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Thoughts on Jonathan Singleton, suspended 100 games for his third positive drug test

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Today’s news warrants a look back at Singleton’s 2014 extension, which was unprecedented at the time.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Astros first baseman Jonathan Singleton was suspended 100 games Tuesday for his third positive test for a drug abuse. It’s the second suspension of his career, as he was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season after testing positive for marijuana.

Today’s news warrants a look back at the contract extension Singleton signed with Houston in June of 2014. It was one of the most unusual contracts in recent history and one that sparked quite a bit of controversial reaction back then.

Singleton signed a five-year, $10 million extension that included three club options and could have maxed out at $35 million over eight seasons. He signed that deal having never appeared in a major-league game and his promotion coincided with the announcement of the long-term guarantee.

At the time of the deal, I wrote that agents around the game were harshly criticizing it, arguing that Singleton gave up tons of potential earnings to secure a guarantee. Agents with young players in a similar boat were angry that one of the game’s top prospects (42nd overall entering 2014, via MLB.com) were setting a low precedent for their guys and said the following, anonymously:

“Disaster deal. He basically gave away his arbitration years and a year of free agency for $7.5 million. After taxes, agent fees and stuff, he’s left with $3.5 million. People don’t realize how expensive life in the big leagues is. Yes, if I made $100K a year and lived in Iowa I would live like a king but if I moved to Bel-Air I would go broke in two months. It’s the same thing. $10 million is not money at that level. After everything, he’s left with half and after buying a home and playing a little bit he won’t have any money. When that deal is done in five years he won’t have a penny.”

“The dirty nature of the industry leads to bad deal for players. The agents talking smack are the ones who play the dirtiest. Guaranteed money works for smaller agencies and “some” players. Ironically, greed has led to less guaranteed money.”

Singleton had taken a player-friendly deal that bought out all of his pre-arbitration and arbitration deals and even bit into a chunk of his projected free agency by giving Houston eight years of control. On paper, it looked bad, as those agents were quick to point out. Even players, like Bud Norris and Mark Mulder, tweeted their dislike for the deal.

“Sorry but this Singleton deal is terrible. Wish the Jon listened to the union and not his agent,” Norris said in a since-deleted tweet.

“Just saw contract this #astros prospect signed. Either he doesn’t believe in himself to be great or he has a terrible agent who wants the 4%,” Mulder tweeted.

But after further review, Singleton’s off-the-field circumstances made the deal make a whole lot more sense, as was made very clear to this reporter in a long phone call with his agent, Matt Sosnick, and discussions with members of the Astros organization.

I wrote a second piece changing my tune on what I thought of Singleton’s deal, citing the player’s own quotes on his off-the-field issues:

“He told the Associated Press in March that it was ‘pretty evident’ to him that he was a ‘drug addict,’ and that he ‘just [didn’t] like being sober.’ He tested positive for marijuana twice in 2012, and was suspended for 50 games before being sent to an inpatient rehabilitation center. He even admitted to drinking alcohol as a substitute, telling the AP that he ‘woke up hung over every morning’.”

Those substance abuse issues, which may have been responsible for Tuesday’s suspension almost four years later, were reason enough for Sosnick and his team to take a team-friendly deal to ensure $10 million in guaranteed money for a client that may never reach his full potential. The Astros saw it as a low-risk, high-reward gamble in which they could lock up a potential future All-Star at first base for a low price.

Sadly, Singleton registered just a .171/.290/.331 line in 114 major-league games in 2014 and 2015 and has spent the last two years in the minors. At 26, he hit just .205 at Double-A last season and does not seem at all a part of the future for the newly crowned the World Champions.

Singleton’s struggles both on the field and with his personal demons have likely cost him any shot at a major-league future. He had already fallen behind a 26-year-old at Double-A, and today’s suspension hurts matters even more. But he was able to secure $10 million for his family as a 22-year old based solely on God-given talent and the projection of his potential.

As I wrote in that second piece, after speaking with Sosnick and Astros executives, I felt my criticisms (and those of the agents I quoted) were unfair and inaccurate. Though it’s easy to get caught up in looking purely at numbers, projections and precedents, Singleton’s deal serves as a reminder that every deal is unique, and every player’s situation different from one another:

“Singleton may be a solid player in this league, or could even develop into a superstar for the Astros. But if the skeletons in his closet happen to get the best of him and his career turns out to be a failure, he still has $10 million in the bank that he wouldn’t have without this deal.”

Here’s wishing the best to Singleton in the future.