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It’s time to stop the stigma around ten-year contracts

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Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are still free agents, yet teams should be lining up to sign them to a decade-long deal.

Alex Rodriguez Signs With Yankees Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Only eight ten-year, $100+ million contracts have been signed in the history of Major League Baseball. This offseason, it’s still quite possible that two more get done.

Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the top two free agents on the 2018-19 market, are still unsigned. On Baseball Twitter, there are often heated discussions about the true value of both marquee free agents. I’m a believer that $300 million is completely acceptable for either of these two generational talents, and while many agree with me, some do not. In fact, one of the biggest arguments against signing Machado and Harper has been that “no ten-year deal has ever panned out.”

Well, I’m here today to debunk that myth.

I do admit that eight contracts is not a large sample, but considering critics of Machado and Harper argue that “no ten-year deal has ever worked out,” all I must do in this exercise is prove that at least one ten-year deal has. That’s not as hard of a goal to reach, considering I’m about to show you that most of these ten-year deals have, in fact, worked out.

Here is a list of every ten-year, $100+ million contract signed in Major League Baseball history. This includes both free agent signings and extensions. “Age” shows the player’s age when the deal first kicked in:

10-year, $100+ million contracts, MLB history

Player Age Years Contract
Player Age Years Contract
Giancarlo Stanton 25 13 $325,000,000
Alex Rodriguez 32 10 $275,000,000
Alex Rodriguez 25 10 $252,000,000
Albert Pujols 32 10 $240,000,000
Robinson Cano 31 10 $240,000,000
Joey Votto 30 10 $225,000,000
Derek Jeter 27 10 $189,000,000
Troy Tulowitzki 26 10 $157,750,000
AVERAGE 29 10.38 $237,968,750

Wow, that’s a lot of money! Across these eight contracts alone, Major League Baseball teams have spent $1.904 billion, for an average of $237.97 million per deal across 10.38 years. In this dataset, there are no outliers by the statistical definition, so you can’t point to one contract (like Stanton’s or Tulowitzki’s) and argue that the mean is thrown off. The median contract here is a 10-year, $240 million deal, so it’s quite close to the overall average.

These, of course, are the cumulative numbers. The above data doesn’t answer my essential question. This table, which shows the value that these players have produced during their ten-year contracts, does:

10-year contracts vs. value

Player Age Years Contract In Progress? Contract Paid Value ($/fWAR) Surplus
Player Age Years Contract In Progress? Contract Paid Value ($/fWAR) Surplus
Giancarlo Stanton 25 13 $325,000,000 Yes $55,000,000 $137,600,000 $82,600,000
Alex Rodriguez 32 10 $275,000,000 No $275,000,000 $148,500,000 -$126,500,000
Alex Rodriguez* 25 10 $252,000,000 No $252,000,000 $335,400,000 $83,400,000
Albert Pujols 32 10 $240,000,000 Yes $153,000,000 $48,100,000 -$104,900,000
Robinson Cano 31 10 $240,000,000 Yes $120,000,000 $163,700,000 $43,700,000
Joey Votto 30 10 $225,000,000 Yes $100,000,000 $186,300,000 $86,300,000
Derek Jeter* 27 10 $189,000,000 No $189,000,000 $220,600,000 $31,600,000
Troy Tulowitzki 26 10 $157,750,000 Yes $119,750,000 $169,000,000 $49,250,000
AVERAGE 29 10.38 $237,968,750 -- $157,968,750 $176,150,000 $18,181,250
*$/fWAR estimated for 2001

There’s a lot going on in this table, so let me break down some of the important notes:

  • Contract Paid is an extremely important column. It demonstrates how much of the player’s ten-year deal has been paid off so far. It wouldn’t be fair to evaluate Robinson Cano’s contract versus value for his entire deal with five years remaining, for example. Thus, I am comparing Cano’s contract through five years versus his value for five years.
  • In Progress tells us whether the contract is currently ongoing. Only three of these eight ten-year deals have been completed in full.
  • $/fWAR only goes back to 2002. Alex Rodriguez’s (his first one) and Derek Jeter’s respective contracts began in 2001. I estimated the $/fWAR for that year assuming 5 percent inflation. It is important to note that both Rodriguez and Jeter would have produced a surplus even if you completely exclude their 2001 numbers, so adding it in doesn’t move them from negative to positive.

With all of the important explanations aside, the main takeaway here is that ten-year deals are not nearly as bad as they seem. Six of the eight contracts have resulted in a surplus thus far, with only Albert Pujols’ and Alex Rodriguez’s No. 2 contracts resulting in net negatives to date.

Of course, many of these deals are still in progress, but Alex Rodriguez’s first 10-year deal and Derek Jeter’s 10-year deal are both easy wins upon completion. Rodriguez provided an incredible 33.1 percent surplus on his deal, while Jeter provided a 16.7 percent surplus on his. Even Troy Tulowitzki, who is being paid through 2020, has paid off his contract entirely, despite all of his injuries. When he was on the field, he was phenomenal.

Looking forward, Joey Votto appears to have the best odds to “pay off” his contract in value terms. Though he is signed through 2023, he only needs to be worth about 4.5 WAR over the next five years (0.9 WAR/year) to hit his total contract. He could theoretically hit that next year. Similarly, Robinson Cano only has to be worth about 8.5 WAR over the next five years (1.7 WAR/year) to “pay off” his deal. Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, isn’t as much of a sure thing; he needs approximately 21 WAR over the next nine years to reach his contract value, or about 2.3 WAR per year. In theory, Stanton should easily be able to reach that, but with all of the time left on the contract, it’s far from a sure thing.

Even if we assume that Stanton’s deal doesn’t pay off (which seems unlikely), that still leaves us with five of these eight ten-year deals working out in financial terms:

  • Alex Rodriguez’s ten-year, $252 million deal
  • Robinson Cano’s ten-year, $240 million deal
  • Joey Votto’s ten-year, $225 million deal
  • Derek Jeter’s ten-year, $189 million deal
  • Troy Tulowitzki’s ten-year, $157.75 million deal

What does all of this mean relating to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper?

It’s that teams shouldn’t be afraid to give out ten-year deals. Yes, I’m well aware that money matters here. And, yes, I do know that they are asking for $300 million (and that there is only one $300 million deal on this list), but no team should be backing down from giving them the decade-long contracts they desire.

Plus, Machado and Harper are both entering their age-26 seasons. The two deals that didn’t work out here, Alex Rodriguez No. 2 and Albert Pujols, didn’t kick in until those players turned 32. When Machado and Harper start their age-32 seasons, they will already be six years into the deal.

Nonetheless, arguing that “no ten-year deal has ever worked out” is wrong. A decade-long contract can work. And, I’d expect ten-year deals to work for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, too.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.