20 Worst Contracts in MLB
Over the past couple of years, bidding wars have forced general managers into overpaying for some of the league’s top talent. As a result, we have seen many bad contracts handed out to undeserving players.
Whether it’s miscalculating a player’s value, overlooking a pre-existing injury or not realizing the true market value for the player, teams often tend to spend more than they need to. Whether it be a one-year deal or a ten-year deal, overpaying is overpaying.
Often times, it’s tough to judge whether a player has lived up to the contract that he was given before the contract expires, but we will try to do that right here.
Here are the 20 worst contracts currently in Major League Baseball.
For those excluded from this list, please put the player who you feel has a bad contract in the comment’s section below.
*All contract information and figures were retrieved from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.*
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Contract Details: 8 years, $184 million (Signed in March 2010)
Right after the Minnesota Twins went all-in on Joe Mauer, he repaid them by playing 82 games in 2011—and no, this was not a lockout-shortened season.
Lower leg issues were the cause of Mauer’s absence and lackluster play during the first year of this monster contract. He picked up his play this past season, but it’s questionable if he’ll ever return to his 2009 form when he won the American League MVP Award.
Mauer is no longer a full-time catcher, as he now splits time between this position and first base. At the time, his deal was the largest ever for a catcher, but by the time his contract expires, he’ll no longer be a catcher of any sort.
Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
Contract Details: 9 years, $214 million (Signed in January 2012)
Despite being the highest-paid player on the Detroit Tigers, Prince Fielder is far from the best player on the roster. In fact, he’s probably the third-best player on the team behind Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.
Fielder may have hit more consistently after coming over to the Tigers from the Brewers last season, but he did so without showing off his power. Fielder saw a significant decrease in home runs and RBI while his walk rate declined—mainly due to protecting Cabrera in front of him.
Fielder was considerably worse in the field and wasn’t as productive overall as he had been in Milwaukee. With an average annual value of around $24 million, it should be expected that Fielders’ overall game would have gotten better with the switch to the American League and a better club.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Contract Details: 10 years, $275 million (Signed in December 2007)
Alex Rodriguez has been on quite the downward slide over the last couple of seasons with the Bronx Bombers. After being relatively productive in his first few years as a member of the New York Yankees, Rodriguez has been anything but throughout the past two years.
Rodriguez has failed to play in more than 140 games over the past four seasons and no more than 122 in the past two. He also hasn’t hit over .300 in any of the last four years. And quite frankly, it’s not going to get much better for the aging and injury-plagued third baseman.
A-Rod is expected to miss majority of the 2013 season while recovering from hip surgery. Don’t worry Yankees fans, I’m sure he’ll bounce right back and be successful in the upcoming five seasons that he’s still under contract.
Albert Pujols, Los Angels Angels
Contract Details: 10 years, $240 million (Signed in December 2011)
It was a very disappointing start to Albert Pujols’ career with the Los Angeles Angels after 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols may have put up decent numbers, but they were nothing compared to what he did in the National League.
Last season, Pujols set career-lows in home runs, runs, walk rate, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and WAR. That’s pretty much every single notable category. So, in other words, it was not a great year for the right-handed hitting slugger.
There’s still plenty of time for Pujols to bounce back and turn his contract into one of the best in baseball, but for the time being, the Angels have one of the worst contracts in the league on their hands.
But hey, maybe Josh Hamilton hitting near him next year will improve those terrible numbers from 2012.
Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract Details: 6 years, $147 million (Signed in December 2012)
The Los Angeles Dodgers recently made a major investment in Zack Greinke, to which they beg he lives up to. Greinke was arguably the top free-agent starter on the market this offseason and the Dodgers definitely gave him a contract that reflects that.
But that does not mean that it was a great contract. A deal that pays Greinke an average of $24.5 million per year seems like a ton for a pitcher who has never won more than 16 games in a season and has only thrown 200 innings a handful of times.
