MLB Free Agency: Ranking All 30 Teams' Worst Contracts
Vernon Wells' contract is so bad (how bad is it?) that it has now cost two general managers their jobs. J.P. Ricciardi, who signed Wells to a seven-year, $126-million extension for the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2006, lost his job in October 2009.
Then, after Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins traded for Wells in January 2011, the deal cost the club the division title, and Reagins resigned at season's end.
Big free-agent expenditures sometimes pay big dividends. The 2009 New York Yankees are an excellent example. In other cases, though, those deals blow up in a big way.
Every GM who commits big money to a free agent takes his professional life into his hands. Ranked by severity, here are the biggest albatrosses on every big-league roster.
30. B.J. Upton, Rays
How poor are the Rays? Other than outrageously affordable extensions for Evan Longoria and James Shields, this team does not even engage in long-term contracts with its players.
Upton will make about $8 million in his final arbitration-eligible season in 2012, largely because the Rays could not afford to make any offer sweet enough to buy Upton out of that process.
Given his inconsistent production and their monetary pinch, Upton and the Rays could part ways this winter via some kind of trade. Until then, he projects to make about 16 percent of the Rays' total 2012 payroll.
29. Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates
Ohlendorf's Princeton education probably helped him at the arbitration table last winter, when he inexplicably beat the Pirates and earned a $2.025-million salary for 2011 despite a 1-11 record in 2010.
This season, he was even worse, pitching just 38 innings and compiling an 8.15 ERA. Still, the Pirates will either non-tender Ohlendorf or pay him a little over $2 million again next year, so this is far from a devastating problem.
28. Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks
Saunders is a value-by-volume lefty, a ground-ball guy with just middling stuff. He made $5.5 million in 2011, and had the best season of his career in the process.
That sets him up to make big money this winter in arbitration, perhaps a number close to $9 million. Since Saunders is not a good candidate to repeat his performance next season, that adds up to bad money.
27. Adam Lind, Blue Jays
Lind had a huge year in 2009, whereupon the Jays ill-advisedly lavished a four-year, $17.4 million contract on him.
Two seasons in, Lind has been a below-average hitter each year and has split time between first base and DH. He just cannot hit left-handed pitching at all.
By the way, though half the life of his deal has elapsed, Lind is still owed some 80 percent of the money on the deal in 2012-13, a total of $13.5 million.
26. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
Now we're getting into the fun territory, where teams are less afraid to spend money and therefore make many more mistakes. The Rockies intended on a run in 2011, so prior to this season, they signed De la Rosa for two years and $21.5 million, and gave him a player option for 2013.
He managed 59 good innings, but then went down for the season, and now the Rockies have an eight-figure obligation to a pitcher whose durability is in very serious question going forward.
25. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
After a great 2008, Lohse signed a four-year, $41 million deal with the Cardinals. It nearly became a totally sunk cost, though, after a hit by pitch left Lohse with nerve damage in his throwing forearm.
He eventually recovered, and even had a surprisingly good season in 2011. Still, the Cards owe him $11.875 million for 2012, and given his poor peripheral skills, that's not an enviable position.
24. Brian Fuentes, Athletics
Working a bit on tilt as the years since Oakland won anything accumulate, Billy Beane apparently decided last winter that multiyear deals for relievers were the new market inefficiency.
Fuentes did not even have such a terrible season. He's not a useless pitcher. It feels like a bad idea, though, to pay $5.5 million to a southpaw specialist, and that's the position the A's will be in next year.
23. Chone Figgins, Mariners
Figgins was supposed to be part of 'The New Moneyball,' as Jack Zduriencik imagined it prior to the 2010 season. The Mariners brought in Figgins to join Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro Suzuki, Brendan Ryan and Jose Lopez in the hopes of building the best defensive team in baseball.
Maybe they did it. But Figgins has been so unmitigatedly terrible with the bat that it doesn't matter. His OBP in his final year with the Angels was .395. In his two seasons with Seattle, he has posted .340 and .241 figures. He will still make $17 million over the next two years.
22. Bronson Arroyo, Reds
Arroyo gave up 46 home runs this season, the most in baseball. Colby Lewis was second, with 35. That's how eminently hittable Arroyo has become, and at a bad time indeed.
