When baseball fans hear the name Bobby Bonilla, the first thing many think of is the check the New York Mets write him annually. Despite other teams doing the same thing, Bobby Bonilla Day remains an annual event. Will it ever go away?
Deferred contracts are all too common in Major League Baseball now. The Washington Nationals are going to pay Max Scherzer for many years after he hangs up his cleats. The Mets themselves are still paying Brett Saberhagen $250K each year. Yet for some reason, it’s Bonilla who has become the poster child for this strategy of paying players later on in life.
There are reasons for it. Bonilla’s second stint with the Mets was quite disastrous. As part of the deal when they cut him prior to the 2000 season, they agreed to add interest to the $5.9 million they owed him. With future annual payments set through 2035, he’ll make a total of $29.8 million through these collections.
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It’s not an outrageous number for a Major League Baseball team. What makes the circumstances more unique is how it related to the Ponzi scheme owner Fred Wilpon got caught up in with Bernie Madoff. Believing the interest he would make from his deal with Madoff outweighed what the Mets had to pay Bonilla in interest, he willingly did the deal. Years later, it became an embarrassment for the organization. Every year, we get a reminder of it, too.
The reason why it’s Bonilla and not one of the many other players receiving deferred payments is because he received more for doing less. Even though Ken Griffey Jr. is still getting paid by the Cincinnati Reds, he at least contributed on the field in a positive way. Bonilla did not during his second tour through Queens.
Bobby Bonilla Day is not all bad. The acceptable practice of deferring money allows teams to escape from bad contracts in the present. In doing so, they can add top-level talent now and pay the men later.
Because the Bonilla deferment is connected to a crime which essentially stopped the owners from spending, he’s one we talk about most. Even if Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles puts together an epic slump to finish his career, nobody will talk about the millions of dollars he is owed through 2037.
Bonilla is the representative of this financial planning—as poor as it may be at times.
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When compared to other bad contracts in baseball, it’s peanuts to pay someone who hasn’t played a game for your team since the 1990s a little over a million bucks. Bobby Bonilla Day isn’t disappearing anytime soon. Even as worse agreements are made, he’ll always have the first-place spot for deferred payments.