KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Yankees President Randy Levine offered a succinct response when asked what he thought about the Marlins and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton breaking the record for richest contract that had been held by Alex Rodriguez for more than 13 years until last spring.
“Thank God,” Levine said, laughing. “Thank God.”
Not all executives are quite so pleased.
As baseball executives gathered for two days of owners meetings in Kansas City, the flurry of pricy contracts that have already been offered this offseason was a topic of conversation.
Along with Stanton’s record-setting $325 million, 13-year pact with Miami, the Blue Jays gave catcher Russell Martin an $82 million, five-year deal, and the Athletics agreed to give Billy Butler a $30 million, three-year deal to become their first baseman and designated hitter.
More huge contracts are on the way.
Outfielder Nelson Cruz, third basemen Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez are still on the market, and that’s before you even get to starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.
“There’s just been a couple of signings, special players. I think it’s too early to draw any conclusions,” said Levine, whose Yankees still owe Rodriguez $61 million over the final three years of the $275 million, 10-year deal the third baseman signed in December 2007.
Levine said organizations have to decide for themselves how best to build their rosters. In the case of Miami, owner Jeffrey Loria decided to build around Stanton, a once-in-a-generation star.
“Every team has to make a decision based on where they are at the time, where they are at the moment,” Levine said. “This is a great player. I think Jeffrey stood up, the Marlins stood up, and both of them are pleased with it. Good for them.”
Not necessarily good for the game, though.
Kevin Brown was the first player to break the $100 million barrier in 1998, and Rodriguez became the first to top $200 million just two years later. But while escalation had seemingly slowed — it took 14 more years to produce baseball’s first $300 million man — that doesn’t change the fact that franchises are passing out record-setting contracts.
“I am really surprised,” Royals owner David Glass said, “and it’s not just Stanton. He’s a great young man and a great player. But I don’t understand how teams are going to be able to do this and do it within their economics, but we’ll see. They obviously know what they’re doing.”
The small-market Royals, who won their first AL pennant in 29 years, ended the regular season 19th in payroll at $92.7 million. That was far below the $255.9 million payroll of the Dodgers.
Might the Royals, in need of a starting pitcher and designated hitter, be tempted to chase their own big-money free agent, and nudge their payroll north of $100 million for the first time?
“I think if someone has a specific need and a specific player that fills that need, jump out there and do it,” Glass said, chuckling at the notion the Royals might ever reach $150 million. “But otherwise, there are a lot of deals that will be done that no one has even thought of yet.”
The Royals were mindful of their budget when they declined Butler’s $12 million option for next season, and he became a free agent for the first time. They remained in contact with their longtime DH, but were unwilling to offer the kind of money on the table the A’s made available.
“We’ve been an organization that has jumped out early on some players in the past. Sometimes their contracts look good in January, sometimes they don’t,” Kansas City GM Dayton Moore said. “You deal with the information you have in front of you. We all know hindsight is 20-20.”
That is certainly true for the Yankees, who likely have a much different opinion these days of the deal they lavished on Rodriguez. Will the same be true for the Marlins and baseball’s other big spenders when they have a chance to look back at this offseason?
“We’re looking to see where everything goes,” Levine said. “It’s still early.”