Bad Paper: The 10 Worst Contracts in the MLB
Inspired by recent thoughts of Steve Phillips (not the philandering former-ESPN baseball analyst, rather the philandering former GM of the New York Mets) and his unhealthy past obsession with Mo Vaughn and his contract, I started to think about current "bad paper" contracts in the MLB, and after some research I can confirm that horribly-structured contracts do exist.
Now, what follows is not what you would call an "objective" ranking of bad contracts. Sure, statistics might be given to illustrate just how little a certain player's production correlates with his salary, but there are very few (if any) objective qualifiers for this list of bad MLB paper (except for money, duh).
However, one aspect that was scrutinized was contract length: there are no players on this list who have contracts ending either in 2010 or 2011 (This stipulation was added once I realized how many huge one- and two-year deals there are in the MLB). Also, appearing next to each player's name will be their age in 2010 and the rest of the money left on their contract, assuming all options are picked up/exercised/vested as well as no-trade clauses (appearing as "Full NT" or "Limited NT").
So which players are not living up to contracts whose overall worth rivals the GDP of many developing nations? Which players will be getting paid ridiculous amounts of money when they are closer to age 40 than they are their "prime-aged" years? These questions will (hopefully) be answered in due time, but for now just sit back, relax, and strap it down (read: NOT on) for a look at some ludicrously awful MLB paper.
No. 10: Carlos Zambrano (29, $73 million, Full NT)
Carlos will be 29 in 2010 (32 when his contract ends in 2013) and is coming off of a year in which the hurler turned in a 3.77 ERA with an ERA+ (regular ERA measured against the league-average ERA after being adjusted for league and park factors) of 119, the third-worst mark of his career in that category.
Now by putting Big Z on this list, I am not saying that he is a horrific pitcher overall. Rather, we have seen that Zambrano can be both a tremendous pitcher and a total head-case, incapable of keeping himself on the field or even getting people out when he is on the field, and sometimes he can go from one end of the spectrum to the other over the course of a single game.
In reality, the Cubs don't know which Carlos Zambrano they are going to get from year to year. He could show up as his 2004 self (really good), but he could almost just as easily be slightly above league and career average (see: every year after 2006).
And really, everyone in the Cubs organization hopes that Big Z returns to his 2004 form for awhile, as the $73 million remaining on his contract with a full no-trade clause would make him a hard piece to ship off should he get any worse.
No. 9: Carlos Lee (34, $55.5, Full NT through 2010)
The Astros slugger will be 34 in 2010, and is slated to make $55.5 million over the next three seasons, making him a ripe 36 years of age when his contract ends in 2012.
Lee didn't have a bad 2009 season per se, but he did fall-off significantly in both on-base percentage and power production, snagging only a .343 OBP with 26 home runs.
He will need to improve somewhat on his production for 2010 and beyond, as his 2009 contributions would only be worth, according to FanGraphs.com, an $11.3 million salary to a free agent with a similar line.
No. 8: Aaron Rowand (32, $36 million, Limited NT)
Let's face it, the poster boy for the "Outfielders That Make Bad Initial Reads On Fly Balls And Cover It Up By Diving All Over The Field To Impress Lazy Broadcasters" Club (the name needs work, I know) has been bad over the last two seasons, notching only a .329 OBP and a 92 OPS+.
I know, I know, the dude has HUGE forearms and shoulders, but he'll need to also beef up his production if he is going to live up to the $36 million he is owed over the next three seasons.
No. 7: Alex Rios (29, $60.2 million)
Was White Sox GM Kenny Williams trying to block another AL Central team from claiming Alex Rios off waivers when the Blue Jays sent him through the waiver wire last summer? Does he own a computer that is capable of accessing the Cot's Baseball Contracts blog or any other of the myriad of readily accessible sources that contained Alex Rios' contract details at the time?
The answers to these questions we may never know, but what we do know is that the ink was barely dry on Rios' 2008 contract extension before his production plummeted.
Rios went from having a .354 OBP and 122 OPS+ in 2007 to an atrocious .317 OBP and a below average 97 OPS+ over the next two seasons. Yuck.
