Bobby Bonilla: How Dodgers trade led to 25-year payday

Bobby Bonilla, Los Angeles Dodgers (Vincent Laforet /Allsport)
Bobby Bonilla, Los Angeles Dodgers (Vincent Laforet /Allsport) /

On Bobby Bonilla Day, remembering the Dodgers trade that sent him back to New York.

Bobby Bonilla makes the headlines every July 1 for a peculiar reason: the former slugger is still getting paid by the New York Mets for a contract they deferred back in 2000.

While it sounds ridiculous – the Mets are paying Bobby Bonilla twenty years after he left the team? – there was a business reason for the Mets’ decision.

Why did the Mets defer Bobby Bonilla’s contract?

Instead of paying the former All-Star $5.9 million in a lump sum payment in 2000, they decided to defer the remaining salary over 25 years with an 8% interest rate, beginning in 2011.

At the time of the deferment, the team’s owners were investing with Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi Scheme artist, and it seemed practical to believe they could outperform the interest rate owed to Bonilla.

How does this all relate to the Dodgers?

Well, after acquiring Bonilla in the Mike Piazza trade, the third baseman proved to be a problem in Los Angeles, batting .237 and clashing with new manager Davey Johnson.

The Dodgers eventually traded the disgruntled switch-hitter to New York before the 1999 season in exchange for reliever Mel Rojas. Bonilla had $11.8 million remaining on his contract at the time, which the Mets would notoriously only pay for one more season before deferring the rest.

Had Bobby Bo performed better with the Dodgers, or if the team didn’t have Adrian Beltre sitting in the wings, it’s possible none of us are talking about Mr. Bonilla every July 1. But here we are.

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As for the Mets, it didn’t turn out as bad as people think. Using the money they saved in 2000 by deferring Bonilla’s salary, they acquired eventual NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. And once Bonilla left the team as a free agent, New York used the compensatory pick to select David Wright.