Juan González Turned Down the Biggest Contract in MLB History and Left $100 Million on the Table

In many ways, the ’90s was the golden age of slugging in the MLB. With the doping scandal still a decade away, and players more talented than ever, hitters flourished in the league. A shortlist of some of the ’90s greats include Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, and Jeff Bagwell.

Juan González also deserves respect as one of the greatest sluggers of his time, with a slew of impressive accomplishments as a player. That said,
González also deserves a place on the list of biggest contract whiffs ever. Here we take a closer look at González’s time in the MLB and the huge pile of cash he left on the table after being traded from the Texas Rangers to the Detroit Tigers.

Juan Gonzalez looks on during a baseball game
Juan Gonzalez of the Detroit Tigers looking on during a game | GettyImages

Juan González in his prime

González spent four years lighting it up in the minor leagues before getting called up to the majors by the Texas Rangers in 1989. He played 24 games with the team that season, then 25 the following year. Then in 1991, González finally got the nod to become an everyday player. He quickly proved his worth, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 102 runs.

González continued to improve over the following years, quickly evolving into a player who routinely hit 40+ home runs a season. Throughout the ’90s, González remained one of the most fearsome hitters in the league. That fact is clearly reflected in his six Silver Slugger Awards, all but one of which came during the ’90s.

González also won two AL MVP awards, in 1996 and 1998. During the 1992 and 1993 seasons, he lead the American League in home runs, and in 1998 he led the AL in RBIs.

Counting his 2000 season, when he was 30 years old, González had already hit an impressive 362 home runs — good for the 12th highest number of all time.

Trade to Detroit

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Juan González spent the entire ’90s with the Rangers, endearing himself with fans and establishing himself as one of the franchise’s all-time best players. The feeling seemed to be mutual, with González happily leaning into his role as the Rangers’ best slugger. All that changed in 1999, when the Rangers traded Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers as part of a massive, multi-player deal.

González was so hurt by the trade that, in 2013, he declined induction into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. “I closed the Texas Rangers chapter in my life a long time ago,” González said at the time, according to The Dallas Morning News. He was eventually inducted a couple of years later, apparently having gotten over his grudge in that time span.

Juan González leaves huge money on the table

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At the time of his trade to Detroit, González had just one year left on his contract. The Tigers were excited to acquire him, giving away a bevy of young prospects in exchange. The deal was seen as something of a gamble, since there was no guarantee that González would choose to stick with the Tigers long-term.

To try and entice him to say, the Tigers offered González a massive eight-year contract extension worth $140 million, according to AP News. If González accepted, it would have been the single richest contract in all of baseball history.

Instead, however, González turned the deal down. At least in part, his decision stemmed from the conditions at Detroit’s Comerica Park, which favors pitchers more than hitters.

González also figured that he could leverage his talents for an equally massive deal from some other team as a free agent. What he didn’t know was that he had already passed his prime as a player. He struggled during the 2000 season with the Tigers, then signed a measly one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians for $10 million.

By 2005, injuries had forced González out of the league. By passing on the Tigers’ contract, he ultimately left around $100 million on the table.

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference