Follow the Money—Sports

Why Guys Are Getting Paid Big

MLB Starting Pitchers—Prices are Going UP

the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball

the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball

This site has a real theme going when it comes to rising free agency costs in professional sports. Today’s post is no exception.

In the NBA, more and more money is being thrown at big men, many of whom don’t produce to equal their wage. In the NFL, rookies who haven’t played a single down professionally are getting an increasing amount of guaranteed money written into their contracts.

Next up is a rather alarming trend any baseball fan has noticed over the past decade: starting pitchers are getting paid a lot of money through free agency, and the number has skyrocketed over the past five years. And yes, I’ve got examples.

Here are the top five starting pitchers in Major League Baseball as of right now in terms of earnings:

1.) Johan Santana (New York Mets)–$137.5 million (signed in 2008. Has pitched very well for the Mets. Will be in the running for NL Cy Young.)

2.) Barry Zito (San Francisco Giants)–$126 million (signed in 2007. Has grossly underperformed since coming to SF.)

3.) Mike Hampton (Colorado Rockies/Atlanta Braves)–$121 million (signed in 2001. Has barely played in the last five years due to injury.)

4.) Kevin Brown (Los Angeles Dodgers)–$105 million (signed in 1999. Got injured often, never lived up to the contract.)

5.) Carlos Zambrano (Chicago Cubs)–$91.5 million (signed in 2008. Had a very nice 2008 season.)

And, just for kicks, here’s the top single-season wage earned by a pitcher all-time:

1.) Roger Clemens (New York Yankees)–$28 million (2007 season. Didn’t even pitch the whole year.)

Judging by those numbers, it’s safe to say that as the years have gone on since 1999, starting pitchers have been making more and more money in free agency. The same is true for different positions in every sport. The major difference about baseball is that players make the most money out of all the professional sports. In the NBA, there are only a handful of players who make close to $100 million. In the NFL, you can count them on one hand. In MLB, there are a plethora of players who earn around or more than that amount. Starting pitchers are among them. With the exception of Zambrano, the rest of the top five shows that salaries have increased big time in a fairly short stretch. There are reasons for this. Allow me to explain.

1.) Pitching wins championships–In the MLB playoffs, look carefully at the teams who win. Last season, the Red Sox won the World Series because they had dominant starting pitching at the front of the rotation and a solid bullpen. Josh Beckett was nearly unhittable, as was Jon Lester at times.

My favorite all-time example of the tired phrase “pitching wins championships” is the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. Their two horses, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, basically single-handedly beat the New York Yankees in the World Series due to their command performances in nearly every game. They started nearly every game of the seven-game series, and even pitched with no rest out of the bullpen towards the end. When Arizona won the Series in Game 7, guess who got series co-MVP? You guessed it, Schilling and Johnson.

Basically, pitching does indeed win championships, and that is why general managers and owners who can afford these high-priced starters will do so.

2.) A great starting pitcher will take pressure off a great offense–Look at the Mets. Before they got Johan Santana, they were a great offense that couldn’t stop anyone else from scoring. They choked in 2007 because they had nobody in the starting rotation that could act as a stopper and take pressure off the lineup to drive in a mass amount of runs. In 2008, they collapsed again, but this time they had an ace in Santana who could take the ball every fifth day and almost always get a win. The Mets’ offense responded well to it in the second half of the season, despite not earning a playoff spot.

Teams that are well-balanced like Boston have great lineups that wouldn’t quite be the same without good starting pitching to take the pressure off. Starters are making more money year by year because they are an intrical part of any TEAM’S success.

3.) The domino effect–What this means is that salaries are going up, and will continue to go up. Over the past 10 years, this fact has been true, and it’s only a matter of time before a starter is making a quarter billion dollars for throwing a baseball fast for two hours every five days. That’s just the reality.

I like to call this trend “The Barry Zito Effect” because if you’ve got one pitcher who signs a contract for $100 million or more, the next best free agent at the same position who feels he deserves more (Santana) will most likely find a suitor who will pay more. Zito set the bar high with his Giants contract, and, because he’s been abysmal since joining the team, other starters will continue to cash in more and more based on his dollar amount and lack of production. It should be interesting to see wha C.C. Sabathia gets offered this winter. Smart money says it will be in the realm of Santana’s deal, and probably even more than that amount.

In Major League Baseball, quality starting pitching is a must for any team to contend for a title. Because of this, the best guys are getting increasingly large contract offers, which is driving up the price tag. Right now, $126 million for Barry Zito is considered a huge contract. 10 years from now, what will the most ludicrous number be? The way the trend is leaning now, we’ll find out sooner than later.


