The financial structure of Major League Baseball is flawed. Players on every team see less money than they should during the prime years and way too much as their skills deteriorate.
Also, certain abilities never get rewarded appropriately. Front offices contribute to this injustice with their tendencies to value home runs over defensive versatility and speed over contact hitting.
*Overpaid players are listed first in slide titles.
Heath Bell's contract: $21 million through 2014.
Bell got hammered in 2012 without the protection of pitcher-friendly Petco Park. He lost the closer's job and finished at a 5.09 ERA, even after an excellent September.
His performance was so shaky that the Miami Marlins agreed to absorb $8 million of his contract to complete a three-team trade this offseason.
Even with that financial assistance, the Arizona Diamondbacks will be over-paying their veteran setup man unless he's more consistent with his fastball command.
Wade Miley's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
The runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting surprisingly emerged as Arizona's rotation leader. Chase Field—notoriously a hitter's park—didn't live up to its reputation with him on the mound.
Miley is tough to run against, decent at the plate and is among the elite pitchers in the National League.
Craig Kimbrel is arguably baseball's most dominant reliever.
Jair Jurrjens' contract: $5.5 million projection, via Matt Swartz (third-time arbitration eligible).
Jurrjens pitched horribly last year following an All-Star season. Underwhelming velocity and dependence on balls in play make it unlikely that he'll ever be a top-of-the-rotation arm again.
The Atlanta Braves will have ample starting rotation depth to start 2013. Brandon Beachy could reinforce the staff further by midseason when he returns from Tommy John surgery.
The Curacao native is expensive and expendable.
Craig Kimbrel's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
In 63 appearances, Kimbrel put up video-game numbers (3-1, 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 116 SO) for chump change.
Forget Aroldis Chapman, Mariano Rivera or Sergio Romo—no one's better than this guy in the ninth inning.
Brian Roberts' contract: $10 million through 2013.
Since 2010, Roberts has played 115 games and provided 0.1 WAR...for $30 million (via Baseball-Reference.com).
Post-concussion symptoms aren't bothering him anymore. However, he's now facing a long rehab from August hip surgery.
Even if the second baseman enters spring training in perfect health, his chances of returning to All-Star form at age 35 seem slim.
Manny Machado's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Few players can join an MLB contender at midseason and immediately gain a starting job.
On top of that, Machado was asked to play third base—a position at which he had only two previous games of professional experience.
John Lackey's contract: $30.5 million through 2014.
Perhaps Tommy John surgery will lead to a career turnaround.
But let's get serious.
Lackey was in obvious decline before the procedure. Without dramatic improvement, he still won't be worth his exorbitant price tag.
Will Middlebrooks' contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
He's already among the best American League third basemen.
The Boston Red Sox have several holes to fill on their roster, so anybody solidifying a position shouldn't be taken for granted.
Anthony Rizzo enjoyed a strong age-22 season (.285/.342/.463).
Carlos Marmol's contract: $9.8 million through 2013.
Jonathan Papelbon is the only MLB reliever assured to earn more next season. Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano will probably join him north of the $10 million mark, but Marmol clearly isn't of the same caliber.
Since his lone All-Star summer of 2008, the Chicago Cubs closer has issued 210 walks in 281 innings.
Anthony Rizzo's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Rizzo starred in his first dozen Cubs games, helping the team to a 8-4 record.
He came back down the Earth after the All-Star break, but looked every bit like a legitimate, middle-of-the-order slugger.
Adam Dunn's contract: $30 million through 2014.
Dunn rediscovered his power stroke last season with 41 home runs—his highest total since 2004. He also led the American League with 105 walks.
However, the 33-year-old is a terrible fielder and baserunner who struggles to put balls in play.
Chris Sale's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Along with Jake Peavy, he's one of the two most valuable members of the White Sox pitching staff.
Biggest difference? Sale will earn a six-figure salary in 2013, while Peavy will make $14.5 million.
Joey Votto's contract: $235 million through 2023 with 2024 team option ($20 million or $7 million buyout).