I understand the necessity to add a front-line starter who is a former Cy Young Award winner, but the Dodgers overpaid here. Sure they had competition from other suitors and won the battle, but I believe that they’ll end up losing the war.
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
Contract Details: 8 years, $136 million (Signed in November 2006)
The Chicago Cubs couldn’t have been any happier with the production of Alfonso Soriano in the first year of his contract. They have, however, gotten less happy with each passing year that his contract drags on.
Despite staying consistent from the plate in categories such as home runs and RBI, he’s been on a downward spiral overall since the first year in 2007. In 2009, Soriano finished the season with a 0.0 WAR. That’s pretty bad for a guy who’s getting an average of $17 million per year.
Thankfully for the Cubs, there are only two years left on Soriano’s contract, and they might be able to get rid of him via trade before that. He’s not going to walk much and he will strike out often, but he is going to hit around 25 home runs and drive in 75-90 runs.
Still, the overall deal is one of the worst in Cubs history.
Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Contract Details: 8 years, $180 million (Signed in December 2008)
Mark Teixeira has been very inconsistent with his offense since joining the New York Yankees in 2009. He started off hot, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 122 runs in his first season with the Bronx Bombers, but slumped the next season.
Teixeira slugged another 39 long balls in 2011, but then 2012 was one of the worst years of his career. He’s also been notably bad in the postseason, which never bodes well with the New York front office. Teixeira missed some time last season with calf issues, and if that’s going to be a recurring injury over the next four seasons, then the Yankees are in trouble.
Teixeira is arguably the best defensive first baseman in baseball, but he needs to pick it up at the plate. The Yankees are going to be without Alex Rodriguez for most of 2013 and he needs to step up in the biggest of ways.
Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract Details: 7 years, $142 million (Signed in December 2010)
The Boston Red Sox made a major, major mistake when it came to signing Carl Crawford during the 2010 offseason. The entire situation could not have gone any worse for the Red Sox as the deal turned out to be one of the biggest duds in recent memory.
At the time of the deal, Crawford was coming off of yet another great season in Tampa Bay and was well deserving of a monster contract. The Red Sox won the bidding war for him and hoped for the best, but what they got was the worst. Crawford registered a 0.2 WAR in 130 games for Boston in 2011.
Crawford then missed nearly all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Crawford only had a 0.4 WAR at the time and Boston finally decided that it wasn’t going to waste its time with him. Crawford was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the more shocking trades of the past decade.
Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants
Contract Details: 7 years, $126 million, with a 2014 club option (Signed in December 2006)
Where do I even begin with this one? At the time of the signing, Barry Zito was one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, featuring arguably the best breaking ball in the game. For whatever reason, the San Francisco Giants felt that he was worth of the largest contract ever for a starting pitcher.
Boy, did that one backfire.
Zito was an instant letdown. He went 31-43 in his first three seasons with the Giants, posting ERAs above 4.00 in each season. The next two years weren’t much better, as his ERA was all over the place and he was still losing more than he was winning.
Finally, 2012 showed a little promise, but it was still too little, too late. Zito finished the season at 15-8 with his second-lowest ERA since joining the Giants. It wasn’t necessarily his best year in San Francisco, but it was far from the worst.
With 11 more losses than wins in his Giants career, Giants GM Brian Sabean has to be counting the days until Zito’s off the payroll.
Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels
Contract Details: 7 years, $126 million (Signed in December 2006)
Vernon Wells was coming off of the best season of his career when the Toronto Blue Jays decided to give him a big extension. The extension turned out to be a nightmare, as Wells was horrendous the following season in nearly every aspect of the game.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays—and Wells I suppose—it wasn’t a one-year fluke. Wells struggled and struggled until 2010, when he finally found his stroke again. He slugged 31 home runs and drove in 88 runs to drastically increase his trade value.
And that’s exactly what the Blue Jays did by trading Wells to the Los Angeles Angels. And luckily for Toronto—and not Los Angeles—Wells was a disaster once again.
He’s barely done much of anything these past two seasons and is currently the fourth outfielder on the Angels’ roster. A salary of $18 million is a lot to pay a player to sit on the bench.
Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
Contract Details: 7 years, $126 million (Signed in December 2010)
These seven-year, $126 million contracts don’t seem to be working out for many teams, but that dis not seem to matter to the Washington Nationals when they signed Jayson Werth. Werth was coming off of three straight productive seasons for the Phillies at the time of the signing, and since the Nationals wanted an impact outfielder, they paid for one.
Werth was a bit of a disappointment in his first year with the Nationals, and then this past season, Werth fractured his forearm, which caused him to miss a good chunk of the season.
Werth came back and helped Washington win the National League East and play into the postseason, but overall, he wasn’t very productive. He still has plenty of time left to prove me wrong, but for now, it looks like most of Washington’s money has gone down the drain.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
Contract Details: 5 years, $125 million (Signed in April 2010)
Ever since signing the dotted line on his new contract, Ryan Howard has been a disappointment. He had previously been the star of the Philadelphia Phillies and an MVP contender each year, but this has not been true since agreeing to a five-year deal to keep him in Philly through 2017.
Howard managed to hit 64 home runs through the first two years of his new deal, but several aspects of his game decreased dramatically. His fielding was drastically worse and he was no longer very consistent at the plate. He still had his power, but he had a total WAR of 3.1 during the first few years.
What then doomed Howard was tearing his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2011 season, which caused him to miss the first chunk of 2012. When he returned to the everyday lineup, Howard was striking out considerably more, and he clearly wasn’t the slugger that he used to be. He finished the 2012 season with a -1.0 WAR.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Contract Details: 2 years, $40.5 million (Signed in January 2012)
The San Francisco Giants would have been better off going to arbitration and trying to defeat Tim Lincecum instead of going the route that they did. Lincecum was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Giants felt that it made sense to pay him like an ace, so they gave him around $20 million per year for two years.
What ended up happening was that Lincecum put together the worst season of his professional career. In 2012, he went 10-15 in 33 starts, posting an ERA of 5.18 over 186 innings of work. Lincecum had been shaky the entire year, to say the least, and the Giants didn’t want to take any chances going into the postseason.
So the Giants yanked their most expensive player out of the starting rotation and put him into the bullpen. Lincecum actually thrived in that role and helped the Giants win the World Series, but that’s way too much money to give to someone throwing in relief.
San Francisco is going to be kicking itself if Lincecum doesn’t get it together this upcoming season.
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates
Contract Details: 5 years, $82.5 million (Signed in December 2008)
A.J. Burnett was never fit to pitch in New York, but the Yankees disregarded that factor and signed him to a big five-year deal anyway. Burnett crumbled early and often, causing many Yankees fans to become irate each time that he stepped on the mound.
Burnett was average in his first season in New York, going 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA, but it went downhill thereafter. Burnett would go 21-26 during the next two seasons with high ERAs and high walk rates. In his three years with the Yankees, in which he earned a total around $50 million, his WAR was only 6.2.
The Yankees decided to ditch Burnett and ship him off to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burnett was able to pitch well for Pittsburgh last season, but was not the ace that they needed to make a strong push toward the postseason. He did improve his walk rate and ERA, but it still wasn’t enough.
Even with a year left on his deal, there’s nothing Burnett can do to make this contract look even remotely positive.
Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox*
Contract Details: 3 years, $39 million (Signed in December 2012)
So the contract that the Boston Red Sox and Mike Napoli agreed to in December has yet to be finalized, but it could still turn out to be one of the worst deals that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington ever makes.
Napoli has always been an up-and-down player. He could be great one season and unnoticeable the next, and you just don’t know what you’re going to get from him. But that didn’t deter the Red Sox, who were looking for him to be their starting first baseman, despite the fact that he has primarily been a catcher throughout his career.
However, the Red Sox saw something during his physical that has stopped the deal from being completed, but they are still working to sign him. It’s apparent that his hip is the issue, but as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported, no one really knows when it could become a problem.