October 20, 2008 Posted by | MLB | 1 Comment

Your Weekly $ Pioneer

This week’s “Pioneer” of big money is none other than quarterback Bernie Kosar.

Kosar, a product of Miami University, or, as it’s more affectionately known, “The U,” was drafted in the 1984 supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns. Upon getting picked, Kosar was given a $1 million contract, at that time the richest in NFL history for a rookie. The number was almost unheard of at the time.

While Kosar did indeed develop into a solid quarterback, leading the Browns to three AFC championship games and eventually winning  a Superbowl with the Dallas Cowboys, he is one of the reasons why rookies today make so much money before playing a single NFL down. Hence, Kosar is a money pioneer.

Here’s the story associated with the picture above.

October 13, 2008 Posted by | Weekly $ Pioneers | 1 Comment

NFL Rookies—The Search For More Money

Have you seen some of these contracts going out to NFL rookies the last several years? It’s almost out of hand what some of these kids are making. Here’s a few examples…..

1.) Jake Long–#1 pick, Miami Dolphins, 2008–five years, $57.5 million

2.) JaMarcus Russell–#1 pick, Oakland Raiders, 2007–six years, $61 million

3.) Vince Young–#3 pick, Tennessee Titans, 2006–six years, $58 million

4.) Michael Vick–#1 pick, Atlanta Falcons, 2001–six years, $62 million

And here’s where the fun part kicks in. It’s not so much the incredible amount of money rookies have been getting paid in the last decade, but how much GUARANTEED MONEY they’re getting. In ’01, Vick got a $3 million bonus just for putting his John Hancock on his new contract. Of Young’s $58 million, $25.74 million–almost half of the total amount–was guaranteed. Russell currently has $31 million (just over half of his total contract for those of you keeping score) guaranteed to him. Long has around $35 million coming his way, too. And these are only some of the higher profile examples. There are guys like Brady Quinn, a late first round pick, who cashed in on deals similar to the aformentioned and are receiving loads of guaranteed cash.

And these increasingly large contracts, despite the examples I gave, are not position specific. Long is a left tackle. Calvin Johnson, a receiver with the Detroit Lions, is making a lot of guaranteed money. There are running backs such as Darren McFadden who are inking similar contracts. The overlying fact here is that guaranteed money is a fairly new phenomenon in the NFL, and it’s really dividing people within the league.

There are pros and cons to all of the guaranteed cash floating around the NFL universe:

1.) It helps the players because football is a brutal sport that will take years off of lives and could leave players injured for life. The guaranteed money could help a high-profile pick out in the event that he gets severely injured and can’t play for a really long time or ever again.

2.) It shows a sort of commitment from the franchise to the player. A rookie contract to a high draft pick that contains $30 million in guaranteed money kind of says to that player “we’re committed to you wearing our uniform and helping bring us a championship.”

3.) In a way, it shows a commitment from the franchise to the fans. If your owner/general manager is willing to heave $60 million at a player who’s never played a single down in the NFL and gaurantee $31 million of it to said player, it shows in a way that management is committed to putting a winning team on the field. It’s a bit of a good PR move.

Here’s where the guaranteed cash hurts teams:

1.) If a player gets severely injured, he gets paid. In return, the organization and its fans get nothing.

2.) If a player doesn’t live up to the hype and underperforms, he gets paid. In return, the organization gets nothing on the field, and fans will grumble that the player wasn’t worth the money and the team isn’t getting things right. This happens all the time. Just listen to any sports talk radio show.

3.) These contracts to unproven players could cause some dissention among teammates. Veterans who have proven their worth to the team and the league as a whole and are currently in a contract that pays less than what these rookies are making surely will not be happy. Some have even came out and said so. These people include Tennessee’s center, Kevin Mawae.

And here’s another dangerous part of all the guaranteed money going out. Just like in the NBA and Major League Baseball, the rookie contracts are getting bigger with each passing year. It’s almost becoming the ultimate game of one-upsmanship. Jake Long’s agent probably said in April, “if JaMarcus Russell could get $31 million guaranteed without playing a single down, I’ll bet I could get Jake $35.” This is the mentality that agents use. It helps get them a larger cut, and it also gives their clients more security in such an unsecure sport. Indeed, rookie contracts are only going to get bigger. How much longer until a rookie QB gets paid $50 million in guaranteed money?

There are players in the NFL, and I’m talking very good players, who are making less than current rookies.Here’s a blog from 2007 showing that Tom Brady, a guy who has won three Super Bowls, makes less than Russell, who’s won all of about three or four games in two years. The lists of player earning disparity goes on and on.

Basically, NFL rookie contracts are getting out of hand. And the trend is only going to continue and get worse. While it’s good for player security, it can ultimately be very destructive for the teams. Money is being doled out to these youngsters under the premise that they’ll be “franchise players” in the near future. If they don’t pan out, nobody wins.