Votto is in the conversation for best hitter in Major League Baseball, but will that be the case a decade from now?
His annual salary gradually inflates, eventually peaking in 2018 at $25 million. It stays there through his age-39 season.
Mat Latos' contract: $4.6 million projection, via Matt Swartz (first-time arbitration eligible).
The right-hander pretty much duplicated his 2011 stats in his debut season with the Cincinnati Reds.
However, he did it while transitioning from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the bandbox of Great American Ballpark.
Chris Perez's contract: $7.2 million projection via Matt Swartz (third-time arbitration eligible).
If that arbitration projection is accurate, Perez will be the highest-paid Cleveland Indians pitcher in 2013.
A small-market team cannot bestow that honor on a run-of-the-mill closer, particularly such an outspoken one.
Carlos Santana's contract: $18.3 million through 2016 with 2017 team option ($12 million or $1.2 million buyout).
His powerful bat and patient approach are well worth such money. It doesn't matter whether he catches, mans first base or serves as designated hitter.
Troy Tulowitzki's contract: $140 million through 2020 with 2021 team option ($15 million or $4 million buyout).
Tulo can be terrific enough to miss time on the disabled list and still factor into the NL MVP race.
But during the 2008 and 2012 seasons, for example, his performance when healthy wasn't all that impressive.
He's just starting to earn eight-figure salaries, and there is no reason to believe he'll ever be a durable player.
Wilin Rosario's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Even with inflated stats from the high altitude, Rosario provides great bang for the buck. His slugging percentage was second-best on the Colorado Rockies, and he reached it a premium defensive position.
Prince Fielder's contract: $191 million through 2020.
The Detroit Tigers have decided to live with his mediocre fielding for the time being.
Fielder's monstrous deal could become a huge issue in roster construction if his excessive weight leads to knee problems.
Austin Jackson's contract: $3.1 million projection via Matt Swartz (first-time arbitration eligible).
He covers so much ground at vast Comerica Park and has blossomed into an outstanding leadoff hitter.
Jed Lowrie's contract: $1.9 million projection, via Matt Swartz (second-time arbitration eligible).
Lowrie is overpaid by default. The Houston Astros dealt all of his pricier, veteran teammates last summer to replenish the farm system.
He'll actually be a great bargain in 2013 if able to avoid the disabled list.
Jose Altuve's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Altuve is arguably their most marketable individual, not to mention the top offensive player in the lineup.
Jeff Francoeur's contract: $6.75 million through 2013.
Top prospect Wil Myers could provide better right-field production for the league minimum.
Francoeur's lack of plate discipline has always limited his offensive impact. Plus, his defensive skills are ill-suited for Kauffman Stadium.
Salvador Perez's contract: $6.25 million through 2016 with team options for 2017 ($3.75 million), 2018 ($5 million) and 2019 ($6 million).
A meniscus tear sidelined Perez until early July last season. Otherwise, he would have emerged as an AL All-Star(.301/.328/.471, 11 HR after return).
Under the terms of his current contract, K.C. will save boatloads of cash during his arbitration years.
Vernon Wells' contract: $42 million through 2014.
Unless the Los Angeles Angels consummate a trade, Wells will be the highest-paid reserve outfielder in baseball history.
His only playing time could come as a late-game defensive replacement for Mark Trumbo or an occasional designated hitter.
Mike Trout's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
The league's most outstanding all-around player takes this honor easily.
Carl Crawford's contract: $102.5 million through 2017.
The most reasonably-priced years of his mega deal are gone, along with his reputation as an elite player. Guys so dependent on speed to succeed generally don't age gracefully.
Kenley Jansen's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
He addressed his heart problems with surgery on Oct. 23. Jansen could have extraordinary value with 70-plus relief appearances in a season.
Ricky Nolasco's contract: $11.5 million through 2013.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Nolasco provided more wins above replacement in 2008 than he has in four seasons since.
He has regressed from strikeout artist to underwhelming finesse pitcher.
