The 10-year, $225-million contract extension ($22.5 million annually) all-star Canadian first baseman Joey Votto (from Etobicoke, Ontario) signed with the Cincinnati Reds Monday is one of the biggest in baseball history, as Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are the only other players to have signed deals worth over $200 million. It's also probably the biggest contract ever given to a Canadian athlete, but it's far from the only time a Canuck has pulled in a lot of money in professional sports. Here are 10 of the most notable contracts signed by Canadians (all figures in U.S. dollars):
—Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.): Minnesota Twins, MLB
The deal: $80 million over six years (2008-2013), an average of $13.3 million annually.
Why it mattered: Morneau won the American League MVP award in 2006, becoming the first Canadian to do so. The contract he signed before the 2008 season was at that time the largest deal in Twins' history.
The result: Inconclusive. So far, this hasn't exactly worked out: Morneau had a great 2008 season and finished second in AL MVP balloting, but has struggled with back problems and concussions since then. He's been effective when healthy, but health has been a major issue; he's only played 150 games over the last two years, less than a full season. He's battling plenty of doubters now, but if his comeback turns out well, this might not be a terrible deal.
The deal: $65 million over six seasons (with the last year only partially guaranteed) from 2004-2010, an average of $10.83 million a year.
Why it mattered: Nash had shot to prominence in Dallas and earned all-star berths in both 2002 and 2003, but was overlooked for the all-star team in 2004, partly thanks to a deep Dallas team. Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban had already signed Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley to maximum deals, and there were concerns about how the 30-year-old Nash would age. Cuban offered a five-year deal worth about $9 million annually, but with the last year only partly guaranteed, about $20 million less than the package Nash accepted from Phoenix, his first NBA team. The contract was by far the largest a Canadian had ever earned in the NBA.
The result: A bargain. Nash fit in perfectly in Phoenix in coach Mike D'Antoni's renowned "Seven Seconds Or Less" system and won back-to-back MVP awards in 2004-05 and 2005-06. He shone through the length of his contract, even when the talent around him faltered, and continues to be a dominant player—and one who's declined to start demanding trades even when everyone else starts chanting "Free Steve Nash".
—Sidney Crosby (Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia): Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
The deal: $43.5 million over five years from 2008-09 to 2012-13, an average of $8.7 million annually.
Why it mattered: Coming off his rookie contract, Crosby had already established himself as an impressive player. In 2007, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's scoring leader, the Hart Trophy as its media-voted MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (now the Ted Lindsay Award) as its player-voted MVP. He also became the youngest player to reach the 100- and 200-point milestones, and was the league's youngest captain by this time. This extension, signed with a full year left on his rookie contract, kept him as the face of the Pittsburgh franchise.
The result: A bargain. In the first three years of this extension (2008-09 through 2010-11), Crosby scored 116 goals and added 162 assists, recording 100-plus point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and notching 32 goals and 34 assists in just 66 games in 2010-11. He also led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. He's battled concussions lately, but continues to be dominant when healthy; Pittsburgh's already received incredible value on this deal, though.
—Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.): Colorado Rockies, MLB
The deal: $75 million over six years (2000-2005), $12.5 million annually.
Why it mattered: Walker became the first Canadian to win a National League MVP in 1997, becoming the first and only person to steal 25 bases and slug .700 in a season along the way. By the time he signed this deal at the start of the 1999 season, Walker had also won four Golden Gloves in the outfield and a batting title. Coors Field obviously helped Walker's stats, but he was still an incredible player both with the bat and the glove, and one the Rockies wanted to lock up.
The result: A bargain. Walker's power numbers dropped a bit as he aged, but he still put up on-base percentages of over .400 every year from 2000-2004, had three years with an OPS over 1.000 (2001, 2002 and 2004), recorded an OPS+ of 150 or higher in those three seasons, won Gold Gloves in 1999, 2001 and 2002 and was named an all-star in 1999 and 2001. He was traded to St. Louis partway through the 2004 season and helped the Cardinals reach the World Series, where they lost to the Red Sox.
The deal: Hargreaves signed a four-year deal with Manchester United in 2007. Precise soccer salaries can be difficult to find, but it's been reported that Hargreaves was paid £70,000 a week at Old Trafford. Using today's currency conversion (which is substantially lower than what the pound used to trade at), that translates to $111,286 U.S. a week, or $5,786,872 annually (just over $23 million over four years). That's not quite at the top range of soccer players' salaries, but it's not all that far behind either.
Why it mattered: Hargreaves' Canadian nature is a matter of often-intense debate, especially considering how he decided to play for a different country internationally, but he came up through the Canadian soccer system and his deal still is one of the best a Canadian-born player's ever picked up. At this time, his star was riding high; he'd shone in the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and had been arguably England's best player at the 2006 World Cup. Manchester United had long targeted him, and after they were able to buy him from Bayern, the stage seemed set for a bright future.
The result: Bust. Hargreaves was impressive when he played, and helped Manchester United to Premier League and Champions League titles in his first season in 2007, but he suffered a ridiculous streak of injuries after that and was limited to just four first-team games from 2008-2011. He's now trying to make a comeback with rivals Manchester City, but hasn't managed to get on the pitch much.
—Roberto Luongo (Montreal, Quebec): Vancouver Canucks, NHL
The deal: $64 million over 12 years (2009-2022), an average of $5.33 million annually.
Why it mattered: At the time, Luongo was considered one of the league's top goaltenders, coming off three straight all-star selections. His mammoth deal was part of a wave of front-loaded long-term contracts, and the NHL later threatened to void it after the fact.
