Well, today’s the day Mets fans. Today’s the day that Bobby Bonilla gets that $1.1 million paycheck from his former team. Time for the mockery, the memes, and the misery of knowing that Bonilla is still — almost 20 years after his last game with the Mets — one of their highest-paid players.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven years, you probably know the deal with Bonilla’s Mets contract: The team owes him $1.19 million every July 1 from 2011 through 2035, as part of a buyout agreement reached with Bonilla after the 1999 season. The Mets had the choice of paying Bonilla $5.9 million upfront or paying him $29.8 million over 25 equal payments. They chose the latter.
Bonilla’s annual salary has become one of the biggest jokes in professional sports for a number of reasons. “Bobby Bo” was hated by Mets fans long before his retirement salary became an issue; he first came to the team in 1992 after signing a then-record five-year, $29 million contract. While he was by no means awful with the Mets (he had a career 128 OPS+ with them), he failed to live up to the lofty standards of his contract and was traded to the Orioles in 1995. The Mets later brought him back for the 1999 season, and this is where things really became a problem: He batted just .160/.277/.303 for them that year and routinely clashed with management. Needless to say, they had to get rid of him for the 2000 season.
And the manner in which he was bought out — though costly — did have some major silver linings. In fact, those silver linings arguably make those annual $1.2 million payments worth it.
The $5.9 million the Mets avoided paying Bonilla for the 2000 season gave them some extra payroll flexibility. This allowed them to trade for ace pitcher Mike Hampton, who became the ace of that pennant-winning Mets team. Hampton went 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA (142 ERA+) that year — not to mention a Silver Slugger-winning .274/.313/.274 at the plate. Had it not been for Hampton, the Mets likely wouldn’t have made it to the World Series.
And that’s not all the Mets got out of deferring Bonilla’s contract. Once Hampton signed with the Rockies, the Mets received the 38th overall pick in the 2001 draft as compensation for his departure. With that pick, the Mets took David Wright.
It goes without saying that that pick worked out well for them.
Wright has played 13 seasons for the Mets, and is their all-time leader in hits, at-bats, runs scored, walks, total bases, extra-base hits, and bWAR. If he’s ever able to come back (and it’s looking like there may be cause for cautious optimism on that front), he’ll need just 11 home runs to become their all-time home run leader. This may have been the best draft pick in Mets history, and there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have been possible without deferring the $5.9 million the Mets owed to Bobby Bonilla in 2000.
So enjoy the well-deserved mockery, the memes, and the jokes the Mets will be the butt of today. Bobby Bonilla Day will probably be the last day the Mets get this much attention for a while, but just know that not everything caused by Bonilla’s deferment was awful.
Oh, and since we’re on the subject: The Mets are still paying Carlos Beltran ($3.1 million) and Bret Saberhagen ($250 thousand) as well. Many other teams have this same situation too as Michael Mayer notes. It’s not just Bonilla and the Mets.