Overpaid and underpaid are relative terms when used to discuss Major League Baseball players.
In one sense, every single player in baseball is overpaid, afforded millions to play a game and making more money than most people in the world.
Of course, that's a narrow view of the sports and entertainment world. Great athletes are compensated on a supply and demand scale. Very, very few baseball players reach the majors. When they arrive and thrive among their peers, riches will eventually come in the form of contract status and security.
This offseason, activity has been plentiful on the open market. With billions of dollars floating around the game, a slew of players were in line to gain more than they are worth, from strictly a baseball perspective.
As we go through the All-Overpaid Team, don't expect to see Clayton Kershaw's $215 million contract or Robinson Cano's $240 million pact mentioned. Those players, despite the outrageous sticker value of their new deals, have proven to be durable, superstar-level contributors for years. In the parlance of baseball value, they aren't overpaid.
Due to a combination of durability, value and risk, the following players are overpaid and likely to make their clubs regret the day these contracts were inked.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Contract: Three years, $26 million
Surely, the Phillies are paying Carlos Ruiz to be the hitter he was from 2009-12 (122 OPS+) and not the hitter he turned into (90 OPS+) during the 2013 season.
The problem with that strategy: From 2009-12, when Ruiz hit at a clip of 22 percent better than league average, the Phillies catcher was playing at the ages of 30, 31, 32 and 33. In other words, decline hadn't yet hit the backstop.
In 2013, at the age of 34, it hit in a significant way.
Over the course of baseball history, here's a complete list of catchers who posted an OPS+ of at least 122 during their age 35-37 seasons: Jorge Posada (2007-09) and Gabby Hartnett (1936-38).
That's it, folks.
Even if we lower the criteria to a 110 OPS+ for aging catchers, the results shouldn't inspire much confidence for Phillies fans.
If Ruiz is at least 10 percent above average over the next three years, he'll be only the eighth catcher in the history of the sport to do that at an advanced age.
Contract: Three years, $21 million
Last offseason, the Rays found a bargain in James Loney. For the grand sum of $1 million, the former Dodgers first baseman provided Tampa Bay with excellent defense, a 2.7 bWAR and an OPS+ of 118.
Unfortunately for Rays fans, the typically forward-thinking Tampa Bay front office chose to reward the 29-year-old Loney with a three-year deal, banking on his offensive breakout of 2013 carrying over to future seasons.
If it does, the Rays will have a solid, if not spectacular, first baseman on a reasonable deal. However, Loney's track record doesn't give much indication that it will.
In 2007, Loney's best offensive season to date, the then 23-year-old looked like a future star when posting an OPS+ of 134. Over the next five years, that mark fell to 99, making Loney a below-average offensive player at first base.
Based on track record, Tampa Bay is ignoring five straight seasons of average performance for one season of very good performance.
Contract: Four years, $30.25 million
In the non-Robinson Cano division of available second baseman, Omar Infante looks like a bargain. After all, Infante's free-agent contract with Kansas City, despite profiling as an overpay, is for nearly $210 million less than Cano was awarded in Seattle.
Of course, Cano is one of the best and most durable players in the game. If his career continues down this path, a trip to Cooperstown isn't out of the question.
Infante, on the other hand, is a nice player. Nice isn't worth $30.25 million over the next four seasons.
Kansas City signed Infante away from Detroit after a career year (113 OPS+) but failed to recognize his age (32) and track record.
Prior to the 2013 season, Infante had spent parts of 13 seasons in the majors. During that time, his total OPS+ was 90. In other words, when taking into account ballpark and league factors, Infante had been 10 percent worse than the league average for 13 years.
Now, the Royals are hoping he can repeat last year's performance during his age 32-35 seasons.
If he does, he'll join a list that currently includes only 18 second baseman in history. Those players, largely encompassing the Hall of Fame second baseman in history, were stars who held an OPS+ of at least 113 through their respective age 32-35 seasons.
Infante, unlike Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan and Craig Biggio, wasn't good enough before age 32 to expect anything close to the production he put forth for last year.
Contract: Four years, $53 million
When assessing Jhonny Peralta's future, let's stay away from the obvious narratives: Performance-enhancing drugs and the eye test.
Yes, Peralta was involved in Biogenesis, served a 50-game suspension and returned to hit in the postseason. Furthermore, with a stout build, he doesn't look the part of someone who will play shortstop well as he ages.
Despite that, the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the best and most thorough organizations in baseball, chose to allot him $53 million over the next four years. If they are comfortable with the question marks surrounding Peralta's game, you should be too.
Peralta isn't an overpay due to his question marks. Instead, he's overpaid because of what's obvious when looking at his career: Inconsistency.
Over the next four years, Peralta will have two big seasons for St. Louis. He'll also have two poor seasons. That, when looking at his year-by-year numbers and WAR, is a glaring fact of who Peralta is as a baseball player.
The following represents Peralta's OPS+ and bWAR marks over the last four years:
2010: 93, 1.4
2011: 122, 3.6
2012: 84, 1.2
2013: 119, 3.3
Stop worrying about Peralta's question marks and start looking at the facts. When you do, an overpay is easy to see.
Contract: Two years, $15 million
Juan Uribe has mastered the art of timing, specifically when it comes to raking in a contract year.
In 2010, Uribe hit 24 home runs and drove in nine runs during San Francisco's run to a World Series championship. Months later, the Dodgers signed away from their NL West rivals.
