Ranking the Most Horrendous Contracts in Baseball Today
In the world of professional sports, baseball specializes in horrendous, long-term contracts to older, declining players.
The NFL has non-guaranteed pacts and the NBA collective bargaining agreement has restrictions on max deals to go along with a salary cap. Major League Baseball teams on the other hand, outside of a $189 million luxury tax, have little incentive to persuade teams from handing out startling deals.
Due to revenue increases from attendance and media deals, the sport is flush with cash. Once agents became privy to this boon, baseball players demanded their rightful piece of the pie.
Of course, with the exception of some great older players like David Ortiz and Barry Bonds, baseball players are far, far more valuable before they reach free agency than in the ensuing seasons following the signing of a lucrative contract.
As the cloud of Biogenesis and dwindling performance hang over the greats of yesterday, their paychecks will continue to swell.
Here is a ranking of the seven worst contracts in baseball today.
All statistics from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. All contract figures from Spotrac.com
7. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Contract: Four years/$50 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $26 million guaranteed, $39 if option year is vested
While Papelbon may be regretting his move to Philadelphia prior to the 2012 season, his employer should be the one more concerned about their long-term investment in the reliever.
As the Phillies have crumbled, so has Papelbon's value as a lockdown closer. Rebuilding teams have little room for high-paid, loudmouth players, especially those who are declining by the minute.
During Papelbon's time as a championship closer in Boston, he was a strikeout machine in the late innings. Now, as a 32-year-old, his skills are declining. At some point, the $26 million left on Papelbon's deal could become a colossal waste of money for Philadelphia.
From 2006-2012, Papelbon averaged 10.8 K/9. His ability to miss bats, while limiting walks and home runs allowed him become one of the top relievers in the sport. In 2013, Papelbon is showing decline, specifically in his strikeout rate and velocity.
With a K/9 down to 8.0 and average fastball velocity (via FanGraphs) dipping to 92.4, Papelbon can no longer be considered dominant.
For Philadelphia, they are paying top dollar for a closer trending downward.
6. Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Contract: Five years/$85 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $67.5 million guaranteed
The 31-year-old outfielder was overpaid the instant Los Angeles extended this contract last summer, but the problem has only grown over the past year.
When Ethier signed his pact, Yasiel Puig was barely on the radar in professional baseball and Carl Crawford was roaming the outfield in Boston. Now, the Dodgers have an unnecessary surplus of highly paid stars on long-term contracts in their outfield
Ethier's decline is stark, but should have been obvious. Despite his OPS falling year after year, the Dodgers chose to ignore what was plain to see last summer.
Since his breakout 2008, the following are Ethier's slugging percentages: .510, .508, .493, .421, .460 to this year's paltry .396. Against opposing left-handed pitchers, the former 30-plus home run hitter is slugging .357 in 2013.
Essentially, the Dodgers spending spree has left them with a declining, platoon player taking up a roster space and leaving the front office with a major headache to address in the winter.
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees
Contract: Eight years/$180 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $67.5 million
When Mark Teixeira told the Wall Street Journal that he knew that he was declining as a player, it seemed like he was setting 2013 up as a season for him to provide the Yankees with some value before age and decline truly set in to his career.
Of course, that didn't work out very well. Teixeira landed on the disabled list in June with a season-ending wrist injury, laying waste to another year of his massive contract.
During Tex's last year before hitting free agency, the defensive wizard and power-hitting first baseman provided the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels—following a mid-season trade— a 7.8 WAR.
Upon signing with New York in 2009, the expectation of power, defense and on-base mastery came with the $180 million pact. In 2009, while helping New York to 103 regular season wins and a World Series title, he delivered by finishing second in the AL MVP vote and taking home Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and All-Star nods.
Now, he'll enter 2014 as a 34-year-old with a .786 OPS and multiple injuries over the past two seasons.
Things could get ugly at first base for the Yankees over the next three seasons.
4. Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Contract: Five years/$125 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $106 million
From 2008-2012, Josh Hamilton hit 142 home runs, posted a 137 OPS+, made five American League All-Star teams and took home the 2010 AL MVP.
At the age of 31, Los Angles signed him away from their division rival last winter, expecting his powerful bat and athleticism to pair with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in a relentless and powerful offensive attack.
Thus far, it's been a flop.
With Hamilton hitting just .220/.273/.407, his production has been 10 percent worse than the league average.
Coupled with declining defensive metrics, average baserunning and time spent at the designated hitter position, Hamilton's performance has actually cost Los Angles victories this season.
For a player that averaged a 4.4 WAR in Texas, the -0.2 mark in 2013 is a black eye for his future in Los Angeles.
3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees
Contract: 10 years/$275 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $86 million
In a way, Alex Rodriguez's impending suspension makes this albatross look slightly better. For as long as Rodriguez is suspended, the Yankees can wipe his salary off the books, potentially recouping millions of dollars that were assumed to be sunken costs.
The Yankees have no one to blame but themselves for handing Rodriguez his second $200-plus million contract in the aftermath of his 2007 MVP campaign and contract opt-out.
In fact, if A-Rod had not opted out after 2007, instead staying with New York through 2010, the Yankees would have efficiently squeezed the last ounces of stardom left in his declining body.
Now, with the specter of Biogenesis hovering over the team and player, the amount of money owed to the three-time MVP will be a glaring concern for New York when and if Rodriguez can play again.
Ironically, if taken in context, A-Rod's first $200-plus million deal was a reasonable and measured contract for the production—.299/.394/.577, 150 OPS+, 424 home runs, 71.6 bWAR, three MVP's, 1 World Series title—he provided.
2. Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
Contract: Five years/$125 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $85 million
Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. should have held all the leverage in contract-extension negotiations with Ryan Howard in 2010, as Howard still had two years left before he was set to hit free agency. Instead, the franchise paid Howard for what he was worth at the moment, rather than looking at what he might become down the line.
During Howard's first four full seasons, he blasted 198 home runs, finished in the top 5 of MVP voting every season and helped Philadelphia reach two World Series.
Of course, due to being a late bloomer and being stuck behind Jim Thome in the Philadelphia organization, those Howard seasons happened to be his prime.
Essentially, the Phillies committed $125 million to a player in his prime, but the contract didn't even begin for two more years. Thus, we have a one-dimensional first baseman who has seen his home run totals drop from 58 in 2006 to back-to-back totals of 14 and 11, respectively, the last two seasons.
Three more years of low batting averages, high strikeouts and limited power could make Howard the most reviled athlete in Philadelphia.
That, of course, isn't fair.
If anyone should be held accountable, it's a general manager who goofed when offering a limited player a ridiculous deal.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Contract: 10 years/$250 million
Commitment beyond 2013: $222 million
There is no debate.
For as embarrassed as the Yankees are about Alex Rodriguez or how depressed Phillies fans may be about the fall of Ryan Howard or how ridiculous the Dodgers look for paying Andre Ethier, the Angels take the cake here.
Pujols, one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball, is rapidly declining. With the news that his foot injury will likely sideline him for the rest of the 2013 season, here are the numbers the Angels have received from Pujols during the first two years of his mega-deal: .275/.338/.485, 6.4 WAR.
Remember, these were supposed to be the big years, with decline inevitably coming way, way down the line.
For mere mortals, Pujols' 130 OPS+ since arriving in Los Angeles isn't bad at all, but for a guy who posted a 170 OPS+ for a decade in St. Louis, it's a stark decline.
Now, as his athleticism declines by the year, the Angels will have to rely on Pujols to provide major value with only his bat. If he can maintain his 2012 and 2013 levels for the next five to six years, the Angels would probably accept that outcome.
If he continues to rapidly decline, the franchise could be crippled by 2016.
Agree? Disagree? How would your list look?
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