Long-term contracts are the cocaine of the sports world. They create a rush of euphoria, then a crash that can ruin careers.
The athlete receiving the contract is thrilled with the financial security, knowing he or she could pop an Achilles’ tendon a week later and still get paid.
The team feels a sense of accomplishment, having theoretically solved a potential roster problem and having proved to its fan base that it is committed to winning.
The fan base lauds ownership for spending and team management for being proactive. Teammates are heartened because they believe there is money awaiting them if they perform well.
But the signing of a player to a long-term deal often winds up feeling like a Maserati lease. It’s fun at first, until you realize you’re spending four figures a month on a vehicle that takes you through school zones to the grocery store to buy milk.
How often have Minnesota sports teams gotten value from their most lucrative long-term deals?
The 2016 Twins are a disaster, and an example. When they signed Phil Hughes to a one-year deal, he dominated. Since they signed him to a five-year deal worth $58 million, he is 12-14 with a 4.65 ERA.
They signed Ervin Santana to a four-year deal worth $55 million. He was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs for a half-season and has gone 7-6 with a 3.87 ERA since.
Ricky Nolasco was known as a durable, competitive pitcher in the National League. The Twins signed him to a four-year deal worth $49 million. He is 12-15 with a 5.48 ERA as a Twin.
Before the 1993 season, the Twins made Kirby Puckett briefly the highest-paid player in the game, signing him to a five-year deal worth $30 million, a massive contract in 1992. He remained productive but did not have any career years from 1993-95 and was unable to finish the contract because of vision problems.
Kent Hrbek signed a five-year deal worth $14 million in 1989 and did help the Twins win a second World Series, although he faded toward the end of the deal.
Chuck Knoblauch demanded and received a deal almost identical to Puckett’s in 1996. A year later he demanded a trade and was dealt to the Yankees.
The Twins signed Justin Morneau to a team-record six-year, $80 million deal before the 2008 season. He gave them two solid seasons and began the 2010 season in spectacular fashion before a concussion ruined his career.
His buddy Joe Mauer signed an eight-year, $184-million contract in 2010, based on his MVP season of 2009, his three batting titles and his premium value as a great-hitting catcher. He hasn’t won a batting title or an MVP award since and no longer catches.
The Twins signed Glen Perkins to a four-year, $22-million deal before the 2015 season. Since last July 8, he has produced four saves.
Strangely, the Timberwolves’ lucrative signings of Kevin Garnett, which seemed so outrageous they changed the financial structure of the league, actually brought results. They signed him to a record six years at $126 million when he was 21, then signed him to a five-year extension worth $100 million. He made the franchise a winner, however briefly.
The Wild bought itself credibility and competitiveness in 2012 when it signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million deals. Now both are 31, the Wild appears to be in decline and both have nine years remaining on their deals.
Unlike in other sports, NFL contracts rarely do long-term damage to franchises because not all the money or years in the deals are guaranteed. The Vikings’ worst current long-term deal appears to be the five-year, $36.5 million contract signed by tight end Kyle Rudolph.
In the next few years, local teams will face expensive decisions on their current young stars.
The problem with these deals is that humans are fragile and fickle. What sounds good at the celebratory news conference might become the subject of regret for years to come.