Alex is in desperate need of a huge rebound in 2010 and beyond, as he is needed to 1) overcome manager Ozzie Guillen's "platoon DH" atrocity-in-waiting and 2) live up to the deal that pays him just over $60 million for the next six seasons, finally coming to an end in 2015.
No. 6: Carlos Silva (31, $35 million)
It's hard to believe it, but the Chicago Cubs actually saved somewhere around $6 million in dealing troubled outfielder (seriously, the guy needs professional help and a healthy dosage of happy pills) Milton Bradley for this puzzled-looking, 250-pound (we're still waiting for him to put his other foot on the scale) hurler.
Now I'm going to list some numbers in a bit, and you see if 1) you can guess which statistic they are and then 2) if they are worth $35 million over the next three seasons, which is what Silva is slated to make. Ready? Here they are: 75, 102, 65, and 50.
Give up? Those are Silva's ERA+ numbers from the last four seasons, and overall his ERA production has been a whopping 23 percent worse than league average (77 ERA+, with 100 being league average, etc.).
No. 5: Travis Hafner (33, $50.5 million, Limited NT)
Here are Travis Hafner's HR totals for the last seven seasons, starting in '03: 14, 28, 33, 42 (in only 129 games), 24, 5, 16. He has also only played in 151 games combined over the last two seasons.
So unless Hafner has got the phone number for Paul Byrd's old "doctor" (and from the looks of these pictures, he didn't), he will be hard-pressed to put up numbers that are worthy of the contract that will pay him $50.5 million on the way to age 36.
No. 4: Derek Lowe (37, $45 million)
I have literally NO idea why the Braves decided to sign the 36-year old Derek Lowe to a deal that will last him to the age of 40 and pay him $45 million over the next three seasons. Absolutely no clue.
I mean, yes his 2008 season was stellar, but the guy was not only on the wrong side of 30, but on the wrong side of 35! Do the phrases "career-year", "lucky season" or "non-repeatable feat for a guy that will be 40 when the contract you want him to sign ends" exist to the Braves front office?
No. 3: Barry Zito (32, $94 million, Full NT)
As I was thinking about putting this piece together earlier today, I was trying to put together a quick list of players with horrendous paper off the top of my head, and Barry Zito's name popped up.
No, I thought. Zito's contract HAS to be over soon, he would have made the list a few years ago, but he can't be on it now, the Giants are almost free from that hideous contract, right?
Zito has the potential (remember, all options hypothetically are vested/picked up/exercised in this list) to be signed through 2014 (when he will be 36), and the contract has a staggering 94 million dollars left on it.
To be fair, Zito rebounded somewhat in 2009, posting a 108 ERA+, but he still has a long way to go to get back to the promised land, and thanks to the full no-trade clause, he's going to be doing it all in San Francisco.
No. 2: Vernon Wells (31, $98.5 million, Full NT)
Look, I understand the argument behind a franchise signing a budding superstar to a huge, long-term deal, I really do. And if that star is Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or Joe Mauer or any player of that ilk, I will undoubtedly support that franchise in their efforts.
The sad part for the Blue Jays, though, is that Vernon Wells is not of that ilk. Vernon Wells never WAS of that ilk at any point in his career.
When Toronto offered Wells the contract extension after the 2006 season that would lock him up until 2014 and pay him $98.5 million after 2009, he was coming off a year in which he posted a .357 OBP and a 129 OPS+, hitting 32 home runs.
Now those were great numbers to be sure, but they certainly were not worthy of a contract that would lock the franchise in to a long-term albatross of a deal that is practically impossible to unload should Wells become unplayable.
So there is both good and bad news for Jays fans:
Good news: Alex Rios and his contract are gone.
Bad news: Wells' numbers promptly went south once he signed the extension (96 OPS+ over the last three seasons), and he is signed through age 35.
No. 1: Alfonso Soriano (34, $90 million, Full NT)
I haven't checked all the current Cubs contracts to see if this is actually the case, but it is possible that the final impression on Cubs fans made by General Manager Jim Hendry will come in 2014, when a 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano takes the field for the North Siders, getting paid $18 million.
That's it, that's all I got. Look up his stats if you want to, but I don't feel the need to collectively kick a fanbase directly in the crotch once it's already been shot in the face.