 2006, 12:05 am
  • Soriano is a benefactor of this year, and nothing else. He belongs nowhere near this list of players. His contract is a result of, among other things: a very needy team, a very big splash needed for a very needy team, and a very new manager for a very needy team.
    All that being said, Chicago will eat this up and Soriano will be all over that town, so for the first few years anyhow, it’ll be a good decision for them.
    Maybe they’re looking at contracts the way the Yankees do: put the last two or three years of it in a closet and forget they exist while hoping for the best immediately.
    But no, Soriano belongs nowhere near these players in any sense. If it’s down to the last out, bases loaded in a huge playoff game, I (and everyone else in the world) can think of 10 other players they want in the box not named Soriano.
    Someone mentioned earlier tonight (paul, I think) said that Soriano’s worth will be fully evident when other teams score at will against that pitching. I can see their two Pavanos (Wood and Prior) staying healthy and being good if all the planets are aligned correctly for them, but outside of that, they better get some help there too.

    Brad November 21, 2006, 12:12 am
  • I love Soriano (as a YF), but ya, this is slightly a bit much, mostly with the length. He had what’s probably a career year, and if not, maybe he’ll peak next year.. but ya, they need someone behind Zam that doesn’t get injured all the time, and the “Yankees way” of trying to win games 9-8 or whatever doesn’t really work for the Yanks, and it isn’t going to be much easier for the Cubs..
    It’s also a waste, if you ask me, that they’re going to bat him first.. 46 HRs and not even 100 RBI’s.. for that much money..

    Lar November 21, 2006, 12:50 am
  • Great post, Paul. I really enjoy it when you get analytical like this. :)
    Jim Hendry is trying to keep his job, and the Tribune is looking to sell the Cubs, if I recall. Throw those factors into a crazy FA marketplace and this is what you get. It boggles the mind. I’m willing to bet that 4-5 years from now, the Cubs will be dying to trade Soriano, and will have no takers.

    mouse November 21, 2006, 1:57 am
  • Yeah, this is just such a stupid deal it’s not even funny. But…if he does make the Cubs contenders for a year or two, and if they even manage to get to the WS, how much is that worth? All that contract and more, I’d suggest. Not saying he’ll do that, but add Sori to Aramis and D Lee and you have a potent middle of an NL order.
    Meanwhile, I’ve read somewhere that Boras thinks Zito will command a $100m contract – now THAT would be the real sign of baseball’s fiscal insanity.

    Sam November 21, 2006, 9:02 am
  • Sam, I think I just saw Carlos Lee driving down 5th ave in a new Ferrari.

    Seth November 21, 2006, 9:45 am
  • Wait, Carlos Lee can fit in a Ferrari?

    SF November 21, 2006, 9:59 am
  • Paul: Thanks for that great analysis. I had forgotten about that Helton deal–yikes. I will admit that I have always enjoyed watching Sori, nevermind his defensive weaknesses, the strikeouts, and his tendency to convert the occassional double or triple into a single with his lack of hustle. He was never the smartest ballplayer, and playing next to Jeter that fact was exacerbated (his fielding didn’t do much to help Derek either.) All that said, his smile was infectious, and he really does have some special talents. That contract is pretty silly, but there’s no reason to blame him for the Cubbies foolishness. And for the first few years, at least, it’s probably not going to be that bad a deal. Anyway, I wish him well in Chicago.

    YF November 21, 2006, 10:19 am
  • I agree that the numbers are a bit high. But then again we say that about every blockbuster deal. I’m not so sure that Sori is the worst of the lot mentioned. Todd Helton’s contract began in 2003 and already we’re talking about his best years being behind him. He will be a heck of a burden on a smaller market team like the Rockies.
    And I’m sorry but I can’t help reading your analysis with a grain of salt after you proclaimed site-unseen Matsuzaka worth the near $100 mil that the Sox will probably fork out – $11 million of which was completely unnecessary. It’s amusing that you’ll readily apply a fallacious stats/money formula everywhere but Fenway.
    Just curious, which, if any, of the players above would be “worth it”? You’ve compared each of their deals favorably to Soriano’s (thanks for the legwork), but what about relative to the bottom line – Stats AND “Marketing”?
    And just to reopen an old scab:
    “He was no Nomar Garciaparra, who put up similar numbers with greater power, but he was clearly an elite ballplayer.”
    History clearly states that Nomar is no Derek Jeter. In fact, as you’ve admitted in the past, Nomar isn’t even in the same class (potential HOFer) as Jeter.

    lp November 21, 2006, 11:11 am
  • lp- at the time of Jeter’s contract, he was without doubt the third best SS in the bigs. Well, I can’t really quantify the worth of the “intangibles”, but statistically both Nomar and Jeter were beter. Of course hindsight is clear, but at the time, Paul is correct.