Here’s a more current story from Yahoo Sports about Long’s contract and the trend as a whole.

October 6, 2008 Posted by | NFL | | Leave a comment

Your Weekly $ Pioneer—1st One of the Blog!


Your $ Pioneer

Your $ Pioneer

From here on out, I’m making it my goal to post this segment once a week to give some insight into how professional athletes’ salaries got to the ginormous levels they’re at today. After all, that is the purpose of this site. 


Today’s subject is THE GUY as far as money in sports goes. It’s not because of the physical amount of money he made in his day (which, by today’s standards, is next to nothing) but because of what he represented.

That man is none other than former St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Curt Flood, and the year was 1970.

Here’s Flood’s story for background into why he’s such a pioneer for player contracts.

In a nutshell, Flood is the guy that started it all. When you see Alex Rodriguez sign a $250 million contract on a televised press conference, it’s because of Curt Flood that it’s even possible.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Weekly $ Pioneers | | Leave a comment

NBA Big Men Are Getting Richer

It’s not quite certain when exactly it started. Could it be Raef LaFrentz? What about Yao Ming? Maybe it really started with Shaquille O’Neal’s $60+million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers back in 1995? 

When it comes down to it, the current precedent in the NBA is to pay your power forwards a pile of money, and pay your centers even more. While it’s true that there are currently a number of great power forwards in the league (Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, etc.) who are earning a lot, and, for their talent, deservedly so, the more disturbing part of the current NBA is how much overrated centers are currently earning.

When I say that certain centers in the league are overrated, I’m going solely off of the stat sheet. There’s no stat for ‘number of picks set’ or ‘genuinely nice guy,’ but there are plenty for points, rebounds and blocks, which are the hallmarks of any good big man, especially a center. An overrated center to me is someone who doesn’t contribute solidly in at least one (more likely two) of those categories on a regular basis. If a guy who starts every night in the post averages 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, but is currently on a contract of $35 million over four years, I’d say that guy’s an overpaid, overrated center. The way the league has changed since 2000, stats such as those I just listed have been matched with huge dollar amounts, and with greater frequency.

Let’s take a look at some of the more extreme contracts out there to help illustrate the point that center contracts are ballooning despite low in-game production……….

1.) Erick Dampier (Dallas)—Dampier is one of my favorite examples for this topic because he embodies low production with a large pay check. In August of 2004, he signed with the Mavericks for seven years and $73 million. He received the high bid because in his last season with Golden State in 2003-04, he averaged highly productive 12 points, 11 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game. Since ’04, his numbers have never reached that peak. In fact, in four seasons in Dallas, he’s never averaged more than 9.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. Last season, he finished with 6 points and 7 boards a game.    

2.) Desagana Diop (Dallas)—Diop is another nice example here because his big contract came just a couple months ago. Mavericks fans should be a bit troubled, though, because this is the second center the team has signed that is making way more than his production should allow. In July, Diop signed for five years and $32.39 million. This contract, while not nearly as large as his teammate Dampier’s, is troubling because Diop has never averaged more than 3 points and 5 rebounds a game in his entire seven-year career.    

3.) Ben Wallace (Cleveland)—Let me start out by saying that there was once a time when Ben Wallace was a bargain at any price. He used to be a perennial rebound machine and Defensive Player of the Year. But that was during his time in Detroit. In 2006, he became an unrestricted free agent and was snatched up by the Chicago Bulls for $52 million over four years. He also turned 32 in the same year, so, as players who get past their peak age start to do, his skills declined. He went from a prolific rebounder and defensive anchor to being just average. In 2006-07, he averaged a semi-respectable 6.4 points and 10.7 rebounds, but last season, his numbers took another dive, this time to 4.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. For a guy who averaged better than two blocks a game for most of his career, in the last two he hasn’t averaged more than one. The Bulls became fed up with his low production and general attitude, so they traded him to the Cavaliers at last season’s trading deadline. At 34 years old, Wallace is suddenly not the force to be reckoned with he was just three years ago.    

4.) Raef LaFrentz (Portland)—LaFrentz’ contract, which he inked with none other than the Mavericks in July of 2002, has paid him $70 million over the last seven years. This may be the mother of all outrageous center contracts, because LaFrentz has been one of the least productive, oft-injured players in the NBA over the last five years. Only three times in his 10-year career has he played in 80 games. And since signing his albatross contract with Dallas, he’s been traded twice—first to Boston and then to Portland. Last season in Portland, he played in only 38 games and averaged 1.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and half of a block.    

5.) Jerome James (New York)—

September 16, 2008 Posted by | NBA, Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments