Are We Getting Closer to the First $1 Billion Contract?

As much money as we view athletes to have, there are only a handful that can lay claim to being in the most exclusive fraternity they could belong to (other than their respective Hall of Fames): the billion dollar club.

To date, only five have reached the milestone. Tiger Woods was the first in 2009, although a CNBC article around the same time cites Michael Jordan as the first to accomplish the feat.

Although many probably have never heard of him, Formula-1 driver Michael Schumacher was in the mix at the height of his career, and may have led Tiger as the highest-grossing athlete of all-time briefly before Tiger surpassed him. Schumacher was gravely injured in a skiing accident in 2013 that obviously hindered his potential earnings.

Rounding out the top five are golfers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Tough field to be in when you consider the pounding their bodies take from 18 holes at Pebble Beach.

But that’s not what we’re here for. Sure, there are billion dollar athletes, but after a few hefty contracts you have to wonder when the first billion dollar contract is coming.

Just yesterday, Mike Trout signed a 12-year $430 million contract, to stay with the Angels long-term, which CBS Sports to had the audacity to say he “agreed” to the richest contract in professional sports history.

This comes only weeks after Bryce Harper signed a 13-year $330 million deal with the Phillies, meaning that he held the title of richest contract in sports history for all of five minutes. His reaction says it all.

Trout’s contract broken down to the money made per second gets downright nutty. As it turns out, it’s good to play a ballgame that does not involve CTE.

Trout and Harper aren’t alone in this mega-millions club of baseball players. Giancarlo Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million while with the Marlins, and Manny Machado inked a deal for 10 years and $300 million this off-season with the Padres.

It’d be one thing if these were the only guys awaiting a pay-day. Reigning MVP and World Series champ Mookie Betts is without a doubt one of the best two players in the game with Trout and will likely look to eclipse him. The only question is when, as the Red Sox have him locked up for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

But when that time comes, if not before, the Red Sox will have to make an offer that the 26-year-old and possible face of the MLB cannot refuse. This also assumes that Betts stays on his torrid pace and that the Sox want to play ball.

With multiple $300 million (now $400 million) deals being made in the past year, you have to wonder what the ceiling is for professional athletes. The NFL has its own problems with guaranteed money in a sport where the players and agents have virtually no leverage, and certainly won’t be the ones to take us to the billion dollar threshold.

NBA players may be more marketable and, like Jordan, seem to be better at making more cash post-career, but the contracts still don’t touch baseball’s. James Harden currently has the biggest contract, at four years and $228 million.

So, agents will hitch their ride to baseball in this quest. The trend of locking players into long-term contracts earlier in their career to stave off potential bidders has gained traction in the MLB, with the idea being that you could get a potential deal on an up-and-coming star before they (hopefully) become a mega-star.

This trend would certainly put a damper on the length of time we’d have to wait to see the billion dollar bonanza. However, players are getting smarter about committing to teams too early and losing their leverage. Betts seems committed to being non-commital and betting on himself (no pun intended). He has made no guarantees or public pleas to stay in Boston, something also seen with the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving.

Athletes, at the behest of their agents, are much more reticent to tip their hand these days, and the potential earnings outweigh any sense of loyalty from their standpoint. It’s a business decision.

We won’t see a billion dollar contract any time soon, but as long as the TV deals and franchise earnings stay on the up-swing, we’re headed in that direction. Only time will tell.

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