The Greatest Contract of All-Time?

For all of our saber-bitching about bad contracts (Barry Zito, Prince Fielder, etc), precious little time is spent on “good” contracts handed out.  Sure, the occasional one year deal to Bartolo Colon or Travis Hafner looks good when they are healthy and productive, but taking a break from criticisms of modern baseball GMs, can we step back and congratulate the Tigers while asking – is Miguel Cabrera’s contract the greatest of all time?

Following the 2007 season, Detroit acquired Cabrera in a trade with the Marlins, and just before the season started signed him to an 8 year/$152M contract (buying out 2 arbitration years and six free agent years).   To date, here is what Cabrera has done since the beginning of the 2008 season:

— 33.6 WAR (best in baseball)

— .419 wOBA (best in baseball)

— 213 HRs (best in baseball)

— .328/.407/.589 for a .996 OPS (best in baseball)

— 885 Games played (4th best in baseball)

Of all the accolades bandied about about Cabrera, the last one amazes me the most.  Since he signed with the Tigers, Cabrera has missed 19 games total over 6 seasons.  For all the criticism about his size, the impending disaster of his move to 3rd when Fielder signed, Cabrera is an iron man who plays every single day.

How much has Cabrera made?  According to Cots, the Tigers will have shelled out about $109M by the end of this season for Cabrera’s services – or, approximately $3M per win that Cabrera has provided (depending on how much more value Cabrera delivers in his 65 or so remaining games).  The Tampa Bay Rays pulled off a coup when the extended Evan Longoria for $15M a little more than a month into his major league career – of course, buying out arbitration years rather than free agent years costs significantly less.  Longoria’s recently signed 6 year/$100M extension may be more interesting for comparison’s sake than Cabrera’s – Longoria is 2nd to Cabrera since 2008 in WAR, though Longoria (a) is far less durable, and (b) delivers a significant portion of his value on defense, which isn’t a criticism but rather points out a reality that the market sometimes today values differently than hitting.  Most of the “great” contracts out there are short in duration and don’t necessarily include MVP level production for 6+ seasons, but somehow the Tigers signed the best player in baseball at a bargain basement price (relatively speaking).

In two years, Miguel Cabrera will be a free agent again and 32 years old.  He looks like he’s about to win his 3rd straight AL batting title, and is challenging for back to back triple crowns (a feat never before accomplished).  I don’t know what kind of contract he’ll get, or whether the Tigers will allow him to reach free agency, but to date Cabrera has been an incredible bargain even considering his $152M price tag.

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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