Baseball’s Mega Contracts and the Oakland Athletics

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Sep 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball season may long be over but the free agent signings are in full effect. This winter is looking like a contest to see who will sign the big names and spend the most money. Even our beloved Oakland Athletics have got in on the action with a pretty big dollar contract, at least by Oakland standards, with the addition of DH/1B Billy Butler from the Kansas City Royals for $30 million over three years. So here’s a look around at the leagues mega contracts so far and what’s most likely to come. Also, what effects do these big signings have on the Oakland A’s and baseball in general?

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Earlier this week the largest contract in the history of not only baseball, but of all North American sports was signed between the Miami Marlins and NL MVP runner-up Giancarlo Stanton. Miami has 25-year-old Stanton dialed in at the tune of $325 million for 13 years. This contract blows the previous largest contract (belonging to Alex Rodriguez) out of the water. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding such a big contract and for good reason. The contract looks to be a win-win for both parties as the backloaded structure seems to provide the club with the financial flexibility to build a winning team around Stanton. He has the ability to opt-out after the 2020 season, however he will be giving up the bulk of his contract. There’s a lot of skepticism around this contract as reported by Mike Oz and it begs the question, are these types of contracts good or bad for the game? More on that later.

The Boston Red Sox are at the center of two of the most talked about free agents: Jon Lester and Pablo Sandoval. While we didn’t want to believe that marquee player Yoenis Cespedes was given up for a two-month rental pitcher, Jon Lester, it looks like his former team is ready to pay up to have their lovable lefty back, a reported six-year offer for $110-120 million has been made by his former club. But so are a host of other teams including the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, both of which Lester has close connections to.

Speaking of marquee players, it’s hard to imagine the San Francisco Giants without Panda, Pablo Sandoval. The fans on social media seem to confuse greed with market value and are taking it out on their once adored panda, who helped the team win their third World Series title since 2010. Giants started the bidding for Panda at a respectable offer somewhere in the five-year, $90 million range. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox offer may be just a shade ahead. Then out of nowhere the San Diego Padres have thrown their hat in for the Panda. A deal should be struck soon and we shall see where the prized third baseman will end up.

So is there really such a thing as a “hometown discount” or it just all about the mighty dollar? Either way, the mega contract has left a bad taste for many baseball fans. We want to believe our favorite players will stay with the team they came up with in the bigs because they love us, the fans, the city. We want them to put their loyalty above their financial gain. What would you do if your current employer undervalued you and a competitor offered you a better compensation package? You loved your current company, boss and colleagues, but they weren’t willing to pay you the going rate for your specialized talent. Would you stay or would you go? You know the answer, so why fault a guy like Sandoval for commanding what he’s worth?

So many of these huge contracts lead to disappointment. From an Oakland Athletics standpoint, let’s look at one of the most recent that we can draw from, Eric Chavez. Back in 2004 the A’s signed the largest deal in team history for a six-year contract extension worth $66 million with the then three-time gold glove winning third baseman. 26-year-old Chavez was poised to be the cornerstone of the club while Athletics MVPs like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada walked away from Oakland.  Chavez had two more Gold Glove seasons with the A’s before his injuries severely limited his playing time over the next four seasons. The Chavez deal proved to be a bust for the conservative spending Athletics.

From this, and many other examples, the words of former Athletics manager, Tony La Russa will continue to resonate with many baseball fans. In 2012 La Russa openly commented on his dislike for long-term deals. Yes, sometimes us A’s fans wish we could just once land that big name player for that long term deal. But that’s just not how Billy & Co do business around here, and they’ve managed to do pretty well. As we approach the 2015 season however, pretty well just isn’t going to cut it. This team and these fans are poised and ready to take it to the next level, whether we have the big names and contracts or not.

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