The result: Inconclusive. Luongo has put up some impressive stats since signing that contract, including a .928 save percentage and a 2.11 goals-against average in 2010-11, and he did lead the Canucks to within one game of the Stanley Cup in the 2011 playoffs. However, many have criticized him for giving up soft goals at the worst times, and some think his contract hamstrings the team. It's going to be interesting to see how this one plays out.
The deal: After Sakic hit restricted free agency in 1997, the New York Rangers and general manager Neil Smith signed him to a massive offer sheet of three years and $21 million (an average of $7 million a year), with $15 million of that as an up-front signing bonus, even though they would have had to concede their next five first-round draft picks to do so. Colorado matched the deal.
Why it mattered: As The New York Times's Stu Hackel writes, Sakic's contract changed the NHL dramatically and set it on course for the lockout. It boosted the typical salaries of elite players from the $3 million range to the $7 million range, it forced the Avalanche to put extra effort into new television and arena deals and it set salaries on an intense upward spiral over the next decade.
The result: Bargain. Colorado surely would have preferred to pay Sakic less, but he was still worth any penny. He led them to another Stanley Cup in 2001 with a massive 54-goal, 118-point season that earned him the Hart and Pearson trophies as league MVP, and he helped keep the Avalanche a perennial contender for the rest of the pre-lockout era. When you stack this deal up against other hockey players who got massive contracts shortly thereafter, Sakic's still looks like one of the best of the bunch, despite its precedent-setting nature at the time. He scored at least 20 goals every year through 2006-07 as well and was a key face of the Avalanche franchise.
—Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.): New York Mets, MLB
The deal: $66 million over four years from 2010-2013, an average of $16.5 million a year.
Why it mattered: Following stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox, Bay was seen as one of the hottest properties on the free agent market in 2009. He was a three-time All-Star at this point and was coming off a 36-homer, 119 RBI season. His deal was the third-largest MLB contract signed by a Canadian before Votto's current contract.
The result: Bust. Bay ran into injuries with the Mets, but he wasn't terribly effective even when healthy. His OPS fell off a cliff in New York, from the .921 he put up in 2009 with Boston to terrible marks of .749 and .703 with the Mets in 2010 and 2011, and his slugging percentage declined from .537 to .402 to .374 over that span. He might not be able to even keep his starting job this year, and his future doesn't look good.
—Jamaal Magloire (Toronto, Ontario): New Orleans Hornets, NBA.
Why it mattered: Magloire was taken by the Hornets (then in Charlotte) in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft, but didn't play all that much in his first two seasons. In 2002, though, he broke out, starting all 82 games and averaging 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. Magloire's contract wasn't even in the top 25 in the NBA in terms of per-season dollars in 2003-04 (for reference, top-paid Kevin Garnett was making $28 million a year at that point), but it was still a massive contract to hand out to a Canadian player, and this was before Nash's deal the next year.
The result: Bust. Magloire had a solid 2003-04 campaign, averaging 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and earning his only career all-star nod (and becoming the only Canadian other than Nash to earn one so far), but it was all downhill from there. He was traded to Milwaukee in 2005 and Portland in 2006, didn't really find success in either city, and then bounced from New Jersey to Dallas to Miami. Yahoo!'s Kelly Dwyer described the Heat's 2008 signing of him with "Are you freaking kidding me?". Magloire's still in the league, back in his hometown with the Raptors, and he seems to be doing fine as a lesser-paid, seldom-used veteran presence (he's averaging less than 12 minutes a game) who loves community outreach. That 2003 contract, though? Not such a great move.
The deal: Relief specialist Gagné signed a two-year, $19-million ($9.5 million annually) contract with the Dodgers for 2005 and 2006.
Why it mattered: Gagné won the NL Cy Young Award as the league's top pitcher in 2003 with a ridiculous 55-save campaign, one where he converted every single save opportunity he had. He put up a 1.20 ERA, 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 and a third innings and became the first reliever to win the NL Cy Young in 11 years. He also was only the second Canadian to win a Cy Young, following the legendary Ferguson Jenkins. From August 26, 2002 to July 5, 2004, he converted a major-league record 84 straight save opportunities. Gagné made the all-star team for the third consecutive season in 2004 and was expected to cash in big on the free agent market.
The result: Bust. Gagné battled injuries throughout 2005 and 2006 and had Tommy John surgery. He never quite regained his form and was cut loose by the Dodgers. He bounced to Texas for a bit and then was traded to Boston, but although he won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007, he only pitched one inning there (the ninth inning of the first game, where they already held a 13-1 lead). Gagné signed a deal with the Brewers for 2008, but had a terrible season. He played independent ball in Quebec in 2009 and then tried a comeback with the Dodgers in 2010, but that failed, so he retired. He was also named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball as a user of human growth hormone (HGH).
—Georges St. Pierre (Saint-Isidore, Quebec), UFC: UFC contracts don't translate all that easily to other professional sports, as they're event-based and dependent on pay-per-view buys, but GSP has apparently pulled in close to $2.5 million for a single event in the past. That's not a bad deal for the UFC, though; GSP has been incredibly dominant, remains the current welterweight champion, and has played a huge role in the rise of mixed martial arts both in Canada and throughout the world.
—Jacques Villeneuve (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec), Formula 1: Villeneuve's greatest on-track success came in the late 1990s, as he won the Indy 500 and the Cart championship in 1995 and the F1 total points title in 1997 (becoming one of only three drivers to take all three titles). However, his highest payday may have come in 2002, when he reportedly earned $21 million from his contract with British American Racing before purses.
Will Votto's contract be a bargain or a bust? We'll have to wait and see, but the history of big-ticket deals for Canadian athletes certainly suggests it could go either way.
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