Talk about a sweet deal!
Every July 1st, since 2011, the New York Mets pay former outfielder Bobby Bonilla $1.2 million. They will be paying him until 2035. Each year the media chides the team for making such a terrible deal.
But every team in the league makes these deferred payments. So, why single out the Metropolitans? And why did the Mets make such a god awful deal?
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As part of a buyout with the former All Star after Bonilla’s abysmal 1999 season, the team agreed to defer the remaining $5.9 million on his contract with 8% interest, with payments to commence a decade after he stopped playing for New York. Bonilla will collect almost $30 million in deferred compensation when the Mets finish paying him in 2035.
Bernie Madoff Involved
Bonilla’s deal is ridiculed because the infamous swindler Bernie Madoff negotiated the buyout for the Mets. Team owner Fred Wilpon had very close ties to investment advisor and former NASDAQ chairman Madoff.
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Wilpon was supposedly getting 10% plus return on his investments with Madoff, which is why he agreed to the Bonilla buyout with its hefty 8% interest rate. Wilpon had invested heavily with the Ponzi schemer and reportedly lost $700 million of his billions to Madoff, who was arrested in late 2008, and pleaded guilty to massive fraud in early 2009. It was the largest financial fraud in U.S. History.
The Mets also had the sixth highest payroll in baseball at the time. The Mets payroll plummeted soon after Wilpon lost his millions. The $1.2 million Bonilla makes is more than the current salaries of Mets aces Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom combined. deGrom, the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, earns slightly more than $500,000, while Harvey the 2013 NL All-Star starting pitcher, earns just above $600,000. That is a sad state of affairs for the once proud franchise.
Deferred payments are nothing new around the league. 30-year-old pitcher Max Scherzer inked a 7-year $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals back in January. The righty ace will be paid half the money after the contract ends.
Instead of making approximately $30 million over seven seasons, Scherzer will earn $15 million a season over 14 years. Current New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran is still being paid $3.1 million by the Mets as part of 7-year $119 million mega-contract the former All-Star signed back in 2005.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday will get $2 million in deferred payments from the Cardinals after his playing days are over.
Even with all the bad karma surrounding Bonilla’s deal, it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Mets. Ted Berg of USA Today’s sports website For the Win cites a 2013 Buzzfeed article that connects Bonilla to star third baseman David Wright.
The $5.9 million freed up by buying out Bonilla likely allowed the Mets to acquire lefty pitcher Mike Hampton in a trade with the Houston Astros. Hampton carried the Mets on his shoulders all the way to a National League pennant in 2000.
The Wright Stuff
Hampton left as a free agent after that year, inking an 8-year $121 million contract with the Colorado Rockies, the largest ever contract for a pitcher at the time. The Mets were given a draft pick for the 2001 season as compensation and selected David Wright.
Wright is the Mets all-time leader in hits, RBIs, runs scored, doubles, and walks. The seven-time All-Star third baseman is also second in home runs, and fourth in stolen bases. Even with injuries plaguing him last year and this year, Wright is one of the greatest players in Mets history.
So even though the Mets might hold their noses every July when they write Bonilla his million-dollar check, it really may be a sweet deal, especially if Wright returns to good health.