June has come and gone. As Pride month winds down and we all return to our less extravagant lives in the mundanity that is literally any other month, a certain day comes to kick yours truly right in the balls.
July 1st can mean only one thing; the New York Mets are writing a paycheck to Bobby Bonilla.
Every year on July 1st, the Mets write the same check to the same player for the same amount. That player is Bonilla, and the check is for $1,193,248.20, and he’ll get that check every year until 2035 when he’s 72 years old.
Bonilla has been receiving just over double the MLB minimum salary despite not playing in the league since 2001. Because of that, each year on July 1st the rest of the league turns towards Citi Field and laughs, and frankly, they’re right to do that.
Bonilla first signed with New York in 1992, after two very solid years in Pittsburgh. Bonilla’s original contract was for 5 years at $29.5 million.
By today’s standard this is a steal, but at the time Bonilla was the highest paid player in the league. The only problem was, he didn’t play like it. (Doesn’t that sound familiar?)
During his first stint in New York, Bonilla failed to match any part of his performance with the Pirates. Imagine that Barry Bonds shows up in San Francisco and becomes Jeff Francoeur. That’s the level of disappointment we’re talking about. So when the chance to trade “Bobby Boo-Nilla” appeared, the Mets jumped at it. The Amazin’s shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles with a player-to-be-named-later for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa in 1995.
You ever send a late night text to an ex-lover of yours, and you think things can be reconciled, so you give it another go and 5 minutes into the first date you realize that you were so very, very, very wrong?
Yeah, neither have the Mets.
Reunited with the Metropolitans in 1998, Bobby started off his season well, but clashed with Bobby Valentine, becoming clubhouse poison. The Mets were on the hook for the $5.9 million dollars left on his deal. The decision was made to alter his contract.
What the Mets and Bonilla agreed to was a deferred payment of the remaining $5.9 million over the next 35 years, with 8% interest. Bonilla’s agent wanted 10%, and the Mets wanted 6%, so 8% was the perfect middle ground.
Prior to Bonilla’s deal the only high-profile player with deferred money was Catfish Hunter and his 1976 contract. Since Bonilla, players like Manny Ramirez ($2 million until 2026 from the Red Sox), Max Scherzer ($15 million from 2022-2026), Stephen Strasburg ($10 million from 2024-2030), and even Carlos Beltran who has been getting $3.17 million a year from the Mets since 2012, have seen deferred money included in their contracts. It’s something that happens all the time, but Bonilla’s deferment is different.
The Mets agreed to inflate the remaining $5.9 million to $25.9 million. Why? When investing your money with a hedge fund manager who was giving you 10 to 15 times your investment, the deferred deal was an easy choice. Bonilla’s $5.9 million went into a Madoff account, and the Wilpon’s were expecting to make a $60-70 million dollar profit on that money.
As we all know Bernie Madoff… made off with almost $64.8 billion dollars and left many people financially devastated. The Wilpon’s managed to survive relatively unscathed. However, the money they thought would be coming to pay for Bonilla dried up when Madoff was convicted. The Wilpons then became saddled with the task of paying Bonilla from their now cash-strapped organization.
I hate this. All of this. But not this part…
If there’s a silver lining in this story it’s what the Mets did with the money they saved in 1998. With payroll freed up, the Mets were able to get Mike Hampton, an integral piece of the 2000 World Series run, and winning NLCS MVP. In the 2001 offseason, Hampton signed with Colorado, awarding the Mets the Rockies’ first-round pick in the 2001 draft. With the 38th pick in the 2001 draft, the Mets selected third baseman David Wright, better-known know as The Captain.
Without Bonilla’s restructure and deferment, David Wright would have been a Colorado Rockie. Without Bonilla, the Mets might have stayed out of the 2000 playoffs. And without that contract deferral, the Mets would have lost out on being the laughing stock of the league for one day of the season.
Frankly, I’ll take the punches and the jokes about Bonilla Day. For me, it’s a badge of honor and I’m going to wear it with pride. Without Bonilla, there’s no 2000 Subway Series where we went head-to-head with the powerhouse Yankees. Maybe most importantly, this team doesn’t have a Captain through the late 2000s and early 2010’s, without Bobby Bonilla’s awful deferred money.
Without Bonilla, this team is a lot different than it is today.
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