This season the Washington Nationals shocked the baseball world by doling out an enormous seven-year, $126 million contract for Jayson Werth. The Nationals finished last in the division and, desperate to stay relevant, paid top-tier money to a second-tier star.
With Stephen Strasburg injured and Bryce Harper still years away from the show, GM Mike Rizzo was looking to maintain fan interest in the interim by signing this offseason’s No. 3 prize. But was it really worth it?
Often times bad teams are forced to pay premiums to acquire top-flight talent, which got me thinking. Which players have taken the biggest contracts with awful teams?
Read on as we examine Jayson Werth and 10 stars who took giant contracts with bad teams.
When you’re managing the Royals, there are a litany of problems that big market teams don’t have to deal with. But the two biggest involve free-agent appeal and payroll.
Not only do the Royals lack the funds to pursue big-name free agents, but the players they do covet typically don’t want to play for a perennial loser and require above market-value contracts. Both of these factors were in play when the lowly Royals signed Jose Guillen.
Despite coming off a very marginal season (.290 with 23 home runs), Kansas City signed the 31-year old Guillen to a three-year contract worth $12 million per season. The Royals had hoped that Guillen would finally reach his five-tool potential batting cleanup for KC, but Guillen was an utter disappointment.
The slugger dropped off slightly in his first season for the blue and white, batting .264 with 20 home runs. The next season, the Dominican-born Guillen played just 81 games while batting a meager .242 before being designated for assignment in 2010.
Over the past few seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays have done a phenomenal job through the draft and have established a talented young roster that can compete for the playoffs. However, it was just years ago that this was a new expansion team with little-to-no talent.
Looking to make a splash, the Devil Rays signed first baseman Greg Vaughn to a four-year, $34 million contract prior to the 2000 season.
The cousin of Mo Vaughn, Greg had smashed 95 bombs over the previous two seasons and seemed like the perfect middle-of-the-order presence for a struggling young start-up.
The results were far worse than projected. Vaughn batted a heinous .226 with 60 home runs in three seasons with Tampa before being released prior to the 2003 season.
Albert Belle was one of baseball’s premier players throughout the 1990s. In fact, while a member of the White Sox, Belle thought so highly of himself that he had an opt-out clause in his contract should he no longer be the highest-paid player in the game.
Then after the 1998 season, Belle tore up his existent five-year, $55 million deal with the White Sox to sign a slightly more lucrative five-year, $65 million contract with the Orioles.
Baltimore had won just 78 games the season before Belle arrived and saw those numbers wane along with Belle’s high-level production. Belle hit 60 dingers in his first two seasons with Baltimore before a degenerative hip condition forced him to retire with three seasons left on his contract.
While you would think that meant he lost out on his paycheck, you would be wrong. Belle collected $39 million as a member of the 40-man roster while the Orioles were reimbursed by their insurance policy.
Represented by none other than Scott Boras, Wilson Alvarez parlayed a career ERA just under four and a 1991 no-hitter into a five-year deal worth $35 million.
Wilson was signed by Tampa in the Rays inaugural season and he was supposed to be the face of a new franchise. Instead he delivered three sub-par seasons in which he combined for a record of 17-26 with a 4.62 ERA before being waived.
This example may be most similar to Werth as no team would have offered a marginal pitcher $7 million per season. But the Rays were forced to pay a premium because no free agent wanted to play for a new franchise with a limited fan base and little chance to contend for a playoff spot.
In 2000, the Rockies won 82 games, finishing above .500 for the first time in three seasons. Todd Helton, who batted an astounding .372 with 42 home runs and 147 RBI, fueled this winning season in large part.
It’s that type of eye-popping statistics line that make even the most loyal fan question both the mile-high Colorado air and the rampant steroid usage that was fueling the top sluggers.
For this production, Helton earned a massive contract worth $141.5 million over nine years. Unlike many highly paid superstars, Helton did his best to earn this lucrative deal. Helton batted .320 or better with at least 30 home runs for the first four seasons of his deal before hitting .302 with 20 dingers in 2005.
