As the two marquee players available in this year's MLB free-agent market, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder figured to cash in mightily once they received a favorable contract offer and signed upon the dotted line.
Both career-long members of their respective clubs, the two sluggers have built impressive resumes for which they were paid handsomely by their new clubs.
Pujols, a modern legend during his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, has produced Hall of Fame caliber numbers through his first 11 seasons as a major leaguer. Even a cursory glance at his career statistics is enough to recognize the staggering nature of his greatness.
Fielder, though not quite on the same tier as Pujols, has proved to be incredibly durable and has become one of the game's most-feared power threats. His combination of sheer power, plate discipline and durability is rather formidable.
It was once unthinkable that Pujols would ever leave St. Louis, but when he took a stand in spring training and issued an ultimatum and end-date regarding discussion of a contract extension, many took it to mean that the Cardinals had missed their opportunity to secure the future of their star first baseman. Pujols though, on several occasions, professed his love of St. Louis and his desire to remain with the only organization he's ever known. During spring, he spoke about the option of staying in St. Louis and said, "It's a great piece to have on your resume. There's not too many players that stay with one organization. Hopefully that happens."
That wasn't to be, as the lure of $240 million proved too much for the star to resist. Rather than play out the second half of his Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, he risked scorn from his adoring fans in St. Louis by moving out west to Southern California. A new era in Angels' baseball was born.
The situation with Prince was different however, as he was quoted during the pennant race as saying, "I'm signed for this year, but being real about it, it is probably the last year." In that conversation with Brian Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers play-by-play announcer, he confirmed the likelihood that he will take his services to the free-agent market.
While the Fielder situation took far longer to play out than that of Pujols, it ended in a similar fashion. Though some had questioned whether he and his agent had waited too long, it turned out to be a perfect strategy, as the Detroit Tigers were forced into a semi-desperate state following the loss of Victor Martinez to a knee injury.
Surprising many that had expected Prince to sign elsewhere, the talented, young slugger signed a massive, nine-year $214 million deal to assume the Tigers' first base position, moving incumbent Miguel Cabrera across the diamond to third. The deal suddenly has Detroit dreaming of a return to the World Series over five years after their bitter disappointment of 2006.
Despite the indisputable talent of each player, there is always concern when a club commits the type of money and contract length that the Angels and Tigers did in securing their new stars.
Since 1999, Major League Baseball has seen 32 contracts signed with total values in excess of $100 million.
Let's take a look at the richest contracts in MLB history to see how well those have worked out over time.
The last contract that Pujols signed very likely represents the best bargain on this list, as much as spending $100 million can be considered a bargain.
St. Louis exercised the team option for 2011, adding an extra year and $16 million to bring the overall value to $116 million.
Prior to that extension, the average annual value (AAV) was only $14.3 million, making Pujols an underpaid superstar within the realm of Major League players.
Between 2004 and 2011, Pujols averaged 154 games a season, hit .326, posted a 1.042 OPS, and OPS+ of 172, while averaging 41 home runs and 118 RBI. During that stretch, Pujols won three NL MVP awards and the Cardinals won two World Series titles.
To say he lived up to his contract would be a grand understatement. If only the rest on this list could all say the same thing.
Pujols will earn far more according to his new contract with the Angels, but at almost 32, will have a far more difficult time producing the same bang for the buck.
This deal couldn't have worked out any better for the Cardinals. For $14.3 million AAV, Pujols provided ultra-elite production and averaged 8.1 bWAR per season. He won three MVP awards, and finished in the top-five every year but one. The Cards won two World Series within that span.
At the time Carlos Lee signed this huge deal with the Houston Astros, he was roughly the same age that Pujols is now. In his age 31 season, and for the next couple years, Lee provided a powerful presence in the heart of the Houston lineup.
However, as baseball players are wont to do, Lee aged and with his advancing years came a decline in production.
For the first three years of the contract, Lee hit .305 with an .878 OPS and averaged 29 home runs and 107 RBI, very good, but certainly not great production.
However, in 2010-11, Lee regressed significantly, hitting only .261 with a paltry OBP of .316, and OPS of .748 and averaged 21 home runs and 92 RBI. Still solid power production, but not the type you'd expect from a player that was paid $18.5 million in 2011.
The currently hopeless Astros will be forced to pay Lee another $18.5 million in 2012 which will be the final year of his deal.
With the decline already seen in recent years, it's difficult to expect the outfielder and now, part-time first baseman to produce a season worthy of his contract.
For an illustration of his value to the Astros during 2007-11, Lee produced 6.7 WAR total in that stretch. According to Baseball Reference, seven major leaguers were more valuable than that in 2011 alone.
Though he produced solid power numbers and run production, he tailed off significantly over the second half of the deal and has basically been a DH forced to play the OF and first as a National Leaguer. As noted above, his overall bWAR for the first five years was only 6.7. Nowhere near what you need for an AAV of $16.67 million.
