Saturday, June 16, 2012

Best Bargains and Worst Contracts In Sports

Every sports fan has heard of Eddy Curry's contract that was signed back in 2005, $60 million over six-years with the New York Knicks, and thankfully it has come to an end. We are using the term "contract" very loosely here, by definition it requires "both sides for receive consideration." Curry only appeared in 222 of a possible 492 games and never appeared in the playoffs. Additionally, his contributions during his two best seasons in New York only helped produce 0.6 for the team (according to advanced statistics) and the final three seasons he's managed to produce minus 3.9 wins. So this agreement should be more accurately called a gift: the Knicks "donating" to Eddy Curry, which have now ended. It's time we examine other humorously ridiculous contracts. Which contract in sports rivals Eddy Curry's in comedic value?

Upon investigation, Barry Zito is clearly baseball's version of Eddy Curry: a parasite that keeps on sucking dollars out of its host's pockets. Giants fans are feeling the same frustration, anger, and pure disgust that Knicks fans felt for six seasons. Zito has a contract that similarly seems to never die. At least Knicks fan have rid themselves of Curry and his massive price tag; finally enjoying success and players living up to their contracts (so far). Unlike Curry, Zito is still milking millions from his team, owed $46 million over the next two seasons and even a potential 2014 option that could vest*. The total contract signed back in 2006 is valued at $126 million over seven years. It would be a stretch to call Zito's performance over that stretch average. An under .500 record and ERA** approaching 5 are numbers worthy of being released or sent down to the minors in most cases. Somehow San Francisco managed to win a championship despite their handicap, of course their highest paid player was not a member of the World Series roster.

It's hard to have a contract as catastrophic as Eddy Curry's in the NHL, simply because their salary cap system does not allow it. In simple terms, each year the NHL establishes a salary cap and a salary floor, the floor being approximately $16 million the cap. More importantly, no one player's annual salary can exceed 20% of that year's assigned salary cap. Despite these restrictions, the Tampa Bay Lighting did everything in their power to try and top the Knick's in terms of myopathy. The team signed Vincent Lecavalier to an eleven-year, $85 million contract back in July of 2008. That's an average salary of almost $8 million a season, a figure that is by no means as mind-boggling as others mentioned in this article; but within the context of the NHL, is equally absurd. The contract was front-loaded*** so the first three seasons Lecavalier has been earning $10 million annually. He was the highest paid player in both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, and this year is only topped by Brad Richards ($12 million from the Rangers). To give a sense of just how high this amount was, let's see the highest theoretical amount a player could earn under the NHL's salary cap rules: 09-10: $11.36 million, 10-11: $11.88 million, 11-12: $12.86 million. So Lecavalier was essentially given a "max contract". This is term commonly used in NBA free agency; but only when discussing the contracts of the league's elite players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Vincent Lecavalier's production has been far from elite. In fact, last season, he finished tied 49th among NHL players in goals scored and 71st in total points-- not the type of production you expect from the league's highest paid player, in only the second year of an ELEVEN year deal.

I didn't consider any player still on a rookie contract for this list. Of course Jeremy Lin would be the easy choice making around $700k; but I found a more intriguing example after analysis of free agent deals and extensions. Kyle Lowry is by far the best bargain in the NBA today. During a time where max contracts are being handed out by the bunches, Lowry's deal with the Rockets only pays him $5.75 million this season. He is putting up gaudy numbers in the first half of the season: 15.6 ppg, 7.6 apg, 5.3 rpg, to go along with 2 steals and 2 threes. Based on these numbers, any fan will agree that not only is he the biggest steal in the league, but it's outrageous that he isn't playing in the All-Star game this weekend. Lowry does everything a point guard should do, plus more, for this Rockets ball club. When they've need him to score, he lights it up: 32 points (7-8 from 3 point range) against the Jazz just last weekend; or dish out 18 assist and only score 2 points (both on free-throws) like we saw back on New Year's Eve, when they need him to distribute. On top of all the counting stats and eye-popping numbers, a lot of his value doesn't show up in the box score: leadership, poise, and the toughness he shows taking numerous charges despite his size and position on the court. Before the 2010 season Kyle Lowry was a restricted free agent. Lost in the drama of LeBron's "Decision" and formation of Miami's Big 3, the Rockets matched Cleveland's 4 year $23 million offer sheet, retaining his services. Clearly we see why Daryl Morey was eager to keep this dynamic player-maker. 

Claude Giroux is the complete opposite of 


**ERA- Earned Run Average