Every off season players and agents do a pretty good job of milking owners of millions and millions of dollars that they are very willing to spend. But every now and then, a player turns down money hoping for a better offer that never comes. Here is a partial list of players over the years who turned down deals at which they should have jumped:
The Mets plan prior to the 1986 World Series was to let Knight go, and turn third base over to Howard Johnson in 1987. That all changed with Knight’s MVP heroics in the Series. It wouldn’t look good to let him go, so they offered him a contract with the same salary he made in ’86 — $750,000 (Baseball Reference says it was $645,000, but I remember $750K. Maybe he got some bonuses). Either way, Knight felt he deserved more, and turned it down. He ended up signing with the Orioles for less — $600,000, according to Baseball Reference.
The godfather of bad decisions. After the Rangers sent Gonzalez to the Tigers in a huge nine-player trade, Detroit offered Gonzalez an eight-year, $160-million dollar contract. But new spacious Comerica Park was not a home run stadium like Arlington’s was, and Gonzalez didn’t like that. So he turned the offer down. Gonzalez would go on to earn just $45 million more over the course over his career.
The Red Sox offered Garciaparra four-year, $60 million contract prior to the 2004 season. He wanted more, and said no. The Sox sent Garciaparra packing, and he suffered though several injury-filled seasons, earning a total of $25 million until retiring a few weeks ago.
Prior to the 2004 season, the Phillies offered Millwood a three-year, $30 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth year. Agent Scott Boras turned it down, demanding a five-year deal. Boras misread the market in the short term. After earning $11 million in 2004, Boras could only muster-up a one-year, $7 million deal for 2005. But prior to the 2006 season, Boras conned Rangers owner Tom Hicks yet again, winning a five-year, $60 million for Millwood.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees offered Pettitte a one-year, $10.5 million contract. But coming off a $16 million season, Pettitte thought that was too big a pay cut. He ended up signing a one-year deal for just $5.5 million, with incentives that could bring the total up to $12 million. Pettitte ended up meeting most of the incentives, making his total salary for the year — you guessed it — $10.5 million. He would have been better off just taking the money and not having to worry all year about meeting incentives.
Early in the 2008 off season, the Astros offered Wolf a three-year, $28.5 million contract. Wolf didn’t say yes quickly enough, because the Astros pulled the offer because of the collapsing economy. Wolf ended up signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers for $5 million. But Wolf made up for it, signing a three-year, $30 million deal with the Brewers this off season.
During the 1997 season, the Brewers offered McDonald a big extension — three years, $18 million plus a $6 million option. Scott Boras turned down the extension, demanding the fourth year be guaranteed. Big mistake — McDonald never pitched again due to injuries.
The Australian-born Nilsson was an All Star in 1999. Perfect timing, because that was his walk year. But what did he do? — he turned down several big money offers because he wanted to play for his native land in the 2000 Olympics. He signed with the Red Sox after the Games, but the offer was withdrawn after he failed a physical. Boston tried again with Nilsson in 2003, but he walked away from a $400,000 deal, saying he lost the will to play.
It’s not baseball, but no list like this would be complete without Sprewell. He famously turned down a three-year, $21 million contract offer from the Timberwolves during a 2005 season in which he was making $14 million, saying he had a family to feed. His family must still be hungry, because Sprewell was out of the league the next year, and earned exactly $0 to buy groceries.