The $45 million bargain

That's a lot of money in the real world, but Brewers slugger Ryan Braun went cheap.


King Kaufman
May 16, 2008 12:30PM (UTC)

This column has never met Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, but can say one thing about the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year: He's not an optimist.

The second-year slugger signed an eight-year, $45 million contract extension Thursday that will keep him in a Brewers uniform through the 2015 season, which would have been his second year of free agency. The new deal includes this year's $455,000 salary, so it's really a seven-year, $44.545 million extension. That's an average salary of about $6.36 million over those seven years.

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There's a chance of an extra $6 million coming due to Braun if he's granted "Super Two" status after next year based on MLB service time, though that's unlikely.

Major league players are under team control for six years, the last three of which their salary is subject to arbitration. A good player can make big-time money in Years 4-6, and the crazy money comes through free agency in Year 7. Since Braun only played in the majors for part of 2007, his Year 7 would be 2014 unless he becomes a "Super Two," in which case 2013 would be considered his seventh year.

The trend lately has been for teams to lock up their young stars through their arbitration years, and maybe a year of free agency. Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, for example, whom Braun beat out for rookie honors last year, signed a six-year, $31 million extension last offseason, with the club holding a $15 million option for a seventh year. Scott Kazmir and Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay and Hanley Ramirez of Florida have also signed extensions recently.

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As Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said after the announcement of the extension, "There's a real economic incentive on both sides to do something." Teams get cost certainty, players get cash upfront, financial security and some other perks. Braun gets some no-trade provisions, for instance, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

But given the rapid escalation of both revenues and salaries in recent years -- with the caveat that past performance does not guarantee future results -- Braun looks like he's sold himself short. His average salary for the life of the deal, $6 million and change, is second-baseman money, not slugger money.

The money will largely be backloaded, so he'll be pulling down more than $6.36 million in the mid-2010s. Yearly salary details weren't available yet at this writing, but Tulowitzki will get $18.5 million of the total $31 million in Years 5 and 6 of his six-year deal.

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But even if Braun gets half of his contract's value in the last two years of his eight-year pact, he'd be making about $11 million a year. That's pretty good money today. It's a little less than what Brewers ace Ben Sheets is making. He'll be a free agent for the first time after this year. It's also about what veteran sluggers Carlos Lee, Derrek Lee and Troy Glaus make in Braun's division.

But it's not great money. It wouldn't put Braun among the Top 25 highest-paid players, according to the USA Today salary database.

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And that's today, never mind seven years from now. In the last seven years, the average salary has risen 39 percent. Only five years ago, the Boston Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, hoping someone would take over his enormous salary, roughly $19 million a year through 2009. He sailed through. Now, Manny's not exactly a bargain, but the baseball world has caught up to him. He's only the fourth-highest-paid player, according to USA Today, and three others are within $2 million of him.

What's funny about this deal is that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense from the Brewers' point of view either. As much of a bargain as it could be if Braun is a good hitter for the next eight years, it's a huge risk for the club. Eight years is a crazy-long time. Eight years ago, Mike Hampton was a 27-year-old, 215-inning-a-year stud, which is why he got an eight-year, $121 million contract from the Colorado Rockies.

The Brewers are betting millions that Braun will still be a middle-of-the-order slugger in 2014 and '15. If they're right, he's going to be worth a whole lot more than they're going to be paying him. But what was the big incentive to lock him up for Years 7 and 8? If they're wrong, it could hurt them for a long time. Only the rich teams can make $45 million mistakes.

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Braun's getting some dough upfront -- the extension includes a signing bonus that kicks his 2008 salary up from $455,000 to about $2.7 million. But he could have gotten some nice spending money right away just to sign away his arbitration years without giving away his first two years of free agency. That way, he would have hit the free-agent market at 30, rather than at 32, a difference that could mean a lot of money.

Braun gave up a lot of future for some present. He must not be an optimistic guy.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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