Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Harry Alsfine
(And thank you Bobby, for your overall immense net contribution to the New York Mets franchise)
On December 2nd, 1991, the New York Mets did something fans have become accustomed to: they overpaid for a free agent. The Mets made corner outfielder Bobby Bonilla the highest paid player in the National League at the time, handing him a massive 5-year $29 million deal. Yet, this was no ordinary contract mistake.
It was not that Bonilla was awful with the Mets, in fact, he hit .278 with 91 HRs, 277 RBIs, and two All-Star Game appearances in his three-and-a-half-year tenure, before spending time with the Orioles, Marlins and Dodgers. It was only after the Mets reacquired Bonilla in November 1998 that the contract went from bad to epically disastrous.
Following a subpar 1999 season, the Mets released Bonilla, yet still owed him $5.9 million. The cash-strapped Mets, lead by owner Fred Wilpon, agreed to defer the remaining money owed, but this was no normal deferment. The Mets and Bonilla agreed to defer the payments for 10 years, and then pay every him $1.19 every July 1st, starting in 2011 and ending in 2035. This adds up to $29.8 million.
Now, a normal question/response would be, “why the hell would the Mets and owner Fred Wilpon agree to this absurd deal structure?” Well, the answer to that includes a huge investment the Wilpons had in a certain Ponzi-scheme, and a thought process of, “2011-2035? You mean after all the Madoff money kicks in!”
In all seriousness, the point of this blog is not to bash Bonilla, who had a notoriously awful relationship with the media and managers, or Wilpon who unfortunately for him and the Mets, did not see the Madoff money kick in. The point is to thank Bonilla for his immensely positive net contribution to Mets history.
The $5.9 million the Mets avoided paying Bonilla for the 2000 season afforded them the payroll flexibility to trade for Mike Hampton. Hampton was an ace for New York and played a huge part in winning the 2000 National League Pennant. That’s not all the Mets got out of the deferred contract. When Hampton signed with the Rockies that offseason the Mets received the 38th overall selection in the 2001 MLB draft as compensation. That pick became David Wright.
As they say, the rest is history. Wright went on to become one of the franchise’s all-time players, playing for 13 seasons, holding almost all offensive records, and doing countless good for the New York Community. So, every July 1st, instead of ripping the Wilpons for their past questionable financial decisions, we should be thanking them and Bonilla. Without Bonilla’s deferred contract, the 38th pick in the 2001 draft does not belong to the Mets, and David Wright more than likely never wears a Met uniform.
Thank you, Bobby!