With Final Four NCAA Tournament games right around the corner and the madness tangible in nearly every conversation here on campus, it brightened my day to finally see some Major League Baseball news to pop up in the headlines. And then I read what was being announced. Miguel Cabrera had agreed to an eight-year extension on his current contract that still has two years on it, making him a Detroit Tiger for ten more years … he’s thirty years old … have we not seen this same mistake made time and time again?
Okay, Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball right now and has won two-straight AL MVP awards, but tossing him $292 million over the next ten years is just simply outrageous. This contract extension now sets the record for the most expensive in American sports. But for an athlete who is already thirty years old? In baseball of all sports? Yes. The math is very simple, as Cabrera will be paid an average of just under $30 million per season until he is forty years old, but whether he will be able to actually earn that salary is extremely dubious. For a game that relies so much on reaction time, expert timing, and quick hands, these kinds of massive contracts don’t make any sense. Cabrera is worth $30 million per year this season and possibly two or three more seasons if he can keep up his Herculean numbers, but I will say now that it is impossible for him to sustain this level of performance when he passes thirty-five years old.
The Tigers were obviously feeling some pressure to throw money at somebody after they failed to seal the deal with both outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and ace pitcher Max Scherzer. They needed to give Detroit something to be excited about. They also wanted to reward Cabrera for all that he had done in Detroit since he arrived in 2008 by not only signing him to a mega contract, but also by doing so well before he even hit free agency. He still has two years left on his current contract, which means that the Tigers could have waited to see how the next year or two panned out for Cabrera and his performance before offering a contract. But no, they decided to reward him (in way too big a way) for being the best.
The main problem I have with spending so much to reward a player for past performance is that the team gets no value out of how well a player played in seasons past (other than fan excitement and attendance that wears off quickly if the performance does not last). I understand that Cabrera means a lot to the Tigers and they want to show him, monetarily, just how highly they think of him, but they need to think more about the future and less about the past when they are drawing up these deals. Cabrera and his contract extension may be stirring up excitement for fans now, but what about if old age gets to him quickly in five years and they have his contract dragging down their signing ability? No fan is going to be happy if the Tigers can’t sign a hot new slugger purely because the aging Cabrera is still locked in for a few more years. There’s no need to even discuss the catastrophe that would be a serious injury.
These large deals bring up another aspect of baseball, and professional sports overall, that seems to become more and more prevalent with each record-breaking deal. Why is the price on loyalty so damn high? Lebron James epitomized what I mean when he commented on Cabrera’s deal, “I’d opt out for that.” Not all athletes are as money-minded and lacking in loyalty as “King” James, but we’ve seen too many times an athlete choose the money. So I get the fact that the Tigers wanted to ensure no other team could make an offer during free agency, but it is disappointing that teams have to bid so high just to keep a star player. When deals like these occur, it brings up the possible solution of salary caps in the MLB. While some teams can spend through the roof on their rosters, there are teams that just do not have the funds to bid that high. Although salary caps would help out less wealthy franchises and would force the league’s best to really consider who they want to play for, I do not think they are necessary in the MLB.
Soon, with player contracts growing with what seems like each season, Selig’s successor may have to have this conversation with general managers. Players and teams need to experience some kind of wake up call and change their ways before the league makes them. These big deals that seem to almost always turn out badly in the long run. Not only do they hurt the team, but they will only push the MLB closer to getting rid of them altogether.Photo: Cbl62/Wikipeida