Giambi, Houston and Yashin: Attack of the contract killers
May 5, 2005
It's not your money.
Yep, that's one way to rationalize the millions paid to Jason Giambi,
Allan Houston and Alexei Yashin, three extreme examples of New York
athletes getting something for nothing.
But it's your team.
And your team has nothing to show for these 500-pound gorilla
contracts except a hernia. Your team knows that getting around these
contracts will be slightly tougher than getting around Kirstie Alley.
Your struggling team is trying to move on and move up, but these lead-
filled balloons are keeping your team down and out. In hindsight, it
was a dumb decision to pay these contracts. But the dumbest person
would be the fool who'd make a trade and take the contracts off your
team's hands. And there's no scientific evidence that a human being
that clueless actually exists.
Well, there is. But John Rocker is only trading with hecklers, not
So your team is stuck with gum on its shoes, stuck with mistakes that
won't go away, stuck with contracts more obscene than a Pat O'Brien
And once you consider how much you've invested emotionally in your
team, then it feels like it's your money.
All told, the contracts of Giambi, Houston and Yashin total $310
million. That's three-and-a-dime to players whose best years are
over, who aren't box office, who can't elevate their team, who hurt
more than they help. But it gets worse. The Yankees still owe four
years and $80 million to Giambi, the Islanders six years and
potentially $65 million to Yashin and the Knicks two years and $39
million to Houston. And you thought the government was the biggest
source of wasteful spending.
Imagine what your team could be doing with money it's throwing away.
Imagine, if you will, the rebuilding plan the Knicks could've started
years ago had Houston's contract been reasonable. Or the superstar
that could've been bought by an Islanders team that desperately needs
one. Or how much harder the Yankees would've gone after Carlos
Beltran if they weren't held up by Giambi's deal.
The most amazing aspect of the Houston, Giambi and Yashin deals is
that they didn't have to happen. At the time they were made, the
market was set by teams that all bid against themselves. Nobody in
baseball seemed willing to give nine figures to Giambi and nobody in
basketball was able to give nine figures to Houston. As for Yashin's
contract, it was the richest deal in hockey then, and four years
later, it's the richest now.
In their own separate ways, these three contracts have crippled the
ability of their teams to improve the roster. To various degrees,
they've held back the Yankees, Islanders and Knicks.
Which one is worse? Well, excuse the analogy, but it's a coin flip.
Even though Andrew Zimbalist, a professior of sports economics at
Smith College, defended the owners a bit.
"They don't always know what the competitors are offering," Zimbalist
said. "When Steinbrenner signed Giambi I believe they thought if they
didn't offer him $18 million [a year], they wouldn't have gotten him.
Sometimes, if you offer a player less than what he feels he deserves,
he could sign a smaller deal and wait for a longer one down the
road." Perhaps, but the Yankees did have the option of bringing back
Tino Martinez on the cheap. And they gave Giambi $120 million while
ignoring all rumors of steroids. With Giambi showing no signs of
hitting for power and average again, the Yankees should write him a
check and let him walk.
When Knicks owner Jim Dolan handed Houston $100 million, only four
other teams were under the cap in the summer of 2001, and the most
Houston could've made was $73 million with Detroit -- if the Pistons
were willing to give him the max. Dolan overruled Knicks management
and overpaid partly because he liked Houston personally. Which means
Dolan does have one friend.
The following month, Charles Wang wanted to make a big splash and
send a message as the new Islanders owner, so he dropped 10 years and
$90 million on Yashin when NHL stars were only getting six or seven
years. The Islanders better hope the proposed 24-percent rollback in
salaries becomes official when hockey resumes, because they'd only be
on the hook for $43 million more for Yashin. But he'll still eat a
good portion the proposed $40-million salary cap every year, he's not
an elite player, his goals and points are down, plus the contract
made him an outcast in his own locker room.
True, it's not your money. Giambi and Houston and Yashin haven't
taken food off your table or a dime from your pocket.
But don't you feel poorer just looking at them these days?