Bernard Gilkey played his last game with the Arizona Diamondbacks more than nine years ago and yet, when the former Major League outfielder opens his mailbox these days, he still finds checks from the team.
In fact, Gilkey’s final payoff figures to be somewhere around his 51st birthday.
It’s one of those unique business stories rarely told, when teams defer salaries years into the future to save some money in the present.
The Arizona Diamondbacks payroll shows up at around $73 million this season, but in reality, the team that has likely deferred more money than any other in the history of sports, will cut checks totaling $90 million.
Those payments not only go to active players like Dan Haren and Mark Reynolds, but the team will also be paying off past players like Gilkey, Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Armando Reynoso, Curt Schilling, Matt Williams and Roberto Alomar.
The Diamondbacks past ownership was all about doing what they had to to win. It worked. In 2001, they agreed to pay its roster of players $85 million and beat the Yankees in the World Series that year. But doing what they had to do to win also meant deferring $244 million that they owed to players.
When Ken Kendrick took over the team in 2004, the Diamondbacks started paying back. The payment schedule was sped up when baseball changed the debt rules a couple years ago.
Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall said that the team paid off $16 million this year and will pay off $15 million in 2010, $14 million in 2011 and $13 million in 2012. By 2013, the Diamondbacks will have less than $1.5 million to pay off. Matt Williams’ payments come off in 2014 and Gilkey, whose annual checks go up to as much as $1 million, will be the last one to come off the books in 2017.
“When fans look at our payroll, they don’t realize that we’re also paying former players,” Hall said.
Gilkey, who played 12 seasons in the league, played 161 games with the Diamondbacks from 1998-2000, earned about $12 million for his work. By deferring it, he obviously gets paid in installments and gets a bit more since the team pays between 2 and 7 percent interest on the owed money.
The most interesting salary deferral story could be the one of Bobby Bonilla. The Mets will reportedly pay from 2011 to 2035 for the $5.9 million salary they owe him from 2000, a season in which he didn’t even play for the team.
The team supposedly invested the money so that they’d actually make more than they’d have to pay out, even after interest payments were calculated. A Mets spokesman only said that Bonilla’s contract was deferred, but would not say the amount or comment on the payment schedule.
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