Now that the city of Boston is done celebrating the fact that a true Red Sox player like Dustin Pedroia will be the official face of their franchise until 2021, I, the baseball grinch, will analyze whether signing players at the age of 29 is something to celebrate about.
Before we embark on this trip, I must say that when it comes to analyzing the merit of signing any player to a long-term deal, we must remember that it really depends on the player. Every person is different, but that does not mean we can't look at the history and break down if signing players around the age of 30 to a long-term deal is generally the right choice or not.
Long-term deals are a major commitment. Something that few franchises can make without hesitation and fear. When the player is young and entering their prime, they usually make sense, but are often even more frightening due to the fact that the player has not proved themselves over a large sample size. But this is why the young player has to be an absolute phenom to receive such a deal.
With players 28-years-old and up, long-term deals are not as difficult to hand out because franchises already know what the players are capable of. But in most cases, what these franchises are not considering is that the majority of long-term deals awarded to a 29-year-old will be used when the player is out of his prime and either injury-prone or not as talented.
In some cases, like the Angels signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, some teams only want a certain veteran for three to four seasons but are negotiated into signing them to a longer deal and are willing to take the negatives in favor for an "all-in" attitude. Pujols was signed to a 10-year, $240 million deal when he was 31.
This deal was also when Pujols was fresh off of a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals, so Pujols, one of the best hitters of all time, was the prized free agent acquisition even at 31. But 10 years? Why 10 years? If the deal was four to five years and however much money was necessary, the Angels would be sitting pretty right about now.
Instead, the Angels are stuck with Pujols' mediocre play for eight more seasons, unless they can somehow ship Pujols out without taking major salary hits, which in MLB does not really matter much for the big spenders.
Another reason teams commit to long-term contracts with veterans already in their prime is because they are looking for a centerpiece for their franchise that can lead their struggling team back to the winner's circle.
Great examples of this are the Chicago Cubs signing 31-year-old Alfonso Soriano and the Cincinnati Reds signing 30-year-old Ken Griffey Jr.. Both Contracts failed for different reasons, but when all is said and done, these are some of the most disappointing regressions we have ever seen.
Believe it or not, there was actually a time where Soriano, recently traded to the Yankees, hit well above .260 and 30 home runs. In 2006, the season before the Cubs signed him to an 8-year, $136 million deal, he hit 46 home runs and batted .277. But during his years with Chicago, his numbers regressed from a cornerstone player to just another power hitter with a weak average.
Griffey Jr.'s time with Cincinnati differs greatly with Soriano's with Chicago. Simply put, Griffey could not stay on the field. Cincinnati signed him in 2000 to a 9-year, $116.5 million deal when he was 30.
This scenario is much like Pujols', as both were on their way to becoming legends in the game. Griffey's last four home run totals before he signed with the Reds were 49, 56, 56, and 48. If you have the chance to sign a guy who can do that plus hit for average and play excellent defense in center field, you do it.
And that's what Cincinnati did, but unfortunately, Griffey only played two full seasons for the next 12 years. What makes this whole thing so confusing is that Griffey only missed significant time due to injury in two seasons during his nine years with the Seattle Mariners. Who could have known his body would break down as quickly as it did?
But like everything in sports, there is a flip side. Mark Teixeira is the perfect example of a long-term deal for a veteran gone right … well, sort of. The New York Yankees signed him to an 8-year, $180 million deal in the winter of 2008 when he was 29. The next season, the Yankees won the World Series with the help of Tex's 39 home runs and .292 average that season.
Then again, every season after that, his numbers have regressed heavily to the 24 home runs and .251 average he posted last season. Personally, I think winning a World Series is worth just about anything, and Teixeira did help New York on that front. And with the Yankees' loaded pockets, dumping Teixeira before his contract is up won't hurt them much.
Another notable veteran who went on to have a strong career after being signed to a long-term deal is Manny Ramirez by the Red Sox in 2004 when he was 29. He helped them win two World Series and really did not experience much regression until the end of his time in Boston.
So, how can we use all of that to decide whether inking Pedroia to a seven-year deal is a good idea or not? We can't really. Like I said, every player is different, but this much we know, the odds are against Pedroia performing at a high level for much longer.
Like the Yankees, money is not a problem for the Red Sox, but the fact that Pedroia could turn into another overpaid player that Boston recently finished cleaning house of, should frighten the franchise just a tad bit.
I think this deal will work because if he is a top second baseman for five more seasons, I'm sure Boston could endure two mediocre years. And I figure he will be able to maintain his play for another five years.
So, back to the original question: is handing out long-term contracts for veterans the right choice? It all depends on the player, but in the majority of cases, it has resulted in disappointment and money wasted.
Baseball is a game of risks and gambles and the front offices experience nothing different. Boston will simply have to wait and see if their gamble will be worth it in the end.
By: Matt Levine