Still, the Rockies finished either fourth or last from 2001 until 2006, not once finishing close to .500. Helton was a great asset for any fantasy team over that time, but his real team never prevailed victorious.
The Rangers were 73-89 in 2001 and finished last in their division for the second consecutive year. Despite having a well-rounded lineup, the Rangers pitching staff had ranked amongst the worst in baseball and ownership was willing to spend to fix this problem. Enter Chan Ho Park.
After going 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA for the Dodgers, Park was viewed as one of the best free agent pitchers available and the Rangers quickly snatched up his services with a five-year contract valued at $65 million.
In Park’s three-and-a-half seasons in Arlington, the team came in last every single season with the exception of his last season, when they finished third.
With a 5.79 ERA and 22-23 record for Texas, CHP may go down as one of the biggest free agency busts of all-time.
The Washington Nationals overpaid for Jayson Werth this offseason, setting an incredibly high standard for the remaining free agents. Perhaps bad teams like the Nationals simply need to overpay for their superstars.
After going 69-93 last season and losing Adam Dunn to the White Sox, the Nats needed to make a splash in free agency to be competitive and retain fan interest. His shocking contract—seven years, $126 million—may ultimately be one of the more regrettable in MLB history.
The 31-year-old Werth has only three noteworthy seasons to his name and will be ancient (38) by the time his deal expires following the 2017 season. And still, while management may live to rue this signing, occasionally smaller market teams need to overspend on talent before players are willing to take market value.
The Colorado Rockies had never won more than 83 games in their organization's short history before signing free agent Mike Hampton to arguably the worst deal in MLB history—worth $121 million over eight years.
Hampton only played two seasons with Colorado before being dealt to Atlanta, but over those two years the Rockies won only 73 games in both seasons. Just two seasons before signing his albatross of a contract, Hampton had posted a 22-4 record with a 2.90 ERA and 177 strikeouts.
In his time with Colorado, the pitcher was 21-28 with a ghastly 5.75 ERA.
For the better part of my childhood, Ken Griffey Jr. was my idol. His remarkable power, smooth swing and swanky bravado made him a fan-favorite all across the country. To this day, my swing derives from my earliest emulations of The Kid.
For a decade, between 1989 and 1999, Griffey unleashed his unbelievable power, stroking 398 home runs with a .300 average—winning the 1997 MVP in the process. Then, after the 1999 season, KGJ was a free agent and shockingly spurned the Mariners in favor of his hometown Reds.
Griffey inked a nine-year deal worth an incredible $112.5 million with a Reds team that had made the playoffs only once in the previous nine seasons. In Cincinnati, Griffey transformed from home run king and fan favorite to just another overpaid former star.
Over the contract's duration, Griffey batted just .270 with 210 long balls (an average of just 23 per season versus 36 per with Seattle).
The Reds failed to make the playoffs once with Griffey in the line-up, only once finishing with a winning record. It’s a heartbreaking career path for a childhood idol and future Hall of Famer.
How on earth can we talk about players taking giant contracts to play for bad teams without mentioning Alex Rodriguez? A-Rod was arguably the most appealing free agent to ever hit the open market.
The 25-year old slugger was still young, in his prime and coming off a season in which he had batted .316 with 41 homers in his final year in Seattle. With the reprehensible Scott Boras negotiating on his behalf, Rodriguez signed a record-setting 10-year contract worth a staggering $252 million. To this day, I think that quarter-billion dollar contract may have done permanent harm to the game of baseball.
The Rangers had won just 71 games the season before A-Rod arrived, but little changed in the following years. In three seasons, Rodriguez did his part by batting .305 with 156 home runs (winning the 2003 MVP in the process), but the team never won more than 73 games.
I’d call him the Ernie Banks of our generation, but I believe those words would seem like a slap in the face to Mr. Cub. A-Rod is a paycheck player with no heart and no love for the game whose greedy ways deserve to be scrutinized.