On October 27, 1985, Kansas City Royals rookie Bret Saberhagen tossed a five-hitter in Game 7 of the World Series. The Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 11-0, winning the first championship in franchise history. Saberhagen won World Series MVP, and the night before, his son was born. Yes, it was a pretty memorable week.
Saberhagen, who also won the Cy Young Award, had a $150,000 salary in 1985. So how are the New York Mets — a team Saberhagen last pitched for in 1995 — paying the pitcher $250,000 per year?
The Mets are well known for their role in the famous Bobby Bonilla contract. They’ll pay their former player more than a million dollars per year until he’s 72 years old. But Bonilla actually has Saberhagen to thank for continuing to earn money well into retirement.
Back in March 1993, Saberhagen and the Mets agreed to a new contract. The deal came with $15.337 million in guaranteed money and could be worth as much as $27.75 million through 2028.
Saberhagen’s deal, which made him the seventh-highest paid pitcher in the league, came with a $2.5 million signing bonus. It also featured something unusual for most contracts: deferred payments.
The Mets and Saberhagen structured the deal so Saberhagen would receive $250,000 per year for 25 years, beginning in 2004. He’ll receive his last payment in 2028, 33 years after he last played for the Mets and 27 years after he retired from baseball.
Bonilla was so impressed by Saberhagen’s deal that he signed a similar one the following year, in 1994. The Mets agreed to take half of the nearly $6 million they owed him in 1994 and 1995, about $3 million, and pay it in $250,000 installments over 25 years, beginning in 2003.
Somehow, that seems tame compared to Bonilla’s second deferred payment with the Mets. In 1999, Bonilla was on the decline. The Mets released him, but the team still owed him $5.9 million. Instead of letting them buy him out right then, Bonilla and his agent once again showed some creativity.
The two sides agreed to a deal — the Mets wouldn’t owe Bonilla money until 2011. At that point, they’d pay him $1.19 million every year for 25 years. He’ll earn that last payment in 2035, a full 34 years after he retired and 36 years after his last game in a Mets uniform.
By the time both of these deals are done, Saberhagen and Bonilla will have collectively made nearly $42.5 million since they retired.
Meanwhile, the Mets were excited for short-term relief in the moment. But as we see far too often with deferred contracts, they end up paying for it later on.