It’s said that greater risks lead to greater rewards. On Wednesday the Boston Red Sox took a great risk, finalizing an eight-year, $110 million contract extension that locks down the 2008 American League MVP, Dustin Pedroia.
For the Red Sox, this extension is a bad deal. Many high-profile, long-term contracts don’t work out. The problem with long-term contracts is that they are signed too late in a player’s career, when they’re past their prime. That sticks the team with an old, underproductive player through the end of his career, when injury risk is up and numbers are typically down.
In 2011, three-time National League MVP Albert Pujols signed a blockbuster 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. At the time he was 32-years old. That means Pujols is signed through his 41st birthday in 2021, an old age for baseball players.
The same is true for Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, $275 million extension for the Yankees at age 32 as well. He’ll enter free agency at 42-years of age.
During his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols was most definitely a stud. In 2008, at age 28, the first-baseman hit an astounding .357 over the course of the season. The next season he smacked 47 home runs and drove in 135 runs. In 2010 and 2011, at ages 30 and 31, Pujols’ numbers slid a bit but remained respectable.
Since signing with the Angels, Pujols’ stats have dropped even farther. In 96 games this year he’s hitting .254 with 17 home runs. In comparison, Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in average, batting .358, while Chris Davis leads the home run race with 37.
Albert’s Angels appear to have an All-Star roster on paper, with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, and Howie Kendrick, but they’re five games below .500 and 11 games back in the AL West.
Pedroia’s Red Sox’s arch-nemesis, the New York Yankees, made the long-term extension mistake before the 2008 season when they agreed to an extension with Alex Rodriguez. Early in his career A-Rod looked like a no-brainer Hall of Famer, who many thought would become the all-time home run king. Whether or not he will see Cooperstown is now in question, while he sits 115 home runs shy of tying Bonds.
Rodriguez’s on-field play declined in nearly every category since his extension. In the year before his extension, 2007, the 31-year old third-baseman hit .314, drilled 54 home runs, and plated a whopping 156 runners. In 2012 he hit .272 with just 18 home runs and 57 RBIs.
Steroids scandals and injuries caught up to the three-time American League MVP. In 2009 A-Rod admitted to steroid use. This year he’s been linked to steroids again, this time in the Biogenesis case out of Miami, which Ryan Braun was recently suspended over. Rumors are circulating that Rodriguez could be banned from baseball regarding the current scandal.
Rodriguez has also been plagued by a recurrent groin and labrum injury. He missed 40 games in 2009 and 2012, over 60 in 2011, and has yet to play this year.
Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard inked a five-year, $125 million extension with his team at the start of the 2010 season. The length of his extension isn’t a big mistake by the Phillies, giving him $25 million a year is. Since then Howard has fallen short of expectations.
In the first half of his 10-year career which started in 2004, Howard posted impressive numbers. The 2006 National League MVP hit .313 and jacked 58 home runs that season, at age 26. He slammed 45+ home runs in each of the next three years. In 2006, 2008, and 2009 Howard drove in his share of base-runners with more than 140 each of those years.
Since age 29 in 2009, arguably his best season, Howard’s production has sputtered. His .279 average in 2009 fell to .253 by 2011 and was down to .219 in 2012. (Howard only played 71 games in 2012 due to multiple injuries.) Home runs have fallen drastically since his 2010 extension. The Phillie hit 45 home runs in 2009 but only 31 in 2010, and 11 in 80 games so far this year. These numbers aren’t with $25 million annually.
The Red Sox should have agreed to a shorter deal with Pedroia, say six years, which would lock him down until age 36. A shorter extension reduces the Red Sox’s risk of ending up like the Angels or Yankees, a team stuck with an older, slumping star. The Phillies’ extension with Howard is only bad because of the amount he makes, but Pedroia’s average salary is over $10 million less than Howard’s. Luckily for the Phillies, if Howard doesn’t improve, they can dump him after two more seasons.
If Pedroia is still playing well after those six years, extend him again, just like the Phillies can do if Howard improves. After being a Red Sock for his whole career, why would Pedroia go sign with another team for his last years? Howard is likely to re-sign with the only team he’s known if the option is on the table for him as well.
How do you feel about long-term, expensive contracts? Do they ever work out? Should the Red Sox have extended Pedroia’s contract eight more years?