Hey guys, have you heard? The Blue Jays have a totally bullshit policy of not signing free agents to deals longer than five years? It’s a pretty under-the-radar thing, and it certainly hasn’t been clogging up my damn Twitter feed all damn week, so I figured I should let you know it’s a thing.
But I should probably also let you know I don’t really think the policy is bullshit. I did a little digging at ESPN’s free agent tracker page, which handily has historical info going back to 2006-07 off-season. Let’s see if we can find some long-term (five years or more) deals that hadn’t turned to utter shit before the end of year three.
The 2006-07 off-season was particularly ripe with god-awful long-term deals. Leading the charge was Barry Zito’s big pay day with the San Francisco Giants, worth $126 million over seven years. Zito’s deal is arguably worthwhile. The Giants won two World Series during his time. He was a key part of their 2012 World Series win, but was left off their 2010 postseason roster. That $126 million also led to exactly zero All-Star appearances or major post-season awards.
The other big payday after the 2006 season went to Alfonso Soriano, who signed with the Chicago Cubs for eight years and $136 million. In 2007, the deal looked great. Soriano collected 173 hits in 135 games, was an All-Star, and nearly cracked the top 10 in MVP voting. But by 2008, injuries started taking their toll, and it became more and more clear Soriano was among the worst defenders in the big leagues. In 2009, Soriano’s batting average dropped 39 points from his near-career average .280 in 2008 to .241. In each of 2010, 11, 12 and 13, Soriano batted below his career average and the Cubs finally unloaded him to the desperate Yankees late last season. The Cubs were swept out of the Division Series in 2007 and 08 and haven’t been back since.
Also from 2006: the Houston Astros gave Carlos Lee $100 million over six years. He weighed more than that hundred mil before the end of the deal in 2012, and the slugger failed to hit 30 homers in each of the last five years of the deal. The Astros didn’t make the playoffs during the deal. Kansas City gave Gil Meche 5/$55MM, which was laughable at the time, and just sad when Meche didn’t even play five more years. The Red Sox looked like they had a steal in Daisuke Matsuzaka during his first two years of his 6/$52MM deal. But he pitched just 296 innings over the last four years of the deal and spent most of 2013 in the minors. The New York Yankees also dove into the Japanese market, signing Kei Igawa to a five-year deal worth $20 million. Igawa played one full season in New York. The Angels gave Gary Matthews Jr 5/$50MM that winter, which might be among the worst contracts ever. Matthews hit .252, .242, and .250 in three seasons with the Halos before being traded to the Mets where he’d play just 36 more games before leaving baseball before the end of the contract. The Dodgers gave Juan Pierre 5/$44MM. Even though he put up good numbers in the first three years of the deal, and he helped the Dodgers to back-to-back NLCS berths, he was shipped out to the White Sox before the 2010 season.
If Pierre and Zito were two maybe-worth-it deals, JD Drew and Aramis Ramirez stand out as two deals that mostly worked out. The Red Sox gave JD Drew five years/$70MM. For their money, the Red Sox got one All-Star appearance and two 20+ home run seasons plus a World Series win in 2007. Aramis Ramirez re-signed with the Cubs for 5/$75MM and was actually pretty good, winning a Silver Slugger in 2011, getting an All-Star nod in 2008, and landing in the top 15 of MVP voting in 2007 and 2008. He posted a .292 batting average over the life of the deal, and averaged 30 doubles and 24 homers per season.
The other six five-or-more-years deals were pretty dreadful.
Despite the earlier success enjoyed by many of those players, the 2007 off-season was quiet with just three long-term deals handed out. Torii Hunter’s five-year, $90 million deal with the Angels worked out alright. Hunter was an All-Star twice, won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger, and the Halos made the playoffs twice. The 10-year deal the Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez is nothing but shades of grey and turmoil. Rodriguez landed in the MVP voting in each of the first three years of the deal and the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, though he came nowhere near reaching career-highs in any stats. Years four thru six were injury-plagued and year seven will be spent serving a season-long suspension for being MLB’s PED Kingpin. The last long-term deal was a five-year, $60 million pact between Aaron Rowand–whom the Internet assured me was a Major League baseball player–and the Giants. Rowand played just four of the five years, and was a part-time player during the Giants’ World Series win in 2010.
The last off-season for which we can see the full result of five-year deals is the 2008 off-season. Like 2007, there were just three long-term deals–and they were all signed by the Yankees. They inked Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett to eight, seven, and five-year deals, respectively. Much like A-Rod, the first three years for Tex and Sabathia were great. They won the World Series in 2009, and both players were legitimate candidates for post-season hardware. Teixeira’s battled injuries in 2012 and 2013 though, and Sabathia also slipped in 2013–posting an ERA over 4.00 for the first time since 2004. AJ Burnett never got his ERA below 4.00 with the Yankees and after three seasons they paid Pittsburgh to take him off their hands.
That’s 16 contracts, and by my count just two of them still looked good after three seasons. So hate on this Jays policy all you want, it’s probably actually a good policy. The worst part of it is the fact it’s become awfully public.
It seems this week to have cost the Jays a chance at signing Masahiro Tanaka, but there’s a 7-in-8 chance we’ll all be pretty glad about that once the 2017 season rolls around.