Bonuses are written into the contracts of veteran MLB players as incentives to get them to sign contracts, and are a way of protecting clubs from paying for performance that never happens. Incentives are often based on health -- translated into games played, innings pitched, or plate appearances. They can also be based on well-recognized awards, such as a Cy Young Award, an MVP, or an All-Star selection.
Miguel Cabrera already earned a $100,000 bonus for his selection to the American League's All-Star team in 2015, but he stands to pick up more spending cash with a strong finish to the season.
Cabrera is in the final season of the eight-year contract extension that he signed after the Tigers acquired him prior to the 2008 season. His $22 million salary will jump to $28 million when his new contract extension kicks in for the 2016 season. For this season, Cabrera can earn these bonuses:
- $100,000 for an All-Star selection
- $200,000 for being voted MVP
- $100,000 for a second-place finish in MVP voting
- $50,000 for a top-five finish in MVP voting
- Other bonuses for postseason MVP awards, which will not happen this season
- $1 million for a second MVP award over the life of his contract. Cabrera has been there, done that in prior seasons.
Realistically, the bonus that remains on the table for the Tigers' slugger this season would be a $50,000 bonus for finishing third, fourth, or fifth in the MVP voting. Even that might be a stretch, despite the fact that Cabrera leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS.
Those who measure a player's value by WAR would favor Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout, or Lorenzo Cain over Cabrera this season. In fact, J.D. Martinez has a higher WAR than Cabrera this season. Those who take the traditional view that an MVP candidate should be one who helps his team to reach the postseason will be unimpressed by the Tigers' last place standing.
Cabrera may have to settle for the fame that comes with winning four batting titles in five seasons, and a cool $100,000 bonus for making the All-Star team. Not bad for an off season.
Tom Gorzelanny has a $1 million salary that is guaranteed despite a mid-season demotion to the minor leagues, but he can also earn bonus cash before the 2015 season is over just by making relief appearances in meaningless games. Gorzelanny was signed by the Tigers late in the offseason when few options were available to plug holes in the bullpen. He received a major league contract that guarantees him $1 million for the 2015 season, plus a pair of health-related incentives.
- $50,000 each for 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 games started
- $25,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65 relief appearances
Gorzelanny was viewed as a possible "swingman" out of the bullpen, but he never made a start for the Tigers. He has made 44 appearances in relief. He has earned a $25,000 bonus and his next appearance will be worth an additional $25,000. That's not bad for a reliever who was designated for assignment during the season, sent to the minors, and then recalled to the major leagues.
Justin Verlander missed out on a $100,000 bonus he would have received for an All-Star selection. The Tigers would dearly love for him to earn that one next season.
Ian Kinsler narrowly missed out on a $100,000 All-Star bonus.
Al Alburquerque would earn a $12,500 bonus if he made 75 appearances, but he has 62 game appearances at the time of writing, with 16 games left to be played.
Joe Nathan has a club option for $10 million for the 2016 season, but the club will surely pay him his $1 million buyout to make him go away.
In case you're wondering, bonuses do count against the team's payroll for purposes of the luxury tax in the season that they are earned, but the Tigers are well under that threshold after clearing a significant amount of salary from the books in July.