Giancarlo Stanton's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
The Miami Marlins better enjoy him while they can afford him.
Stanton's power hitting will eventually get him a lot of love from the arbitration panel or a generous contract extension from another club.
Rickie Weeks' contract: $21 million through 2014 with 2015 vesting option ($11.5 million).
Poor contact ability will always limit his batting average.
He's only the fourth-best second baseman in the NL Central, trailing Darwin Barney, Brandon Phillips and Neil Walker.
Norichika Aoki's contract: $1.25 million for 2013 with 2014 team option ($1.5 million or $250,000 buyout).
The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year candidate is locked into a reserve outfielder's contract.
His left-handed bat helps balance the lineup. Mild platoon splits make him worth starting on a daily basis.
Joe Mauer's contract: $138 million through 2018.
The local hero agreed to an extension coming off a fluky season. He had launched 28 home runs and led the American League in all triple-slash categories.
In reality, Mauer isn't a power hitter or a full-time catcher.
Glen Perkins' contract: $10.3 million through 2015 with 2016 team option ($4.5 million or $300,000 buyout).
He's an elite southpaw reliever who can retire opposition of either handedness.
Perkins will earn $10 million over the next three years, but could get nearly that much in average annual value on the open market.
What a discount!
Johan Santana's contract: $25.5 million through 2013 with 2014 team option ($25 million or $5.5 million buyout).
The oft-injured ace will make more than Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia or any other MLB pitcher next summer.
The New York Mets aren't guaranteed quantity or quality from Santana, who has become increasingly hittable since arriving in the Senior Circuit.
R.A. Dickey's contract: $5 million through 2013.
At a fraction of the cost, Dickey is the team's true rotation leader. He has the NL Cy Young Award to prove it.
Alex Rodriguez's contract: $118 million with milestone incentives through 2017.
The New York Yankees haven't even finished paying his signing bonus!
A-Rod's front-loaded deal will gradually demand less of an annual commitment, but he still attracts a lot of negative attention.
David Robertson's contract: $2.7 million projection via Matt Swartz (second-time arbitration eligible).
Robertson is a dominant set-up man who could slide into the closer's role should the Mariano Rivera contract negotiations break down.
Coco Crisp's contract: $7 million through 2013 with 2014 team option ($7.5 million or $1 million buyout).
A three-team trade earlier this offseason brought Chris Young west, effectively pushing Crisp out of an everyday job.
This is the Vernon Wells dilemma on a much smaller scale.
However, considering the Oakland Athletics' payroll restrictions, it's nonetheless a major concern.
Josh Reddick's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Reddick might be the top pre-arbitration-eligible player on a club with many great candidates.
With improved plate discipline, he'll be a perennial All-Star.
Ryan Howard's contract: $95 million through 2016 with 2017 team option ($23 million or $10 million buyout).
The first baseman is a liability by every statistical measure that doesn't involve home run totals. He's just painful to watch in most instances.
No other existing contract guarantees so much—in terms of years and salary—to a player who contributes in such a limited capacity.
Carlos Ruiz's contract: $5 million through 2013.
The late bloomer is on the verge of a well-deserved pay raise.
Wandy Rodriguez's contract: $13 million through 2013 with 2014 player option ($13 million or $2.5 million opt out).
The Pittsburgh Pirates know what to expect from Rodriguez.
He doesn't stifle opposing lineups on any given night, but he'll give a quality start about two-thirds of the time (via Baseball-Reference.com).
Neil Walker's contract: $2.9 million projection via Matt Swartz (first-time arbitration eligible).
Great offensive production from a middle infielder, especially after taking stadium factors into account. Take Walker away from PNC Park and he'd emerge as an all-around stud at second base.
Carlos Quentin's contract: $27 million through 2015 with 2016 mutual option ($10 million or $3 million buyout).
On the plus side, Quentin brings power to an otherwise thin batting order.
But he has also never played more than 131 games in a season or been able to adequately field his position.
