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PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Celebrating Bobby Bonilla Day and the Best Deferred Contracts in Sports

Patience is a virtue, and for Bobby Bonilla, it means another $1.2 million. But he’s not the only one cashing in on serious deferred money.

July 1 is a special day. It’s the day we recognize perhaps the greatest deal in sports history — or sports infamy, depending on how you look at it.

July 1 is the day a certain former ballplayer gets another seven-figure check from his former employer, the New York Mets.

It’s a day in which we are reminded of the beauty (and the obscurity) of a very special wrinkle within the broader business of sports.

Today is Bobby Bonilla Day. And it’s time to talk about deferred contracts.

A Good Player, A Great Contract

The day doesn’t exist because of how the former third basemen played on the baseball field.

Sure, he was a six-time all-star who won a World Series and is considered one of the best switch-hitting sluggers of his generation.

Whether or not his career stats are good enough to make the Hall of Fame through the Veterans’ Committee one day is anyone’s guess. On this day every year, we celebrate the legendary deal he and his agent made with the Mets — one that still has the 58-year-old Bonilla getting paid well beyond his playing days.

Every July 1 until 2035, to be exact, at which point Bonilla will be 72.

And much to the chagrin of Mets fans, it’s a day that has the organization paying Bonilla, who has been retired for 20 years now, more money than some of the actual players on their active roster.

Such is the beauty of Bonilla’s deferred deal. It wasn’t about getting paid back then, but setting himself up for the future.

Bonilla, who spoke with NPR about his curious contract last week, said the impetus of signing the deal was the fact that he grew up with nothing as a child and didn’t want to fall into one of the most common pitfalls in professional sports —spending lavishly and losing everything.

As for his namesake holiday, Bonilla told NPR he hopes it sets an example of today’s players.

“If it helps, you know, athletes really see the advantage of putting away money and not thinking that you have to have everything all at once, I think, is a good thing,” he said.

The art of deferred money is a fine one indeed.

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Growing Interest in Deferred Money in Athlete Contracts

Player contracts that include deferred compensation are typically pushed by organizations that are in pinch and need shorter-term relief with regards to salary caps or general financial woes on the balance sheet. Such was the case with Bonilla.

But the beauty of deferred payments is that while these deals help teams in the short term, they typically mean much more money for players as a result of the hefty interest that can be attached to those sums over time.

For Bonilla, this meant he was able to parlay the $5.9 million the Mets owed him for the 2000 into what will eventually be $29.5 million paid out between 2011 and 2035, all enhanced by 8% annual interest. Craziest of all, Bonilla didn’t even play for the Mets that season. They paid him to go away, and he ended up signing with the division rival Braves.

Critically, however, Bobby Bo is far from the only athlete to cash in from a particular team long after his employment with them ended. Let’s celebrate Bonilla Day by taking a look at some of the greatest examples around the world of sports.

  • Jacob deGrom, the 33-year-old Mets ace who signed a $137.5 million extension in 2019, will be getting paid into his 50s thanks to a whopping $52.5 million in deferred money on his five-year, $137 million deal that pays out between 2035 and ’39.
  • Dating back to his time with the Braves, Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter has received $1.12 million each year since 1990. Sutter, whose final payment comes in 2022, was able to turn $9.1 million into nearly $47 million thanks to interest.
  • The Boston Red Sox may be the overall kings of deferred money. Manny Ramirez, who retired in 2011, is earning $2 million each year until 2026 as a result of a buyout. Dustin Pedroia will receive $2.2 million each year from 2021 to ’28. Similar to deGrom, Chris Sale has $50 million deferred that pays out between 2035 and ’39.
  • The Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $111 million deal in 2008, but traded him to Orlando two years later. After one season the Magic amnestied Agent Zero while still owing three years and $62 million. He last played in the NBA in 2012, but kept getting paid through 2016.
  • Kevin Garnett, a 15-time All-Star whose path to the NBA was anything but ordinary, receives $5 million from the Boston Celtics each year thanks to a deal that deferred $35 million in payments until after he retired. Garnett, who hasn’t played since 2016, will earn the money until 2022.
  • Chris Davis, who earned himself a $161 million payday thanks to a breakout 2016 season with the Baltimore Orioles, may deserve his own holiday as well. He may be out injured this season, but Davis stands to receive $3.5 million per year from 2023 to 2032, plus an additional $1.4 million per year from 2033 to 2037.

The list of pro athletes who took deals for deferred money includes far for names that simply these. And while it would be next to impossible to highlight them all, let us not forget about one superstar who almost signed the biggest one of them all.

Bryce Harper, now plying his trade for the Philadelphia Phillies, was offered a 10-year, $300 million contract by his former Washinton Nationals that included a reported $100 million in deferred money that would’ve made him a well-paid man into his 60s.

The deal never happened, however. Unlike Bonilla, whose own team didn’t want to keep him around, it was Harper who opted to leave town for a major payday with the Phillies rather than sticking around DC for the promise of future prosperity well beyond his playing days.

Happy Bobby Bonilla Day, everyone.

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