The Reds owe their right-handed veteran $28.5 million for his services through 2013, though a little over half will be paid out in deferred payments for years thereafter.
21. Billy Butler, Royals
Billy Butler is one of the three worst base-runners in baseball and has no position on the diamond other than DH.
At age 25, Butler is right-handed, slow-footed, has shown power regression rather than breaking out the past two seasons and may not fit all that well on the Royals' roster after 2012.
Nonetheless, he will make $25 million or more over the next three years, a huge chunk of a tiny Kansas City payroll.
20. Orlando Hudson, Padres
Hudson struggled to stay on the field again in 2011, and showed signs of his age (33) both at the plate and in the field.
It was not a catastrophe, but Hudson did not do anything to inspire San Diegoans (San Dieg-ites? San Diegons?) to feel confident about 2012. That's no good, since the Padres owe Hudson $7.5 million.
19. Travis Hafner, Indians
Pronk came back from the grave this season. He hit the cover off the ball for a few months, helping a semi-anemic Indians club stay in contention longer than they deserved.
Injuries, though, continue to be an issue for Hafner, and he ended up missing a substantial chunk of August and September as Cleveland faded from the race.
Whether he can be healthy and effective again in 2012 or not, he will earn $15.5 million.
18. Josh Johnson, Marlins
Exceptionally talented when he takes the mound, Johnson is specter enough to make a right-handed hitter skip breakfast even for a night game.
Health too is a skill, though, and Johnson does not have it. He will get $27 million over the next two years from the Marlins, but it's easy to envision a scenario in which he simply does not pitch enough to be worth that money.
17. Carlos Lee, Astros
Lee still has power, played acceptably (if not capably) at first base in 2011 and will be off the Houston ledger after next year. In the meantime, though, he'll make a sturdy $18.5 million.
Houston GM Ed Wade should be gone soon after Jim Crane takes over, and so in 2012, the Lee deal will visit itself upon a third unfortunate front-office generation for the Astros.
16. Michael Young, Rangers
Mere months after his request to be traded worked out for the better, Young is somehow back in the primary spokesman role for the Rangers. He seems to have adjusted to the idea that he will never again play the field every day.
It will be interesting, though, to see how he handles it when he is relegated to pinch-hitting only. Young is scarcely one of the Rangers' six best hitters. and provides no defensive value.
He might be off the roster completely by next Opening Day, but the good odds are that no one will oblige Jon Daniels and take on much of Young's two-year, $32-million remaining commitment.
15. Ryan Braun, Brewers
Braun is elite right now, an excellent hitter whose most impressive development in 2011 was the sudden discovery that he has the tools to be a great defensive left fielder.
It's all well and good for now. The Brewers, though, have paid Braun for much more than the here and now. They have paid him far in advance for services he will not render for years. Most notably, beginning in 2016, Braun will get $105 million from the Brewers over five years.
By the time that deal even starts, he will be 32, and although the money might work out to be a bargain, it might also work out to be a mistake the small-market Brewers cannot afford.
14. Victor Martinez, Tigers
Martinez had something of a power outage in 2011. He is no longer a catcher so much as a DH who can get behind the plate in emergencies.
He had a big season this year, but the Tigers owe Martinez $38 million over the course of his ages 33-35 seasons. That feels like a contract the team will regret before it ends.
13. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
Billingsley can be really good at times, but he struggles with inconsistency and seems to wear out every few starts. Fatigue issues aside, he should be a semi-valuable pitcher for Los Angeles the next three years.
Still, it would be much easier for Dodgers fans to buy into Billingsley if their team were not ponying up $32 million through 2014 to keep him.
12. Nick Markakis, Orioles
The problem in Baltimore seems to be less about bad free-agent commitments than about missing out on those guys in the first place. For whatever reason, the Orioles get mentioned as a dark horse for every huge free agent every winter, and never actually acquire any of them.
In the meantime, they rely disproportionately on solid but unspectacular performers like Markakis. That leads them into problematic choices like doling out a huge extension to Markakis, to whom they now owe $42 million through 2014.
11. Jayson Werth, Nationals
Werth's numbers ran off a cliff in 2011, the first year of a Wells-sized seven-year, $126 million pact. This is the Orioles model carried to successful execution: The Nationals overpaid for Werth, knowing it was either that or don't get him at all.