    Brad November 21, 2006, 11:14 am
  • It probably doesn’t come off well for a Sox fan to be complaining about the Soriano deal (though it seems to me marginally ridiculous, particularly the length), and I don’t expect many fans of other teams to listen to commentary from the fan of a team that just bid $51.1M for the rights to negotiate with a player who has never played a game in the majors, but indulge me. My big curiosity with this deal is how it was negotiated. I wonder what the counter-offers and leverage on each side were. Was Soriano offered 6 years from someone else, and the Cubs “iced” the deal with an extra 2? Were the Cubs involved in a competitive market for AS? Did they pre-empt a market? Was Sori tempted by a $120M deal in another city, hence the $136M offer? It never ceases to amaze, the numbers involved in these big deals, and I truly am curious about the negotiation dynamics. How is it that someone like Scott Boras is able to prize $40M out of the Mariners for a player like Jarrod Washburn? Is he such a great BSer that he gets teams thinking there are huge, competitive markets for players like Washburn? Is he doing a masterful sell job, or is he just a fear-monger (“act soon or lose your chance forever!”) and people have yet to catch on? Is Fern Cuza the new Scott Boras? Are these guys the best debaters ever, snake oil salesmen, or both? (I think both…)
    I would absolutely love to be a fly on the wall during some of these agent/team conversations, to see how they play each other, and how they manipulate each others’ expectations, hopes, fears. Sports agents, the best of them, are just awe-inspiring negotiators. This is the one certainty I have about these people.

    SF November 21, 2006, 11:17 am
  • SF – that, to me, was the best part of Moneyball, the chapter where Beane was negotiating trades. Like you, I find that stuff endlessly fascinating.
    For what it’s worth, I think that Boras is a fear-mongering BSer. I think he’s basically the best player of the game of chicken in the world and GMs always blink first.
    One related question: we talk about A-Rod’s contract, Washburn, DMat, etc, and it never gets mentioned that Boras gets a slice of all these deals. Does anyone have any idea how much that man makes in a year? If he gets, say 5% of all his client’s annual salaries, how much would that be? More than A-Rod himself, I’d wager.

    Sam November 21, 2006, 11:32 am
  • Actually, Sam, I think agents automatically take their ten percent! Which means that Boras is beyond wealthy and has been for years.

    Brad November 21, 2006, 11:36 am
  • I think the new CBA agreement has something to do with the deals so far this offseason. Revenue Sharing % from the local markets is lower that it has been over the past few years (In international markets all share is equal).
    Also I think from a business standpoint its easier to manage long contracts. And with a big market team, like the Cubs, who will be profitable and have a good balance sheet, to know what they will have to pay for something for what period of time is very important. It makes the risk easily measurable.

    Seth November 21, 2006, 11:46 am
  • “Of course, those big numbers garner Boras big bucks, too. His 5 percent commission makes him a rich man, even after paying the 60 or so employees of Scott Boras Corp., a full-service shop that provides clients access to fitness and nutritional professionals and well-known sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, and handles all their marketing matters. “Money and contracts are about 30 percent of what we do,” says Boras.”
    From this article:

