In the era of hot takes and knee-jerk reactions that we live in, some people are awfully quick to declare a player with a long-term contract a "bust" or terrible signing. I say this amid Yu Darvish's situation, sure, but this doesn't necessarily mean that I think Darvish's contract will turn out to be a good one for the Cubs or that he'll end up being a bust. Anything on the board is possible. His specific case got me thinking about why we shouldn't judge just yet, though, because there are so many examples throughout history of the first year not being like the rest of the contract. Let's run through some recent examples. 

Prince Fielder

The big man signed a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers prior to the 2012 season. In 2012, he hit .313/.412/.528 (151 OPS+) with 30 homers and 108 RBI. He walked more than he struck out. He finished ninth in AL MVP voting and helped the Tigers win the AL pennant. 

He only spent one more season with the Tigers before he was traded to the Rangers. In Texas, he played just 289 games in three seasons before he was forced to retire. The contract was supposed to run through 2020. 

Fielder had a very good season in 2016 for the Rangers and he can't help that he suffered the debilitating injury. The point here, though, is that the first year of the deal was most certainly not a precursor to the rest. That goes both ways, too. 

Jayson Werth

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
Jayson Werth joined the Nationals on a mammoth seven-year, $126 million contract. USATSI

Prior to the 2011 season, Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million deal to go from Philly to D.C. In Werth's first year with the Nationals, he hit .232/.330/.389 (97 OPS+), good for just a 1.3 WAR a year after he had a 4.5 WAR. 

In the ensuing offseason, you couldn't say the words "bad contract" without Werth's name being bandied about. I'm pretty sure I was guilty of throwing him on an "all-bad-contract" team. 

In the next three seasons, Werth would hit .303/.394/.479 (139 OPS+) and top 4.0 WAR twice. In all seven years, Werth had a 113 OPS+ and the Nationals made the playoffs four times (after having never gone since becoming the Nationals). Werth was also a well-known clubhouse presence. In fact, Dusty Baker this season said one of the Nationals' problems is they miss Werth. There's no way of knowing if that's true, of course, but I'd say Baker knows a hell of a lot more about the Nationals clubhouse with Werth in it than you or me. 

The deal on a whole was a good one. A very good one. 

Jon Lester

Lester signed with the Cubs during the 2014 Winter Meetings for six years and $155 million. He had a 6.23 ERA through his first four starts and was pretty mediocre for much of 2015. He ended the year 11-12 with a 3.34 ERA (114 ERA+) and 1.12 WHIP. He wasn't bad or anything, but given that he was finishing his age 31 season, there had to be cause for concern that the deal was a bit much. 

Instead, Lester finished as the runner-up in 2016 Cy Young voting and pitched like an ace in the postseason while the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908. 

It's fair to say Lester is the single best signing in the history of the franchise. No one would've thought that after year one, even if we weren't saying he was a bust. 

Jacoby Ellsbury

After winning the World Series with the Red Sox, Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the rival Yankees. He was good in 2014, posting a 111 OPS+, 3.6 WAR and 39 stolen bases. He wasn't great, but he was perfectly acceptable. Since then, however, he's hit .261/.331/.372 (89 OPS+) and been worth 6.3 WAR in 2015-18 combined. He's missing the entirety of this season, too (not that they'd have a place to put him). The deal runs through 2020, but we're deep enough into it to call it a bust. 

A.J. Burnett

Prior to the 2009 season, Burnett signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Yankees. He pitched to a 4.04 ERA (114 ERA+) in his first year. He was the Yankees' No. 2 starter in the postseason and they won the World Series. He was great in Game 2 of the Fall Classic. 

The next two years, Burnett was 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He managed to post a -0.7 WAR. The Yankees just offloaded him for Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno while eating some money after 2011. 

I think they'd probably do it all over again since they won the 2009 title, but that first year didn't end up telling us how the rest of the deal would fare for the Yankees at all. 

Miguel Cabrera

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Colorado Rockies
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is under contract until the end of the 2023 season. USATSI

The Tigers legend is on an eight-year, $240 million extension that runs from 2016 through 2023. He signed it before then, but that's his current deal. 

In 2016, Miggy was vintage Miggy. He hit .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI. Last year, he dipped to .249/.329/.399 (92 OPS+) and now he's going to finish this season with only 38 games played. He did hit well in those 38 games, but he's going to be 36 next year. Cabrera deserved to get paid for everything he did for the Tigers organization through his prime, but this deal is not going to help the Tigers much the rest of the way. 


Now, obviously there are lots of examples of year one of the deal being completely the same as the rest of the deal. It's entirely possible Darvish is a bust while the contract of, say, J.D. Martinez continues to be an amazing steal for the Red Sox. We just shouldn't overreact to the first year like many of us did with Werth, for example. Things change and long-term deals have plenty of time to even themselves out.