The Oakland Athletics were the talk of baseball in the early 2000s, using a front office style that is now referred to as “Moneyball.” During that time, Billy Beane and his front office watched as they produced two American League Most Valuable Players, Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, only to watch them both leave via free agency.
In 2004, another cornerstone of the offense became a free agent. But Eric Chavez broke the trend when he signed a six-year contract worth $66 million, the largest deal in team history.
At the time, the deal seemed like a great move. Chavez has won three straight Golden Glove awards at third base, and placed in the top 20 in MVP voting in the previous two years, right behind his two award-winning teammates. The A’s had finally kept one of their stars, and all was right with the world.
The first three years of the contract went as well as you could expect. Chavez won three more consecutive Gold Gloves, and finished 30 and 21 in MVP voting in the first two years. He would be worth 13.1 wins above replacement over those three years according to baseball reference, but as good as he was, the team would only reach the postseason once during his contract, after four straight years of making the playoffs.
Even though they reached the playoffs, that postseason run was due in large part to the signing of Frank Thomas, who finished fourth in MVP voting that year. Over those three years, Chavez was paid $23.325 million, only missed 64 games and produced more than enough on the field to justify the contract.
In the final three years, that would all change.
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From 2007 to 2009, Chavez would battle health issues and ineffectiveness stemming from those health issues. He was worth only 1.8 wins above replacement, and he would not win a Gold Glove or place in MVP voting again. Over the final three years of the contract, Chavez would only play in 121 games and be paid $32.5 million. The final three years of the contract were basically a waste of money, and if you read into this, it’s apparent that it caused Beane to change his views on long-term contracts.
Since the end of the Chavez contract Beane has only made two relatively large free agent signings: Yoenis Cespedes and Billy Butler. Beane signed Cespedes in early 2012 to a four-year, $36 million contract that kept him through his age 29 season. Butler’s contract was signed through his age 31 season, and was for three years and $30 million.
It is notable that both contracts were worth about half as much as Chavez’ contract, and they were not nearly as lengthy. Since then, Beane has also signed multiple pitchers to long term extensions, but he has proceeded to trade most of them (and really, Sean Doolittle could still be traded). Beane has never made a long term extension to another offensive position player.
Oakland’s refusal to sign players to long-term contracts makes it easy to believe that the Chavez contract left a bad taste in Beane’s mouth and stopped him from making that type of long-term mistake again.