Werth might never live up to the last six years and $112 million of the contract; he sure as heck didn't earn his full salary in 2011. Still, give the Nats credit for acknowledging that winning costs money.
Werth will be around, and should be plenty valuable, when the team is ready to contend for the pennant in a few years.
10. Barry Zito, Giants
Only two years and (counting a buyout on a 2012 club option) $46 million are left on Zito's deal, a relative steal compared to all the suffering they have already endured.
Any trade that alleviates even part of that burden will be welcome relief for San Francisco, but it might be very hard to find this winter.
If there is a lesson here, it's this: Power pitchers hold up much better over the life of long contracts than do breaking-ball artisans.
9. Adam Dunn, White Sox
We might someday find out Adam Dunn's appendectomy in April hindered him more than one would think thereafter.
Still, his season after that emergency operation was miserable, the kind of thing that really makes a team wish they had not invested $56 million in a player the previous winter.
Dunn is due $44 million more the next three years, a tenure GM Ken Williams might not be able to survive.
8. Dan Uggla, Braves
Uggla is immobile at second base. He has to move to first, or at least third. He just has to.
He probably won't, though, and that will always moderate his value to the Braves, who owe him $52 million over the next four years.
That's to say nothing of the non-zero risk that Uggla has a few half-seasons like the first half of 2011, in which he was utterly unproductive even at the plate.
7. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
Perversely, though the eight-year contract he signed in December 2006 is an eyesore and he is past his utility as a full-time player, Soriano is nearly to the point of being underrated.
He still has power, hits left-handed pitching fine and plays (stop laughing) a strong left field.
Soriano is owed $54 million over the next three years, which is a terrible value and will continue to hamstring the Cubs to some small extent, but he's far from useless and washed up.
6. Johan Santana, Mets
Santana will be just 33 next season, and still hasn't had what anyone could call a bad season since 2001. He is a valuable pitcher, very possibly still an ace.
He just isn't a good risk at $55 million, which (accounting, again, for a 2014 buyout) is what the Mets owe him for the last two seasons of his 2008 megadeal. It's a bad contract, not a bad player.
5. John Lackey, Red Sox
Boston has bigger problems than whether Lackey can refrain from eating chicken and drinking beer during games next season. The off-field stuff involved here has been blown far out of proportion.
What cannot be overstated, though, is the disappointment Lackey has been since arriving at Fenway. He doesn't seem to be the same pitcher he was in Anaheim, but the Sox still have to pay him as though he were: Lackey will make almost $46 million over the next three years.
He might earn it, but it seems unlikely.
4. Joe Mauer, Twins
Mauer is easy to love, but there are a lot more questions than answers about his big contract in Minnesota right now.
- Will he ever rediscover the power that made him a true superstar and AL MVP in 2009?
- Can he stay healthy enough to bat 500 times or more every year of his current deal?
- Can he realistically stay at catcher much longer, despite the wear and tear on his body the last few years have wrought?
- If the answer to any of these be no, then why in Hell are the Twins paying their hometown hero $161 million over the next seven years to be a non-elite player?
3. Ryan Howard, Phillies
Here we step into the elite inner circle of stealing paychecks. Howard's power is dimming, if only slightly.
Pitching without fear, opponents have discovered he has less plate discipline than initially thought, and he is walking much less. He is among the five worst defensive first basemen and five worst base runners in the game.
Yet next season, he begins a five-year stretch of making $25 million per year. To top it off, he will miss the first half of the first year of that deal with a torn Achilles' tendon.
2. Vernon Wells, Angels
Howard may be in decline, but it's a slow slide from high heights. Wells' heights weren't as high, and the fall has been much faster.
He posted a .248 OBP last season. That's the sixth-worst season by a regular since 1969.
Bulking up has helped Wells keep his power as his bat has slowed, but makes him useless in the outfield. For this beacon of misery, the Angels will pay $63 million through 2014.
1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
There may yet be a good season or two left in Rodriguez, a transcendent talent sadly derailed by a hip injury quickly becoming chronic. Still, a good season or two will not do the job.
For Rodriguez to be worth anything like the $148 million the Yankees will pay for his services through 2016, he needs to bounce back and act like the greatest hitter of his generation, while also manning third base.
So if anyone has a good steroid hookup, now is the moment.