There haven't been many 10-year deals in the history of baseball. Before free agency, there was no reason to lock up a player for that long; that would have violated the purpose of the indentured servitude system in place. With the advent of free agency, though, and in a post-strike world where MLB and the MLBPA get along better than any other group of owners and players, these lengthy contracts have become more frequent.
Albert Pujols is likely the next player to end up with a 10-year contract. The Marlins have reportedly already offered him one, in order to acquire a crown jewel for their new park, uniform, and home city. Whether or not the Cardinals counter with a similar deal isn't known, but chances are good Pujols is going to get paid, and over the course of a decade.
A 10-year contract is a terrible idea, from a risk point of view. Forecasting the future of baseball players is difficult. While systems like PECOTA, ZiPS, and CHONE have in the past done a fine job of predicting performance, they aren't always right. Teams likely have similar (or better) projection systems of their own, but they aren't going to spit out 100 percent accuracy, either. Shorter contracts limit risk, as it's easier to project a short-term future than a long-term one. It's why the Cubs are rumored to be interested in Prince Fielder for a whole lot of money but few years, as a player with his combination of body type and production is incredibly difficult to forecast long-term.
These 10-year deals exist, though, and teams are going to give them out. There is something symbolic about a 10-year contract, just like any other rounded-off number in baseball. In a world where there is no avoiding them league-wide, it comes down to an attitude of, "I don't like 10-year deals, but if they have to exist, then ____ is a fine recipient."
That's what made it hard to argue with Alex Rodriguez's 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers, signed before the 2001 season. This $252 million deal was the largest ever at the time, but Rodriguez was the best Not Barry Bonds player in baseball, and also just 25 years old. If there was a guy to give a 10-year deal to, it was him.
Maybe that specific organization shouldn't have done it -- the Rangers spent a lot of time trying to deal Rodriguez, until he was finally sent to the Yankees -- but he was still the guy to hand one to. Rodriguez's second 10-year deal is a little iffier, given he will be 41 years old when it ends, but it's the Yankees: they can afford it. That's the same reason Derek Jeter ended up with a 10-year deal, too: he was great when it was signed, but if he flopped, the Yanks' could absorb the blow.
Rodriguez's and Jeter's deals weren't the only 10-year contracts for long, as Todd Helton signed an extension with the Rockies that March. He was already under contract for 2001 and 2002, and his new extension kept him in town through 2011, with an option for 2012. It featured a full no-trade clause, too, so Helton was there until he didn't want to be.
Helton was great at the time of the deal, but he was also under contract already, would be 29 years old once the extension kicked in, and 37 when it came to be option time. The money was huge at the time -- the extension alone was the third-biggest contract in baseball history, but now sits at 13th on that list thanks to a very lucrative last decade for players.
Helton's $151.5 million contract looks like a bargain through the lens of today's market, where a win costs roughly $5-6 million in free agency. But back in 2001, salaries were lower, for both teams and players. Overall, it was a deal that worked for the Rockies for about three to four years, until Helton started to suffer injuries, the humidor kicked in, and he became a first baseman in his mid-30s. Helton has averaged less than three rWAR a year since 2005, after putting up seven per in the first years of the extension. He was the Helton you expected at the start, and around the time long-term projections would start to get murky, things started to go wrong.
Helton and Jeter's 10-year deals are the only ones to see their conclusions. Troy Tulowitzki signed a 10-year contract with the Rockies a little over a year ago. As a shortstop who is a star both at the plate and with the glove, he fits the "If you have to give a 10-year deal out..." mold. Ryan Braun signed an extension this past April that essentially gives him a 10-year deal, too, keeping him in town through at least 2020. While both of these are mega-deals, the cost isn't prohibitive -- Tulowitzki's average annual value is $15.8 million (or less than John Lackey's AAV), and Braun's deal is at $14.5M per, with just $40.5 million of it coming in the first half of the contract.
Pujols' deal will be more Rodriguez than Tulowitzki/Braun -- the Marlins' rumored offer is for 10 years and over $200 million. Where within that $200 million range is the question, and just how good Pujols will be by the time it ends is another. Pujols has been amazing in his 11-year career, averaging over eight wins per season, winning three MVPs despite existing in the same reality as Barry Bonds, and helping the Cardinals to two World Series championships. In short, he is one of the most productive hitters ever.
He will likely be just as good in the short-term future, too, but will be 32 in the first season of his new deal, meaning that honeymoon won't last forever. The Marlins are willing to take the risk that he the great years he has left can make up for the eventual decline of his game that comes with age. (They might not be wrong, either.) It's not a risk many teams should take, but hey, if you have to give this kind of contract to someone...