Risk and reward on full display in White Sox’ contract with Eloy Jimenez
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Most of us would have done what rookie Eloy Jimenez did when the White Sox offered him a six-year, $43 million contract. We would have nodded our heads, pledged our undying loyalty to the organization and asked whether anyone had a pen.
Oh, what we could do with $43 million — and possibly another $32 million if the Sox pick up the option for two additional years. Vacations, cars and new homes. Hell, we’d be rich enough to bribe college counselors and coaches for years.
But these types of deals always make me pause.
Is it as simple as both sides feeling so good about each other that a big commitment is the right thing to do? If so, then wonderful. Jimenez has been one of the top prospects in the game for the past several years, as sure a thing as there can be in baseball, which, given the capriciousness of the sport, isn’t saying much. Still, if the unproven outfielder and the Sox are comfortable with the deal, that’s all that matters.
Well, at least for now. And that’s why this is the perfect example of the risk-reward trade-off.
If it’s possible for someone to shortchange himself with $43 million, is the 22-year-old Jimenez shortchanging himself? Look at the contracts 27-year-old Mike Trout (12 years, $430 million), 26-year-old Bryce Harper (13 years, $330 million) and 26-year-old Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million) signed in the last month. You can’t help but wonder whether Jimenez is signing away some of his youth (or at least the possibility of more money in arbitration). If he plays out all eight years of the contract, he’ll be 30 going into free agency. In major-league baseball, where youth is treasured, the age of anyone over 30 is determined by carbon dating.
On the other hand — and there will be a lot of other hands in this discussion — no one knows whether Jimenez will turn out to be a superstar. So $43 million? Just tell me where to sign.
But is the franchise pulling a fast one, knowing the kid is going to be a star and knowing he’ll lose big money if he’s a great player? No, it’s not a con game. Everybody can see what the Sox are doing. If he succeeds, they’ve saved themselves a boatload of money. But if he’s a bust or gets hurt, they’ll have to live with the idea they signed a player to a $43 million contract before he had played in a big-league game. And not just any player but a player who was supposed to be the cornerstone of the franchise.
There’s risk all the way around.
‘‘It shows the love they have for you, taking care of you at an early age early in your career,’’ said Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who signed a similarly team-friendly deal two years ago. ‘‘They know what they want to do, and he’s all-in.’’
Yeah, well, I don’t know about the love part. No team throws around that kind of money merely out of infatuation. The Sox, like every other team, love making money. They love looking at it, touching it and putting it in the bank. So, yes, although I’m sure they love the idea of betting on a young player, you can believe they really love the idea of saving a ton of money if Jimenez becomes they player they think he’ll be.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo says he has no regrets about signing a seven-year, $41 million contract in 2013, with team options that will take the deal through the 2021 season. He’s worth much more than that now. But his circumstances when he signed were different than Jimenez’s. He had struggled in his first season in the majors (with the Padres) before showing promise in a half-season with the Cubs in 2012. He was considered less a sure thing than Jimenez is.
‘‘[It’s] a little bit of a discount now, but it’s security for now and a huge weight off my shoulders, my family’s shoulders, my kids’ shoulders, my grandkids’ shoulders,’’ Rizzo said when he signed the contract. ‘‘It’s a good feeling.’’
If Jimenez becomes a star, will he be as good a soldier as Rizzo is being? It’s certainly another factor to consider.
Should someone have stopped an extremely talented 22-year-old from taking the deal? Or was it simply an opportunity of a lifetime for a kid from the Dominican Republic?
Will knowing the Sox believe in him so much make him play with more peace and confidence? Or by agreeing to the contract, does he know something about his talents and emotional makeup the team doesn’t? Is he all-hit, no-field?
Will he be a ball of anger if he’s hitting .320 and leading the American League in slugging percentage in Year 6 of the contract?
So many questions and not a lot of answers at this point.
Most of us would have signed the deal. But none of us has Jimenez’s superior talent. What if we did?