Bobby Bonilla day? Another former Cardinal just as deserving

Sports

Former St. Louis Cardinals’ Bruce Sutter a 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee acknowledges the crowd at a ceremony in his honor prior to the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants baseball game Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

ST. LOUIS–July 1 is known in baseball circles as Bobby Bonilla Day. Bonilla, who played his final season in the majors for the Cardinals in 2001. Here, he’s most known for the spring training injury that opened up a spot for a rookie named Albert Pujols to make the club out of spring training.

But around the baseball world, the slugger who rose to prominence with the Pittsburgh Pirates is remembered on July 1 because that’s the day he receives annual payments from the New York Mets as part of a deferred contract with the New York Mets.

While this is one of the more-recognized deferred deals, it isn’t the only one that involves a former St. Louis Cardinal.

When Bruce Sutter left St. Louis in free agency after the 1984 season, he signed a 6-year, $9.1 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. But as the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, Sutter was going to be paid $750,000 in those six years, with deferred payments of $1.12 million for 30 years afterward, ending in 2021.

There is little question that Sutter belongs with the highest paid players in baseball. He is considered one of the best relief pitchers in the game, having finished the 1984 season with a 1.54 earned-run average. Sutter set a National League record with 45 saves in 53 chances last season. He is a five-time All-Star, a former Cy Young Award winner and has led the league in saves for five of the last six seasons.

Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1985

As we know now, Sutter’s best days on the mound were before he arrived in Atlanta. He retired in 1989, having 40 saves over the course of three seasons for the Braves.

But there’s more, as The Athletic reported in 2018:

For some reason, the Braves agreed to pay Sutter the full $9.1 million up front — think of it as a signing bonus of sorts — but then deferred the whole amount. If you do a little bit of math, you’ll realize that 12.3 percent of $9.1 million is $1.12 million, which makes sense. But what about the $750,000 he got during the six years of the contract? Those, too, were interest payments — the Braves agreed to pay him approximately 8 percent of the deferred amount during the first six years. As a pretty funny, and obviously unintended side effect, Sutter ended up getting his negotiated “salary” in both 1989 and 1990, even though he was retired.

The athletic, june 25, 2018

That $9.1 million will be paid out sometime in 2022.

We know today that deferred contracts are still very much in vogue. Max Scherzer, the Chesterfield native and Cy Young Award winner with the Washington Nationals, has a contract that expires at the end of this season. But that deal has deferred money that makes the Sutter and Bonilla deals look tame by comparison. Scherzer will be owed $15 million annually starting next year for seven years.

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