tampabay.com

Money for nothing

By JOHN ROMANO
Published January 12, 2005


Years from now, they'll be talking of this day. Of the smiles. And the promises. Of the way they tried booking bright skies for years to come.

Oh, yeah, they'll talk about this day.

This was the day crazy made a comeback.

The New York Mets signed Carlos Beltran Tuesday morning and - Poof! - three years of economic sanity in baseball were wiped off the books.

Beltran got $119-million from the Mets, and everyone else in the game will end up paying the additional freight.

This is the type of contract that could mean more money for Mark Teixeira in the near future. Or Melvin Mora. Or, heaven forbid, Carl Crawford.

This is the type of contract that reinvents the salary scale, and means raises for everyone in the dugout. It also means higher payrolls for owners and, ultimately, bigger bills for fans.

No offense to Beltran, but this was a stupid deal.

A monumentally stupid deal.

It pays no heed to the recent past, and it could threaten to disrupt the immediate future.

Mets GM Omar Minaya is supposed to be an astute evaluator of talent. In that regard, I'll not quibble. But Minaya is a rotten student of history.

Beltran is the 10th major-leaguer to get a contract with $100-million in guaranteed money. But he's the first to exceed $100-million in the past three years.

There's a reason for that. Other GMs and owners realized it's bad business to tie up so much money in one player. At its best, it restricts payroll flexibility. At its worst, it can mean money flushed down the toilet.

Of the previous nine $100-million players, do you know how many have taken a team to a World Series title after receiving that money? One. That was Manny Ramirez last season with the Red Sox, and that was after they tried to give him away on waivers and no one would touch his contract.

Do you know how many of those $100-million men have gone on to win an MVP award? One. That was Alex Rodriguez with Texas in 2003. And they were so excited about it, a few months later the Rangers paid the Yankees to take his contract off their hands.

These are the highest-paid players in the game. These are supposed to be the best of the best. And yet they're rarely playing in October. And they're not automatically putting up the best numbers.

The circumstances may vary, but not the results. It rarely works. That's the bottom line, and the bottom line is supposed to be all that matters.

Sometimes, it is health. Leg injuries have turned Ken Griffey into a part-time player in Cincinnati, and an intestinal parasite waylaid Jason Giambi even before a steroid scandal in the Bronx.

Sometimes, it is performance. Before his big deal in Colorado, Mike Hampton had a career winning percentage of .616. It was .429 during his two seasons with the Rockies. Kevin Brown has averaged 11 wins since getting his money.

Sometimes, it is the payroll impact. Texas won three division titles in the five seasons before Rodriguez arrived. Because they had no money for pitchers after signing him, the Rangers finished last in his three seasons.

You have to spend money to win. We all know that. But you usually have to spend your money wisely to win. That's the part everyone seems to dismiss.

In less than two years, between 2001-02, seven players went past the $100-million mark. Four of them surpassed $150-million.

And, in most cases, the contracts have led to regret. GMs have been fired. Rosters have been dismantled. Expectations have been dashed.

You could argue the only positive was the harsh lessons learned. Contracts were shrinking. And fewer players were cashing in.

The days of throwing ridiculous dollars at marginal superstars had waned. Until now. Until the Mets gave Beltran baseball's biggest deal since 2001.

Again, this is not a slap at Beltran. He's a fine player. He's coming off one of the most incredible postseasons ever.

But, and I'm not making this up, he has made as many All-Star teams as Randy Winn. And his best finish in MVP voting is ninth, which means players such as Vernon Wells and Bret Boone can afford to talk smack.

In New York, they will tell you there are extenuating circumstances. That the Mets are desperate to keep pace with the Yankees. That the team is a year away from a new television network deal and needs star power to boost ratings and rights fees.

It makes sense in theory, but not in practice. Because other teams have also had extenuating circumstances, and they've also made similar missteps.

Just ask the Dodgers, who have lamented the Brown deal. Just ask the Reds, who are still suffering from the Griffey deal. Just ask the Rangers, who were willing to take a $67-million loss just to get out of the A-Rod deal.

You want to know why the hockey season is about to be canceled? This is it. This is the reason NHL owners are insisting on a salary cap.

Because they know, no matter how many other concessions the players make today, some fool will undo it all with one contract down the road.

Today, the sport is baseball.

And the Mets are the fools.