    SF November 21, 2006, 11:50 am
  • I think the deal is a bad one for the Cubs, and I was explaining why — as well as why I think Soriano is a touch (or a lot) overrated. I’m not sure why you need a “grain of salt,” lp, unless of course you just refuse to believe the things I say because they don’t fit your preconceived notions. If that’s the case, just say so.
    I’m not complaining about the size or the scope of the contract, nor about the market this year. The Sox have contributed to that. The difference between Matsuzaka and Soriano is that Soriano has a track record that shows he is not an elite player and probably won’t ever be, whereas Matsuzaka has a track record that shows he is an elite player on one level, and that he could be on this one. Plus, Matsuzaka is a starting pitcher, a position of much greater value than an outfielder who hits a lot of home runs.
    And finally the $51.1 million in Matsuzaka money will not keep the Red Sox from spending elsewhere this offseason or any other, as we’ve discussed. If they sign him to a $17M/year deal, then we can talk about overpaying for an unknown and hurting the team because of it. Right now, the Sox have overpaid for the right to negotiate with an unknown, which hurts no one but John Henry’s change purse.
    And I’m sorry but I can’t help reading your analysis with a grain of salt after you proclaimed site-unseen Matsuzaka worth the near $100 mil that the Sox will probably fork out – $11 million of which was completely unnecessary. It’s amusing that you’ll readily apply a fallacious stats/money formula everywhere but Fenway.
    Just curious, which, if any, of the players above would be “worth it”? You’ve compared each of their deals favorably to Soriano’s (thanks for the legwork), but what about relative to the bottom line – Stats AND “Marketing”?

    I’m not sure I ever called all that money “worth it” site unseen, lp. It has tremendous potential to be worth it — certainly more than Soriano’s potential considering their positions and age difference.
    Manny’s contract was definitely worth it. Not only has his production remained remarkably consistent with what he put up before his contract, but he was the World Series MVP and an irreplaceable portion of the 2004 team.
    Rodriguez actually increased his production and won two MVPs after signing his contract. So in that sense he was worth it. There’s the postseason argument, but if the Yankees haven’t been able to put together enough pitching to win in the postseason, is that his fault?
    Jeter — well, I’d argue whether he was worth that contract to begin with considering his place at the time as the third-best shortstop in his own league. But he was on his way to the Hall of Fame at the time and cemented his status since. He’ll likely win the MVP today, although he too hasn’t won a World Series since the contract. If it’s a strike against A-Rod, it must be a strike against Jeter too.
    Helton was not worth it, but there was no way to foresee the injuries — although anyone with such drastic home/road splits is a dangerous player to sign for such dollars. In fact, it’s surprising that of those four, only one thus far has been a failure.
    All four of these players provide marketing potential — particularly A-Rod and Jeter. Manny is the only one to provide TEH RING, which is far more valuable for the team. Soriano will, too, but in four or five years, that potential is likely to decline with his skills, much like Helton’s name has dropped from public notice in recent years. Marketing only works as long as the player is successful, which is what makes the Matsuzaka move such a risky — and potentially rewarding — one.

    Paul SF November 21, 2006, 11:54 am
  • Where does he stack up? Fourth. He’s fourth on that list in per year salary, and his contract is six years later than the larger ones he is being compared to, so what’s the big deal? Baseball and real inflation included, he’s still significantly less than the guys on that list except for Helton, who has lately been done in by the humidor (Career, his OPS is 200 points higher in Colorado).
    I am curious what specifically bothers people most about the Sori contract? Is it the length? The total sum? The annual fee? Sheesh. It’s like he stole your wallet and kicked your dog. He’s still paid a lot less than Manny.
    Since we’re already cherry picking stats, why not mention:
    – he holds the major-league record for home runs from the lead-off spot in a season (Lou has already said he’ll lead off for the Cubs, and he has lead off in a significant number of his career at bats; keep that in mind when thinking about his overall numbers)
    – he led his league in extra base hits last year (the second time in the last four)
    – he’s the only 40/40/40 guy ever
    – he has led his league in power/speed four out of the last five years
    – he has averaged 155 games played per season since becoming a starter.
    he cost his team this year by failing to steal at least 75 percent of his attempts.
    I assume that’s a typo; he was caught 17 times, succeeded 41 times, a 30% failure rate. You can spin it that he cost his team, but you could also spin it that he stole 41 bases.

    attackgerbil November 21, 2006, 12:02 pm
  • I just don’t understand the allure of a 40/40/40 player.
    It’s a statistical anomaly using arbitrary figures and arbitrary stats. Win Shares, which takes into account all the park and lineup factors, still ranks Soriano below Miguel Cabrera, who is a member of the estemmed 20/50/9 club, and David Wright, member of the 40/20/20 club.
    So basically Soriano is a guy who hits the ball far and runs fast, but is otherwise a fairly easy out who has no way to get on base aside from hitting doubles and home runs.
    I suppose my irritation is all the focus on the glamorous power/speed numbers and the belief — which this contract cements — that he’s one of the best players in the game when he’s not even Top 20.
    I don’t know what the No. 6-10 biggest contracts are, AG, but I’m pretty sure Soriano wouldn’t be fifth on the value list, as you seem to suggest. You’re right that inflation factors into the per-year money, but as I said, the years are just insane especially for a 31-year-old.

