Ranking the MLB Offseason's 15 Largest Contracts from Best to Worst

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 12, 2014

Ranking the MLB Offseason's 15 Largest Contracts from Best to Worst

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    It's not easy trying to rank the MLB offseason's 15 largest contracts from best to worst.

    After all, how do you compare a contract for nearly a quarter-billion dollars to a $25 million deal? Nearly every contract that makes this list is either an overpay in terms of years or dollars.

    However, the agreements that tend to work out the best are the ones that provide teams with the biggest impact on the field while minimizing long-term financial exposure. In other words, the shorter the deal, the better it tends to work out.

    With these considerations in mind, here's a ranking of the MLB offseason's 15 largest contracts from best to worst.

     

    Note: Stats via Baseball-Reference.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

Mike Napoli

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    Contract Details: Two years, $32 million

    The brilliance of the Boston Red Sox deal with Mike Napoli is that it's just two years long. 

    Last season, Napoli was a key component for the World Series winners. The first baseman hit .259/.360/.482 with 23 home runs, a career-best 38 doubles and a 4.1 WAR.

    The biggest risk in re-signing Napoli, of course, is that he has a degenerative condition in his hips, as he revealed last offseason.

    However, since the Red Sox are on the hook for just two years, concerns over Napoli's long-term health aren't particularly pressing.

Tim Hudson

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Two years, $23 million

    Tim Hudson is one of five starters on the list, and he's the only one who signed for less than three years.

    That's good business for the San Francisco Giants because the veteran right-hander is arguably the most effective starter on the list.

    The red flag for Hudson, of course, is that he's rebounding from a broken right ankle that cut his 2013 season short in July. Before that injury, though, Hudson enjoyed a characteristically strong season, as he went 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.

    For the Giants, Hudson will provide strong veteran leadership in the clubhouse, and he will also be an excellent No. 3 starter behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

Brian McCann

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Five years, $85 million (plus a $15 million club option for 2019)

    Left-handed-hitting Brian McCann will be an ideal fit at Yankee Stadium with its 314-foot porch in right field.

    However, there are questions as to just how long the catcher, who turns 30 in February, will stay behind the plate. Even if he only remains a full-time catcher for the first three years of the deal, though, McCann will provide plenty of value.

    It's worth noting that McCann hasn't racked up 500 at-bats in a season since the 2008 campaign. Splitting time between catcher and the designated hitter's spot will allow him to stay in the lineup far more consistently.

    That means even though his defensive value will fall off, McCann will be a key offensive contributor throughout the life of his five-year deal.

Carlos Beltran

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Three years, $45 million

    The Yankees clearly took a risk in extending Carlos Beltran a three-year deal.

    The switch-hitter will be 39 for the majority of the final season of the agreement. As a result, there are serious concerns as to whether the eight-time All-Star will be able to maintain his high level of play as he advances into his late 30s.

    It's worth noting, though, that Beltran has played in at least 142 games in each of the past three seasons. With the Yankees, Beltran can shuffle between the outfield and the DH spot and should still be able to log about 140 games per season.

    Ultimately, the deal will be judged on postseason production. If Beltran can bring a World Series title to the Bronx with his career 1.128 OPS in the playoffs, there will be zero complaints about this contract.

Ricky Nolasco

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Four years, $49 million (plus $13 million vesting option for 2018)

    Last year, the Minnesota Twins' starting rotation allowed the most runs in all of baseball.

    The addition of Ricky Nolasco will definitely help correct that problem. Splitting time with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, Nolasco posted a respectable 13-11 record with a 3.70 ERA.

    The right-hander will bring stability to the top of the rotation, but clearly the Twins still have a long way to go as they climb back into contention in the AL Central. In that sense, the fact that Nolasco will be around for four seasons works out perfectly.

Jhonny Peralta

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Four years, $53 million

    Fifty-three million dollars is a lot of money to give to a player fresh off a 50-game ban for PED usage.

    Then again, the St. Louis Cardinals desperately needed an upgrade at shortstop. Last season, the team's shortstops posted a collective .583 OPS, per ESPN.com. The options this offseason were limited to Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew.

    While Peralta comes with the PED history, at least he didn't cost the Cardinals a first-round draft pick as signing Drew would have.

    General manager John Mozeliak also did an excellent job of front-loading Peralta's deal. Here's how the contract works on an annual basis:

    • 2014: $15.5 million
    • 2015: $15 million
    • 2016: $12.5 million
    • 2017: $10 million

    By structuring the deal this way, the Cardinals will be paying Peralta the most when he's likely to be producing the most. The club will also have an easier time getting out from under the contract in the final two seasons in case Peralta's production drops off.

Scott Feldman

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Three years, $30 million

    Like the Peralta deal, the Houston Astros' agreement with Scott Feldman is front-loaded. The breakdown is as follows:

    • 2014: $12 million
    • 2015: $10 million
    • 2016: $8 million

    That structure works perfectly for both the short-term and long-term needs of the club.

    In 2014, Feldman can serve as a much-needed veteran presence on an otherwise youthful staff. By 2015, when top prospects like Mark Appel should be ready to crack the rotation, the team will have a choice to make. The Astros can either keep Feldman around or use him as a trade chip, as he makes very reasonable salaries in the final two years of the deal. 

Omar Infante

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Four years, $30.25 million (plus a $10 million club option for 2018)

    Omar Infante is a solid player. In 2013, the second baseman enjoyed a huge contract year as he hit .318/.345/.450 for the Detroit Tigers. Still, a four-year, $30.25 million deal is too many years and too many dollars to hand to Infante.

    It wasn't just his production that drove up Infante's price, but also the market, or lack thereof. Outside of Robinson Cano and Infante, the free-agent class of second basemen was barren, per CBS Sports

    The Kansas City Royals' move for Infante isn't the kind of signing that will handcuff the franchise if the second baseman underperforms. However, it's also not the splash they needed to make to get past the Tigers and Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.

Curtis Granderson

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Four years, $60 million

    After injuries limited Curtis Granderson to just 61 games in 2013, it's surprising to see that he still landed a four-year deal. 

    Napoli, who is also 32, only commanded two years and about half as much money. Like the Red Sox slugger, Granderson brings the New York Mets plenty of power potential. In 2012, Granderson clubbed 43 home runs for the Yankees as he surpassed 40 long balls for a second year in a row.

    The Mets hope Granderson rediscovers that power stroke in 2014. Otherwise, this deal will become problematic fast.

Jason Vargas

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Four years, $32 million

    It's rather shocking that Jason Vargas was able to command a four-year deal on the free-agent market.

    Sure, the Royals appear to have secured a discount at $8 million per year. Then again, four years is way too long of a deal to give to such a middling pitcher.

    Last season for the Los Angeles Angels, Vargas went 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts. In both the 2012 and 2011 seasons, the left-hander did eclipse the 200-inning mark. There's certainly value in the ability to eat innings.

    However, the Royals' decision to lock up Vargas, who will be 31 to start the season, for four years remains puzzling.

Phil Hughes

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Three years, $24 million 

    Minnesota's rotation certainly needs help, but it remains to be seen if Phil Hughes will be able to provide any.

    The right-hander went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last season for the Yankees while producing a negative-0.7 WAR. That means the starter has posted a negative WAR in two of the past three seasons.

    As the former No. 23 pick in the draft, there's no doubt that Hughes has the talent to bounce back. Still, a two-year pact would have been a far safer bet for the Twins.

Carlos Ruiz

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Three years, $26 million (plus a $4.5 million club option for 2017)

    Even Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. knows that signing Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal was a risky move.

    After finalizing the agreement with the catcher, Amaro admitted to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, "Clearly this is a commitment that will be scrutinized."

    It certainly should be since Ruiz will be 37 in the third year of the deal. However, as Salisbury points out, Amaro felt compelled to offer a third year due to competition from the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies for the catcher's signature.

    Nonetheless, Amaro appears to have overpaid to retain the backstop. The Marlins managed to snag Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a three-year, $21 million deal. Saltalamacchia (.804 OPS) provided far mare offensive production than did Ruiz (.688 OPS) last season. Plus, Saltalamacchia turns just 29 in May.

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Contract Details: Seven years, $153 million (plus a $21 million club option for 2021)

    Jacoby Ellsbury is a supremely talented player.

    The problem with his new deal is that it's simply too long.

    Ellsbury has struggled to stay on the field, as he has averaged just 96 games per season over the past four years. However, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs observes, much of that missed time has been down to "accidents that could have happened to anyone."

    The Yankees appear to agree with that take. There's no questioning the production Ellsbury will provide when he's in the lineup. Still, the Yankees have assumed some major risk by signing an accident-prone player to such an extensive contract.

Shin-Soo Choo

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    Contract Details: Seven years, $130 million 

    There's a lot to like about Shin-Soo Choo.

    In 2013, the outfielder hit for power (21 home runs), demonstrated his speed (20 steals) and reached base at an impressive clip (.423 OBP). That's a highly valuable skill set and explains why the Texas Rangers dished out a seven-year, $130 million contract to Choo.

    However, there are also some notable downsides to the megadeal, most notably that Choo was awful against left-handers in 2013. The 31-year-old posted a .612 OPS against lefties, and all 21 of his home runs came against right-handers.

    Suffice it to say that in the long run, Choo will end up as a hugely expensive platoon bat. 

Robinson Cano

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    Contract Details: 10 years, $240 million 

    There is no doubt Robinson Cano was the best position player on the open market this offseason. That doesn't change the fact that signing the second baseman to a 10-year, $240 million deal was a major mistake for the the Seattle Mariners—at least for now.

    Coming off four straight losing seasons, the move for Cano (plus the additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison) is simply not enough to catapult the Mariners back into contention in the fiercely competitive AL West.

    That equation would change if the Mariners are able to win the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, the Mariners are the "favorites" for the popular Japanese right-hander.

    For now, though, the Mariners and their new $240 million second baseman are destined for a third-place finish in 2014.