In 2012, Uribe posted a very good OPS+ (117), provided the best WAR of his career (4.1 bWAR) and hit two home runs for Los Angeles during their deep October run.
When the time is right, Uribe shines. Unfortunately, he hasn't been close to the same kind of player during the other years of his career.
If we remove the 2010 and 2012 seasons from Uribe's ledger, he's been worth a grand total of 15 WAR across 11 big seasons in the majors.
For the Dodgers, that kind of production won't justify another multi-year deal. On the bright side, the team can look forward to another productive contract-year drive in 2015.
Contract: Seven years, $153 million
Jacoby Ellsbury is a star who is capable of winning an AL MVP and likely to justify the Yankees' faith in him over the next few years.
Yet, unlike Clayton Kershaw and Robinson Cano, Ellbury is overpaid due to an injury history that has limited his time on the field and overall value.
To be fair, Ellsbury doesn't deserve the label of "injury prone" player. His ailments have stemmed from freak plays more than hamstring or muscle pulls. Still, the Yankees afforded the third-biggest contract in the history of outfielders to a player who has played in just 208 of a possible 324 games over the last two seasons.
His game, reliant on speed and defense, figures to wain as he transitions into his 30s. Yet, considering what New York is paying Ellsbury, simply writing his name into the lineup will be enough to make Brian Cashman and Co. feel better about this cash outlay.
Over the next few years, Ellsbury is talented enough to make his placement on this list wrong. Yet, over the next seven years, it's hard to imagine his production justifying the contract.
Contract: Two years, $16 million
In 2013, Marlon Byrd was worth much, much more than $8 million. In fact, according to Fangraphs' value calculations, Byrd was worth $20.4 million last season.
At the age of 35, Byrd had a career year. With an OPS+ of 138, Byrd ranked eighth in all of baseball, behind only stars such as Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Andrew McCutchen, Jayson Werth, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo.
All those players are worth more than $8 million per year on the open market. When the Phillies inked Byrd to his deal, Ruben Amaro signaled that Byrd was worth that amount.
Of course, much like in the case of new teammate Carlos Ruiz, he's unlikely to be worth that much over the next two years.
In the history of baseball, only 12 outfielders have posted an OPS+ of at least 138 during their age 36-37 seasons. Unless Byrd is poised to continue his success, he won't be joining a list headlined by Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Of course, Byrd doesn't have to put up great numbers again to justify his new salary. In 2013, Fangraphs calculated Domonic Brown, Byrd's new outfield teammate, as worth $8.2 million.
If you believe Byrd can match Brown's 2013 output (2.3 bWAR, 123 OPS+), the Phillies made a good deal.
If you don't, this is an overpay.
Contract: One year, $7.25 million
Money aside, Chris Young is a bounce-back candidate and really interesting gamble for the 2014 New York Mets.
Of course, for a team with a limited budget, Young also profiles as an overpay.
Based on Young's two most recent seasons (2.0 bWAR, 91 OPS+), it's hard to justify a one-year salary over $7 million for the 30-year-old center fielder. In fact, last year, Young only had a value of $2.3 million for the Oakland Athletics, per Fangraphs.
Usually, teams take fliers on bounce-back candidates in the hopes of generating all-star level production for a fraction of the cost. Ironically, the Mets pulled off this trick with Marlon Byrd last season. After signing the free-agent outfielder to a one-year, $700,000 contract last winter, New York basically stole months of production from the veteran outfielder before shipping him to Pittsburgh in August for prospects.
While Young may prove to provide similar production and future return on investment, the initial cost is 10 times as much as the Byrd contract.
Young could justify this deal, but even if he does, it's still an overpay considering the year he just put forth in Oakland.
Contract: Four years, $32 million
One year after trading for an undervalued commodity in James Shields, the Kansas City Royals overpaid a below-average starting pitching to back him up in their rotation.
By inking Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal, the Royals are asking for mediocrity to justify their investment. Unfortunately, Vargas is poised to come up just short on that request.
In today's game, $8 million per season for a veteran starting pitcher isn't a big outlay. If Vargas still had potential to grow or upside to reach, like, say Phil Hughes in Minnesota, this deal could have been labeled a bargain.
Instead, Vargas is a finished product. Over the last five years, while pitching in two parks known for suppressing offense—Safeco Field in Seattle and Angel Stadium of Anaheim—Vargas has pitched to a 4.07 ERA. When adjusted to take into account his ballpark advantage, Vargas's ERA+ of 95 ranks 42nd of 47 starters with 800 innings pitched during that time frame.
Unless Vargas can become a better pitcher in a tougher park to pitch, the Royals awarded a four-year deal to a pitcher who peaked as below average.
Contract: Two years, $7 million
Matt Thornton's track record disputes this notion, but looks can be deceiving.
Yes, Thornton has accomplished the following accolades: Six consecutive years with a sub-four ERA, 9.2 K/9 since debuting in 2004 and an opposing batting average of just .233 for left-handed hitters.
Of course, the broad spectrum of Thornton's career overshadow's the decline he's currently experiencing. Since 2010, the following represent's Thornton's K/9 marks: 12.0, 9.5, 7.3 and 6.2.
Despite costing $9.5 million less than what former Yankees left-handed reliever Boone Logan garnered from the Colorado Rockies, Thornton is more of an overpay.
At the age of 37, the Yankees are paying for a pitcher in decline. By 2015, he's more likely to receive his walking papers than justify a $3.5 million salary.
Who would be on your All-Overpaid Team for this offseason?
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