Cameron Maybin's contract: $23 million through 2016 with 2017 team option ($9 million or $1 million buyout).
Despite the drop in OPS, the San Diego Padres shouldn't be complaining.
Maybin's baserunning and defense alone validate the terms of his team-friendly contract. Any offense just sweetens the deal.
Barry Zito's contract: $20 million through 2013 with 2014 team option ($18 million or $7 million buyout).
San Francisco Giants fans can always reminisce about his clutch NLCS performance and solid encore in the World Series.
Unfortunately, they will soon be reminded that he's a league-average arm making top dollar.
Buster Posey's contract: $5.9 million projection, via Matt Swartz (first-time arbitration eligible).
Even if his earnings in arbitration exceed the projection, the Giants will underpay for one of baseball's top talents.
Chone Figgins' contract: $8 million in 2013 with 2014 vesting option ($9 million).
Right on cue, the Seattle Mariners have designated him for assignment.
Figgins spent three years in the Pacific Northwest, averaging an anemic .227/.302/.283 triple-slash line.
Tom Wilhelmsen's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
His late-game steadiness gave the M's enough peace of mind to trade away surplus arms last July. The return packages helped them address other needs.
The right-hander is still two seasons away from respectable earnings.
Rafael Furcal's contract: $7 million through 2013.
Derek Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Furcal's nagging elbow injury has completely healed.
Still, how can the St. Louis Cardinals expect durability from a veteran who has played just one full season in the past five years? Plus, his pedestrian 100 OPS+ over that span doesn't justify his salary.
Jon Jay's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
Between Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, the Cardinals have a lot of money tied up in their position players.
Jay affects the game to a great extent too, but at a negligible payroll hit.
James Shields' contract: $9 million in 2013 with 2014 team option ($12 million or $1 million buyout).
This goes to show you how financially-strapped the Tampa Bay Rays are.
Shields is a bargain for any other team, yet considered a poor allocation of funds to the frugal Rays.
Ben Zobrist's contract: $5.5 million through 2013 with team options for 2014 ($7 million or $2.5 million buyout) and 2015 ($7.5 million or $500,000 buyout).
His patient philosophy and defensive versatility make Zobrist indispensable.
Even though he'll never be the face of this franchise, he'll continue to be the primary reason that it contends with high spenders in the AL East.
Michael Young's contract: $16 million through 2013.
The tenured leader of the Texas Rangers hurt his team last season just by being his usual healthy self. His career-worst .682 OPS was unfathomable for anyone who plays half their contests in the dry Texas climate.
He sporadically spelled Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre at second base and third base, respectively, but Young's performance is least detrimental when he serves as designated hitter.
Matt Harrison's contract: $6.1 million projection, via Matt Swartz (second-time arbitration eligible).
Overshadowed by C.J. Wilson in 2011 and most recently by Yu Darvish, Harrison is the unheralded star of Texas' pitching staff.
None of the other starters came close to his 213.1 IP.
Jose Reyes' contract: $92 million through 2017 with 2018 team option ($22 million or $4 million buyout).
His back-loaded deal will severely limit the Toronto Blue Jays in free agency later this decade.
Reyes won't be an elite player once his legs wear down, and nothing expedites the aging process like artificial turf.
Brett Lawrie's contract: league minimum (pre-arbitration eligible).
The soon-to-be 23-year-old is a fierce competitor with an exceptional glove at the hot corner.
With all his tools, don't be surprised to see Lawrie make a larger impact than any of Toronto's new, high-profile acquisitions.
Jayson Werth's contract: $99 million through 2017.
Signing with the Washington Nationals two years ago changed the expectations for all free-agent outfielders.
Werth isn't an elite player, though his stats actually looked pretty good during an injury-riddled 2012 campaign (.300/.387/.440 in 344 PA).
Bryce Harper's contract: $5.15 million through 2015.
There's no ceiling for Harper, who excelled at the major league level as a teenager.
Excellent bat speed. Ideal physical build. Blazing speed.
The next step is for him to play more "under control" and avoid unnecessary risks.