Stars share in Major League Baseball’s cash glut

AP, NEW YORK

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - Page 18

MAJOR LEAGUES

After leading their teams to last year’s World Series, Justin Verlander and Buster Posey cashed in just hours apart on Friday.

The All-Star pitcher and MVP catcher were guaranteed nearly US$350 million in contracts by the Tigers and Giants, a sure sign of the baseball times: Teams are awash with revenue from TV and high-priced tickets.

Verlander, an American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner for Detroit, agreed to a US$180 million, seven-year deal with the Tigers that is the richest for a pitcher and prevents him from becoming a free agent after next year’s season.

Posey, the batting champion who led San Francisco to a pair of World Series titles in the last three years, received a US$167 million, nine-year deal from the Giants. The catcher could not have gone on the market until after the 2016 season.

“Contracts like that that you’re seeing are a product of really strong revenue growth in the industry,” said Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of economics and league affairs.

And the spending might not be done yet.

Clayton Kershaw, who can go free after next year’s season, could get a new deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2011 National League Cy Young winner said he would not talk about contracts during the season; the Dodgers would want to hold off announcing any agreement until after opening day, so that it would not add to their luxury tax bill this year.

Where is all the money coming from?

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig expects revenue to top US$8 billion for the first time this year.

“It’s quite a story when you think back in 1992 it was US$1.2 billion,” he said this week. “We’ve come a long way. It’s a manifestation of how popular this sport is in every way.”

Major League Baseball (MLB) last year agreed to eight-year contracts with News Corp’s Fox and with Turner Sports that run from next year to 2021, and increase average annual revenue from about US$500 million to about US$800 million. ESPN and MLB reached a deal covering next year to 2021 that hikes the average yearly payment from about US$360 million to approximately US$700 million.

Then there are big-money local deals. The Dodgers are creating a cable network with Time Warner Cable that assures the team more than US$7 billion over 25 years. News Corp is paying the Yankees’ owners US$500 million as part of a deal that could allow it up to 80 percent ownership of the YES Network.

Teams are rushing to lock up prized players. For the Giants, the homegrown talent is especially valuable.

“When you have your own player, you’re successful with your own player, he’s test-driven you and you’ve test-driven him, it takes a lot of the risk out of the business to be able to go forward,” Giants CEO Larry Baer said.

“It also makes forming your team a lot easier because you know the plusses and minuses. In Buster’s case, there aren’t a lot of minuses. You know who these guys are, you know some of the X factors. A lot of times when you get a free agent, you don’t know the X factors, whether it’s work ethic or character. So, I think it’s going to be a continuing trend that teams try to lock up their own players as much as possible,” he said.

Earlier this week, St Louis gave pitcher Adam Wainwright a US$97.5 million deal covering next year to 2018 that raises his guaranteed income to US$109.5 million over the next six seasons. At a lower level, Arizona is nearing agreement with Paul Goldschmidt on a US$32 million, five-year contract that would run from next year to 2018. The first baseman has less than one-and-a-half years in the big leagues.

“It’s good to see these players are getting tied up with their club. It’s the way it used to be,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I know growing up when you were playing on a team they pretty much had the same core players, and it seems like it’s going that way again with the long-term contracts.”

Verlander’s deal broke the standard for pitchers set just a month earlier when Seattle’s Felix Hernandez agreed to a US$175 million, seven-year contract. The 30-year-old right-hander did not feel a need to wait two seasons, become a free agent and find out how much baseball’s biggest spenders would offer.

“I wondered what it would be like to test free agency, but the pull of Detroit was too much,” he said. “Once spring training started I knew I wanted to stay.”

Verlander’s deal keeps his US$20 million salaries for each of the next two seasons and adds US$140 million in guaranteed money: US$28 million each season from 2015 to 2019. It includes a US$22 million option for 2020 that would become guaranteed if he finishes among the top five in 2019 Cy Young voting. The deal could be worth US$202 million over eight seasons.

Posey’s deal includes a club option for 2022 that could raise the value to US$186 million over a decade.

He had been due to make US$8 million this year. Instead, the 26-year-old gets a US$7 million signing bonus, with US$5 million payable on Oct. 15 and the remainder on Jan. 15 next year, and his salary this year is reduced to US$3 million.

He is to make US$10.5 million next year, US$16.5 million in 2015, US$20 million in 2016 and US$21.4 million in each of the following five seasons. The Giants’ option is for US$22 million with a US$3 million buyout.

“You have to have the right player to do that,” said CAA Baseball agent Jeff Berry, who handled Posey’s contract and Matt Cain’s US$127.5 million, six-year deal last spring.

“That’s the key to it,” he added.