The notion of ranking the worst contracts in baseball today can be an arduous task. In reality, to each their own. While most baseball fans should agree that paying closer Jonathan Papelbon big money while declining on a losing team is ludicrous, Philadelphia Phillies fans will be happy to have him if he gets big outs in October of 2014 or 2015.
Of course, naming bad contracts is easy. Distinguishing why one bad contract is worse than another is considerably more difficult.
In the context of public relations, no one has given their team more headaches compared to dollars owed than Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. With the specter of Biogenesis, an impending suspension, he said/she said antics and unsanctioned interviews and medical visits, the last month in the Yankees' soap opera has been enough to make the franchise regret the 10-year, $275 million contract handed him after he won the 2007 American League MVP award.
However, every day day that passes in 2013 leads the Yankees closer and closer to the end of their mistake and albatross. If Bud Selig has his way, Rodriguez won't be seeing his paychecks for a good portion, if not all, of that contract.
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Angels have their own contract mistake. In reality, they are dealing with multiple mistakes. Yet it's Albert Pujols' 10-year, $240 million deal that takes the cake as baseball's worst.
As highlighted here, Pujols' production since arriving in Los Angeles, when taking into account the suppressed run scoring environment in baseball and pitcher's park where the Angels play, hasn't been horrendous. Of course, that's in comparison to the rest of the sport. When looking at Pujols' last two seasons in the shadow of his decade of dominance in St. Louis, the decline is sharp and scary for Angels owner Arte Moreno.
At the age of 33, Pujols isn't getting any younger, quicker or more agile. His value at first base, once very high, is diminishing by the day. His once superior baserunning skills are almost non-existent. His durability, averaging 155 games per year from 2001-2012, is gone with a season-ending foot injury that may hamper him for the rest of his career.
While A-Rod has gone through similar, if not worse, ailments while watching his production fall, Pujols' contract makes his the worst in baseball for two distinct reasons: Early return on investment and time remaining.
It's easy to forget now, but A-Rod, despite the early 2009 admission of steroid use and hip surgery, was still quite the valuable player for the first two years (2008 and 2009) of his pact. Upon returning from surgery in May of 2009, Rodriguez helped carry the Yankees to 103 wins, an AL East title and — through an October of greatness — to a World Series victory.
On the other hand, the Angels, through some—yet not all—of Pujols' doing, are headed toward two straight October-less campaigns with their new first baseman. Upon handing him $240 million, there was a sense that the back end of the deal would give diminishing returns and bring down the overall effectiveness of the club. Instead, that's happened from the jump.
Pujols likely has finished this year with a slash line of .258/.330/.437 with just 17 home runs and 64 RBI — by far the worst of his esteemed career. This follows up on another down year last season in Los Angeles where he hit .285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI — clearly not terrible, but also not St. Louis-Pujols numbers. With the Cardinals, his worst year came in 2011 when he hit .299/.366/.541 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI.
Even if A-Rod isn't suspended, or, more likely, wins an appeal to reverse a lengthy suspension, his pact is over in 2017. Four more years of a declining third baseman with bad hips is a poor scene for the New York Yankees, but Pujols' pact still has eight more years to go in which he'll make at least $23 million per year.
To put that in perspective, here are a list of things that will happen in the sport before the end of the 2021 season: Mike Trout will turn 30, Vladimir Guerrero and Jorge Posada will, if not already elected, enter the Hall of Fame ballot for the fifth time and the Tampa Bay Rays will be just five years from the end of their lease at Tropicana Field.
Yet Albert Pujols will be owed $30 million by the Los Angeles Angels in 2021.
As his value diminishes, the cost of wins continues to rise in Major League Baseball. In other words, if Pujols can provide something of substance to the Angels later in his career, the contract will be bad, but not overwhelmingly horrible.
However, if he continues on the path put forth since arriving in L.A. prior to 2012, he'll barely be a functioning hitter by 2018.
It's hard to imagine anything about the sport eight years from now other than an old, slow Albert Pujols taking four swings a night at the bottom of the Angels lineup.
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