Miguel Cabrera Deal Makes Ryan Howard's Look Somewhat Sane

I know why you're smiling, Miguel. - Elsa

The Detroit Tigers have locked up the best pure hitter in baseball until the Apocalypse. The contract is so bad, it makes the Ryan Howard extension look downright restrained. Was Ruben Amaro ahead of the curve?

The Detroit Tigers locked up two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera to a 10-year, $292 million deal on Thursday, a deal that covers the final two years of his existing contract, with additional vesting options in years 11 and 12 that could push the deal to a mind-boggling $352 million.

If you count the two years that remained on his existing contract and the eight years tacked on, it is the largest contract in baseball history. And while Cabrera is probably the best pure hitter in the game and could go down as one of the 10 best hitters of all-time before it's all said and done, there is really only one word to describe this contract.

Lunacy.

The Cabrera deal continues a recent trend of overpaying aging first basemen unfathomable amounts of money for unimaginable lengths of time.

Following the 2008 season, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million deal that would take him through his age 36 season in 2016. Ryan Howard signed his five-year, $125 million deal after the 2009 season, which was tacked onto the end of the last two years of his previous deal, making the total commitment seven years and $154 million. His deal expires after the 2016 season, when he will be 36. Both teams would undoubtedly dump both players in a heartbeat if they could. Adrian Gonzalez signed a seven-year, $154 million free agent deal with Boston that expires after the 2018 season when he will be 36. Boston somehow was able to trade his boondoggle of a contract to Los Angeles, who is now footing the bill.

Then, the deals get flat-out insane. Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million deal with Detroit before the 2012 season, which pays him $24 million a year through the 2020 season, when he will be 36. He's now the Texas Rangers' problem after an off-season trade with the Tigers. Albert Pujols' deal with the Angels is even crazier, a 10-year, $240 million contract that runs through the 2021 season when he will turn 41. In the final year of that deal, he will be paid $30 million. One would think the Angels are having serious doubts about that deal. And Cincinnati signed Joey Votto to a 13-year, $263 million deal that runs through the year 2023, in which Votto will earn $25 million dollars a year, every year, from his age 34-39 seasons.

And then there is the Cabrera deal, a 10-year pact being given to a player who will turn 31 next month, will likely be moved to DH in the next one or two years, and is not even the best player in his own league (hello Mike Trout!).

The idea here is simple. Lock in these great hitters during their prime years, then bite the bullet for many, many, many years after that.

Did the Ryan Howard extension teach the baseball world nothing?

Sure, all the hitters listed above are better hitters than Howard, although, Howard was still pretty darn productive when he signed that extension after the '09 season. But the Howard deal has shown all of baseball how dangerous it is to lock in an aging player to a long-term extension two years before they're able to become a free agent.

So, why did Detroit do this? What is going through their heads? What was the hurry? They certainly could have given Cabrera a deal like this after the 2014 season but, just like the Phillies did with Howard, they bid against themselves and jumped the market.

Detroit is all-in for a World Series. I get that. But was a 10-year deal really necessary in order to keep the window open for the next two or three years? No. This is lunacy.

Of course, given the insanity we've seen in the first base market since the Teixeira signing, it begs the question, astutely brought up by our own @joecatz...

In light of the deals handed out to first basemen Votto, Pujols, Gonzalez, Fielder and Cabrera, all done in the years after the Howard contract, which deal looks like the least worst option?

In other words, which deal would you be most OK with having on your books?

We opened that question up to some other folks here at the old bolg site.

Blog mistress Liz Roscher (@lizroscher):

It is incredibly unfortunate how the Howard deal has worked out. It wasn't a smart deal to make, and it was far more than anyone should have given him, but his injuries and his resulting level of play have made everything seem so much worse. And he'll be done this deal in just a few years. They'll be long and probably not great, but the Howard deal will stop shackling the Phillies far sooner than any of the other recent and probably unwise mega deals. Yes, Ruben Amaro did a stupid thing, but he was stupid far earlier than anyone else.

Catz:

We bitch about Amaro and ownership but they've handed out exactly three contracts with guarantees over 4 years. Lee (5) Hamels (6) and Howard (5). They might make bad decisions but they stay away from franchise ruining ones like Pujols' and Cabrera's deals.
Fellow blogger Prozen (@phrozen_):
Don't call it franchise-ruining yet. The Tigers just recently ducked out of a monster deal. Franchise ruining for someone, at least. Anyway, I'm with you on Howard. Maybe A-Gon, because he's a bit more limber. But only maybe.
While Howard's deal was a disaster, it'll be over soon, and will end just as the Phils' window of opportunity is closing. However, Howard's extension had a ripple effect on the roster as well that these other deals largely did not.

While it's true Jonathan Singleton still is not ready to assume a Major League job at first base, it's likely the Phillies would not have traded him to Houston had Howard not signed his extension. Would he be the Phils' starting first baseman in 2014? Maybe, but probably not.

And while it's true that Darin Ruf probably could have filled the void for Howard last year and this year, Franco isn't ready and probably won't be until 2015. The question is, if the Phillies hadn't signed Howard to an extension before the 2010 season, what would they have done when Howard became a free agent after 2011?

Remember, the Phillies won 102 games in '11. The World Series window was still believed to be open in 2012. Would Amaro have been forced to sign Fielder or Pujols to a mega contract in order to keep that window propped open? Or, could he have re-signed Howard to a one-year deal, given the fact Howard tore his Achilles and the rest of the league would have likely stayed away?

The Howard contract was a mistake, no matter how you slice it. But based on some of the other mistake contracts given to veteran first basemen over the last four years, especially the ridiculous Cabrera deal, the Howard contract seems like the best of a bunch of really bad ones.

Sure, the Phils would be a better team right now with Cabrera, Votto or A-Gon hitting in the middle of the lineup. All those guys should be highly productive for the next 3-5 years and worth whatever they're being paid. Pujols and Fielder appear to be in decline, but would probably be better options for this year and next. But the drop-off after that would be so steep, it could hamstring their franchises for half a decade after that.

Amaro shouldn't be praised for the Howard deal, as he will be paying $25 million a year for each of the next three seasons for a player who may struggle to be a 2-WAR player. But the back end of all these deals (Pujols' ridiculous escalators aside), are similar. The advantage of Howard's is that his will be done sooner than any of the others, except Teixeira's, whose will be up at the same time.

For that reason alone, I'd rather have Ryan Howard's contract than any of the others. And I'll hold my nose while I take it.

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