If the Red Sox complete this deal with no agreement or clause regarding missed time due to injury, then it will be an awful decision.
Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract Details: 4 years, $68 million (Signed in April 2010)
The Boston Red Sox paid Josh Beckett to be the ace that they felt he was. Beckett had thrown several successful seasons for the Red Sox since coming over from Florida in 2006 and Boston wanted to keep him longer than originally expected.
Early in the 2010 season—the first year of his new deal—Beckett missed 56 games with lower back troubles. He only started 21 games that season and wasn’t overly impressive. His walk rate was incredibly high and his ERA rose even more quickly.
Beckett bounced back the following season to put together a nice campaign, but his shoulder would be an issue the next year. Beckett missed around 25 games with tightness and inflammation in his throwing shoulder.
Boston finally gave up on the right-hander and dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the 2012 season.
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
Contract Details: 5 years, $77.5 million (Signed in December 2011)
Looking to buy a championship team during the 2011 offseason, the Los Angeles Angels believed that C.J. Wilson was the perfect left-hander to pitch behind ace Jered Weaver. After all, Wilson had pitched well since becoming a starter in 2010, and the Angels thought that he could replicate those numbers with a different team in the same division.
Wilson threw over 200 innings and won 13 games in his first season in Los Angeles, but walked a ton of people, didn’t strike out many batters and allowed a bunch of runs to score. This 2012 campaign was easily the worst year of his career as a starting pitcher, posting a 2.5 WAR.
It was only the first year of Wilson’s deal, so there’s still time for him to have an ace-like season. By paying him around $15.5 million per year, I’m sure the Angels expect him to be winning more than 13 games each season.
Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
Contract Details: 4 years, $56 million (Signed in December 2010)
Not many deals that the Chicago White Sox make end up being bad ones, but Adam Dunn is a prime example of one deal that went terribly wrong.
In Dunn’s first season in Chicago, he hit just 11 home runs—the fewest in his career playing any number of games. He struck out more than 35 percent of time and finished the season hitting .159/.191/.277—a horrendous line whether you’re making $14 or $14 million.
This past season for Dunn was much different. Still, there’s a difference between hitting home runs and being productive. In 2012, Dunn just hit home runs. He smashed 41 balls out of the park while driving in 96 runs, but still hit .204 and was a defensive liability. He finished the year off with a 1.7 WAR, which was much better than the -3.0 WAR that he posted a year prior, but he was still not very good.
Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract Details: 7 years, $154 million (Signed in April 2011)
After acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres, the Boston Red Sox wanted to make sure that he was going to stay with them for the foreseeable future. They signed him to a huge extension, expecting that he was to become an MVP contender in the American League and help the Red Sox win a World Series.
Gonzalez was successful in his first year in Boston, posting career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. But he struggled down the stretch—as the whole team did—and Boston ended up missing the postseason, despite having a healthy lead in the division for most of the season.
After a slow start to 2012, the Red Sox started to consider their options. They had just paid Gonzalez a ton to be the first baseman of the future and didn’t know what he would be able to do going forward. He was good, but they felt that they may have overpaid for gim. So they shipped Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and forgot about ever giving him that extension.
John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
Contract Details: 5 years, $82.5 million, plus 2015 option (Signed in December 2009)
John Lackey has been one of the worst acquisitions that the Boston Red Sox have ever made. He had been somewhat successful for the Los Angeles Angels and with a need for a frontline starter, Boston landed the right-hander.
In Lackey’s first season in Boston, he posted the highest ERA of his career since 2004. He won just 14 games in 33 starts and was hard to watch on the mound considering how many batters he was walking. The 2011 season was just as ugly for him; as the walks increased, his ERA increased and his win percentage went out the window.
Lackey then underwent Tommy John surgery that offseason and missed the entire 2012 campaign. With two years left on his deal, the Red Sox would be more than happy to get him off their books at any moment. However, due to his recent elbow injury, the team option for 2015 can now be picked up at the MLB veteran's minimum salary, so at least there is a silver lining.