July 1st can mean only one thing; the New York Mets are writing a paycheck to Bobby Bonilla.
Every year on July 1st, the New York Mets write the same check to the same player for the same amount. That player is Bobby Bonilla, and the check is for $1,193,248.20, and he’ll get that check every year until 2035 when he’s 72 years old.
Bonilla has been receiving just over double the MLB minimum salary despite not playing in the league since 2001. Because of that each year on July 1st the rest of the league turns towards Citi Field and laughs, and they’re right to do that.
Bonilla first signed with New York in 1992, after two years in Pittsburgh that saw him in the top three in MVP voting. Bonilla’s original contract was for 5 years at 29.5 million.
By today’s standard this is a steal, but at the time Bonilla was the highest paid player in the league. The only problem was, he didn’t play like it.
During his first stint in New York, Bonilla failed to match his performance with the Pirates. So when the chance to trade “Bobby Boo-Nilla” appeared, the Mets jumped at it, shipping him to Baltimore with a player-to-be-named-later for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa in 1995.
Reunited with the Metropolitans in 1998, Bobby started off his season well, but soon clashed with Bobby Valentine and became clubhouse poison. The Mets were on the hook for Bonilla’s $5.9 million dollars and made the decision to alter his contract.
What the Mets and Bonilla agreed on was a deferred payment of the remaining $5.9 million on Bonilla’s contract over the next 35 years with an 8% interest attached. Bonilla’s agent wanted 10%, and the Mets wanted 6%, so 8% was the perfect middle ground.
While deferred money is a mainstay of today’s game, back in 1998 they were relatively rare. Catfish Hunter’s 1976 contract included deferred money, and since Bonilla, players like Manny Ramirez ($2 million until 2026 from the Red Sox), Max Scherzer ($15 million from 2022-2026) and Stephen Strasbourg ($10 million from 2024-2030), and even Carlos Beltran who has been getting $3.17 million a year from the Mets since 2012. Bonilla’s deferment was different.
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The Mets agreed to inflate the remaining $5.9 million to $25.9 million. Why? When investing your money with a hedge fund manager who was giving you 10 to 15 times your investment, the deferred deal was an easy choice, especially when you’re making crazy money. Bonilla’s $5.9 million went into a Madoff account, and the Wilpon’s were expecting to make a $60-70 million dollar profit on that money.
As we all know Bernie Madoff made off with almost $64.8 billion dollars and left many people financially devastated. The Wilpon’s managed to survive relatively unscathed, but the money they thought would be coming in year father year to pay for Bonilla dried up when Maddof was convicted. The became saddled with the task of paying Bonilla from their now cash-strapped organization.
If there’s a silver lining in this story it’s what the Mets did with the money they saved in 1998. With the payroll freed up by the Bonilla deferment, the Mets were able to get Mike Hampton, an integral in their 2000 World Series run, even winning the NLCS MVP. In the 2001 offseason, Hampton signed with Colorado, awarding the Mets the Rockies first-round pick in the 2001 draft. With the 38th pick in the 2001 draft, the Mets selected third baseman David Wright, better-known know as The Captain.
Without Bonilla’s restructure and deferment David Wright would have been a Colorado Rockie, the Mets might have stayed out of the 2000 playoffs, and they would have lost out on being the laughing stock of the league for one day of the season.
Frankly, I’ll take the punches and the jokes about Bonilla Day. For me, it’s a badge of honor and I’m going to wear it with pride. Without Bonilla, there’s no 2000 Subway Series where we got to see our boys go head to head with the powerhouse Yankees. Without Bonilla, this team doesn’t have a Captain through the late 2000s and early 2010’s.
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So Happy Bobby Bonilla Day to all of us Mets fans. It might suck for 24 hours, but this deal sure did give us a lot to smile about down the road.