    Paul SF November 21, 2006, 12:17 pm
  • Transposed my numbers. Using doubles/home runs/steals, Cabrera is 50/20/9 and Wright is 40/20/20. And of course that should be an “esteemed” club.

    Paul SF November 21, 2006, 12:18 pm
  • I gotta say, AG, I’m with Paul on this one. Sure, I liked Sori on the Yanks and was sad when he left but, frankly, I’d rather have Cano and his potential now than Sori back. Also, his SOs killed us in the WS.
    I also get angry, like Paul, becuase he represents the worst kind of po-faced ignorance that you see in baseball. A guy with a career 325 OBP is your lead off man? Really? What a joke. Just because he runs fast…
    And as for Paul’s point about caught stealing, the Baseball Prospectus have come up with a metric which shows the % success rate a player needs to have for them not to be a liability. Sure he steals successfully 70% of the time, but he’s also out 30% of the time. Given that an out is the most valuable commodity in baseball, I think he fails the metric of “effective” base stealer. (To be fair, I think that almost every player failed BP’s metric other than Rickey Henderson…)

    Sam November 21, 2006, 12:28 pm
  • I agree that the length of the contract is very surprising.
    I also agree that 40/40/40 is arbitrary and I probably shouldn’t drill on that, but it’s also never been done before.
    Let’s phrase it this way. Some guy hit 46 home runs, hit 41 doubles, scored 119 runs, stole 41 bases, drew 67 walks, and led the league in outfield assists last season. One caveat is that he strikes out a lot. He’s available on the FA market, he just turned 30 years old, and he is phenomenally durable. Sounds like a pretty attractive player to me.

    attackgerbil November 21, 2006, 12:28 pm
  • He’s still paid a lot less than Manny.
    I am not sure that’s accurate. Even without knowing Sori’s deferred money (Manny has something like $6M of his remaining $40M coming deferred) there’s just not a huge difference in the pure per annum numbers, which I know you can do, Gerb. If not, they are 17 for Sori and 20 for Manny. In this market, that’s peanuts.

    SF November 21, 2006, 1:02 pm
  • that’s peanuts
    True. I guess I was trying to focus more on the $24M difference in overall value. I never meant to argue that Soriano is worth nearly as much as Manny, who I have said many times over is the best right-handed hitter in this generation. I don’t think that the Cubs are overpaying Soriano per year, but I agree that may well be on the hook for too long.

    attackgerbil November 21, 2006, 1:22 pm
  • To me, it’s the years + the dollars that make it crazy. Paying lots of $$ for short duration is fine. Giving lots of years at lower $$/year is fine. The Cubs shelled out tons and tons of both.
    I like Sori well enough, but I think they overvalued him, significantly, and furthermore I find it hilarious that a team whose #1 weakness is OBP goes all-out for a player whose primary weakness is OBP.

    Rob (Middletown, CT) November 21, 2006, 1:58 pm
  • morneau just announced as al mvp

    YFinBeantown November 21, 2006, 2:05 pm
  • gerb…nice try, but you’re never going to convince the sf’s that the soriano contract may not be so bad…the sox, fans, and yes the new as well as old management/ownership, have always been fixated on age…it’s as though a player becomes a doddering old fool at 35 [see clemens, damon…neither of those guys is drooling on himself yet]…the cubs may be taking the risk that the guy is in his prime for a little longer, and will contribute at a high level [he has a track record, unlike another high profile free agent we’ve heard of] for the 1st half of the contract, and even if his numbers fall some in the 2nd half, he’ll still be a bargain when you take the runaway mlb version of inflation into account…your 40/40/40 example to support soriano is as valid as any of the other cherry-picked stats used to denigrate him…bottom line is that the cubs have locked up a good hitter, one of the prizes of this year’s free agent crop until basically the end of his career…and they could still trade him a few years into the contract if they need/want to…as for the manny comparison, there isn’t one…manny is the better player, and his contract is starting to look like a deal considering the money being thrown around this year…

    dc November 21, 2006, 5:33 pm
  • I miss Sori, and I think many Yankee fans are sorry he won’t be coming back home.

    john November 22, 2006, 7:55 am

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