When you reference black baseball over the past 35 years, recent MLB Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr.’s name still reigns supreme. Incredibly, Griffey’s highest salary for a season was just $12.5 million in 2001 at the age of 30, but his electric performances paved the way for a new generation of soul swatters to pluck from the ever-growing MLB money tree.
If he was a free agent today, Griffey would probably become the first $400 million baller. Especially when you take a look at the kind of loot the elite African-American free agents have hustled this offseason.
David Price gets record-setting seven-year, $217 million in chips from Boston
The Black Ace was at it again in 2015. Price didn’t win the Cy Young but he could have. He was 18-5 with 220 K’s and a 2.45 ERA playing with Detroit and Toronto. What it did was set up a historic payday for the man with the most bands this offseason. His new deal averages $31 million per year. Price had a slew of suitors and Boston showed the most love.
Now he will have to deal with the pressure of playing in a judgmental and sometimes suffocating Boston media crockpot. A lot of the blame for the success or failure of a rebuilding Boston squad --who finished in last place in 2015 -- will fall on Price's shoulders. Price has his reasons beyond the dollar bills for signing with Boston and he’s prepared to carry the weight.
“I do look forward to pitching here, Price said on MLB Network. "I feel like home plate is right on top of you. That's a big deal and it’s part of why I’ve thrown the ball well here and chose to play here."
Jason Heyward scoops eight-years and $184 million from Cubs
The 26-year-old Heyward hasn’t saved baseball or been the catalyst that sparked the black baseball revolution as Hank Aaron proclaimed back in 2010 when the 20-year-old Heyward was a highly-touted, homegrown rookie who homered on his first MLB swing. The hype and anticipation was thick. He was good, but he struggled like Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox said he would.
"He'll have his struggles, probably, like any other 20-year-old that's in the big leagues, but he's a very talented kid," Cox said. "And when he's not hitting, he's going to help us in the outfield. He's a very gifted athlete."
"J-Hey" hasn’t developed into that prolific slugger. He’s a .268 career hitter who has only hit more than 20 homers once. His defense and speed, however, is as advertised, making him a solid starting piece on any championship squad. He’s also a class act and a true professional who can deal with baseball crazy environments like Chicago. Not yet 30, Heyward will be a mentor for the young and talented Cubs as they try to break their 108-year World Series drought.
Justin Upton inks a six-year, $132.75 deal with the Tigers
The Tigers are intent on rebounding from a last-place AL Central finish in 2015 and have already spent an MLB-high $272.25 million (tied with Cubs) this off-season.
Upton spent his first six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he blossomed into one of the game’s best multi-faceted players. Upton came to the Padres last year after a two-year, failed "Soul Patrol" experiment in Atlanta with his brother BJ and Jason Heyward. Last year with the Padres, Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBI.
Upton will be the Tigers’ starting left fielder and provide another power bat in the middle of their lineup with Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez. Upton is a player who stays on the field, playing in at least 149 games in each of the past five seasons. He’s approaching 200 career homers and has smashed at least 26 or more homers in four of the past five seasons.
Get that money Jus. At 28-years old, he’s just entering his prime.
Other notable signings by elite African-American MLB diamond-miners:
Dee Gordon signs a five-year, $50 million extension with the Miami Marlins.
It’s hard to think what MLB would be like without Dee Gordon, who is a throwback baller flexing new school athleticism. If his MLB-playing dad Tom “Flash” Gordon didn’t bribe Gordon -- a high school basketball star at the time -- with offers of a vehicle to stop playing basketball and focus on the diamond, Dee might be riding the pine for the Lakers D-League squad right now instead of making MLB All-Star squads.
He distinguished himself as a rising second baseman, prolific bag swiper and crafty batsman in his first four years with the Dodgers. His subsequent trade to the depths of Marlins baseball turned out to the best thing that could ever happen to Gordon who led baseball in hits (205) and steals and was second to Miguel Cabrera in batting average (.330).
If the 27-year-old Gordon continues to grow, he will see a lot more green backs in his future. Fifty-mill is actually a steal for a guy with his rare combination of speed, defense and lethal small ball game.
Lorenzo Cain signs a 2-year, $17.5 million deal with Royals to avoid salary arbitration
He started as an obscure 17th-round draft pick in the 2004 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Tallahassee Community College in Florida. In 2010, Cain made his MLB debut, and, following the season, the Brewers traded him to Kansas City with three other players for pitcher Zack Greinke.
Fast forward to 2014 and Cain had his first .300 batting season and 28 stolen bases to help fuel the Kansas City Royals' World Series return. This season he hit .307 and had a career-high 16 homers as the Royals won their first World Series since 1985. As far as defense is concerned, he is probably the only cat who can challenge Heyward’s gangster in that category. Cain is an even more dynamic fielder. His “Wow” meter is off the charts and he’s a black hole up the middle for KC. He’s won two Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards for outfielders and one Fielding Bible Award.
At 29-years-old and part of a well-oiled machine, expect to see Cain continue to have postseason success and expect his salary to continue to rise.
Denard Span collects 3-years, $31 million from the San Francisco Giants
A brother with some wheels, a glove and a lumber game can command that kind of loot, even coming off of an injury-plagued season in which he played only 61 games.
Span played with the Nationals for three seasons after coming to Washington in a trade with the Minnesota Twins in 2012. It was a steal for Washington as Span became a beast in the outfield and in the leadoff spot.
Span, 31, set the Nats franchise record for hits in a single season with 184 in 2014. That year he also hit .302 with 94 runs and 31 steals and finished 19th in NL MVP voting.
In 2015, Span hit .301 with five home runs and 22 RBI with a .365 OBP. in limited duty. If he remains healthy, that $30 million will look like chump change and a hell of an investment by San Francisco who is historically scheduled to win a World Series in 2016.