Coming off a stretch of three dominant years, two in Florida and one in San Diego, Kevin Brown signed a massive seven-year, $105 million deal prior to the 1999 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His recent performance had justified such a reward, however the fact that he turned 34 before the contract even began raised eyebrows.
Brown, the feisty right-hander who was once a fourth-overall draft pick by the Texas Rangers, was phenomenal for the first three years of the deal, winning 41 games for the Dodgers with a 1.05 WHIP and and ERA+ of 154.
Unfortunately, after four consecutive years of 230+ innings, his body began to break down and although he pitched well, only made 19 starts in the third year of the contract.
So began the unraveling of Kevin Brown's great career.
Over the remaining four seasons of his deal and ultimately his career, Brown produced one more phenomenal season, but only surpassed 22 starts once, making 32 for LA in 2003.
On the strength of his 2003 season when he went 14-9 with a 2.39 ERA in 211 innings, he attracted the attention of the pitching-starved Yankees and was dealt to the Bronx prior to the 2004 campaign.
His Yankee career proved rather forgettable as he made 35 starts over the two seasons combined. He went 14-13 with a 4.95 ERA in 205.1 innings in New York. Unfortunately, what he will be remembered for are his tantrum in which he knocked himself out for the remainder of the season by punching a wall after getting pulled from a start, and a putrid performance in the fateful Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston.
In fact, during that ALCS, he made two starts, and didn't last beyond the second inning in either.
Despite the severely disappointing climax to his career, Brown was well worth the money he earned for the majority of the five years he spent as a Dodger. Unfortunately injury problems and age derailed the last few years of his career and couldn't possibly live up to his salary.
The lesson learned here is, don't commit seven years of big money to a 34-year-old pitcher.
For about half the deal, Kevin Brown was fantastic. Unfortunately, reality dictated that seven year deals for pitchers well past 30 are generally a terrible idea. At an AAV of $15 million, he pitched like the ace he was when able, but his body didn't cooperate for long. Brown averaged 3.1 bWAR over the length of the deal.
Jose Reyes had a massive career year at just the right time.
Always a dynamic player with immense speed and pop in his bat, Reyes greatly outperformed anything he had done in Major League Baseball prior to 2011.
Prior to 2011, Reyes had been a .286 career hitter with a .769 OPS and an OPS+ of 101. Solid numbers, no doubt, but much of his reputation was built upon leading the NL in stolen bases three times, as well as leading in triples during three seasons.
In 2011, Reyes again led the league with 16 triples, but also won a batting title, leading the NL with a .337 average after only hitting .300 one time in his career prior. Thanks to that massive jump in batting average, his OPS was .877 and his OPS+ spiked to 143.
Intoxicated by the spike in his numbers, the Miami Marlins made a significant splash by signing Reyes to a six-year, $106 million deal, opting to bring him to Florida despite already possessing a young, talented shortstop in Hanley Ramirez.
It will be interesting to see whether Hanley is actually able to successfully transition to third or if his occasionally tempestuous personality will allow him to make the move without disrupting team chemistry.
Despite his career year, the primary concern over Reyes throughout his career—leg injuries—once again reared its ugly head. From 2005-08, Reyes was actually durable, playing at least 153 games in each of those four seasons.
However, since then, he has managed 33 games in 2009, 133 in 2010 and only 126 last season. Various injuries have conspired to keep Reyes sidelined for significant chunks of time throughout his career. Multiple hamstring injures, a back problem, calf injuries and mysterious thyroid issue have all hampered the speedy shortstop at some point.
The point isn't to critique him for getting injured, all athletes endure their fair share of physical maladies that impact their ability to perform.
However, the repeated leg injuries are certainly a concern when you consider signing a player of Reyes' nature to a long-term deal. Much of his value rests in his legs and once those can't swipe bags at the same rate or help him glide around the bags as he turns doubles into triples, then what type of player does he become?
Dynamic speed is often one of the tools to recede as a player ages, and though he won't be 29 until June of this year, his legs have endured significant wear and tear over his career.
The Marlins should be fine with his production for the first three years of his deal, as he will make only $10 million in 2012 and '13, with his salary jumping to $16 million in 2014.
However, in 2015, his annual salary leaps to a massive $22 million per year through 2017, and his deal includes a 2018 team option for another $22 million.
Even if he miraculously stayed completely healthy, it is extremely difficult to envision a 33-to-35-year-old Jose Reyes being worth $22 million a season.
The Miami Marlins certainly made a few impactful moves ahead of the Grand Opening of their new stadium, with the Reyes signing being the highest profile deal.
If Reyes is able to replicate his 2011 season, the Marlins will likely be happy, at least for the first few years of the contract. While stolen bases and triples are exciting plays, they may not be enough to justify the dollar amount if his rate stats revert to pre-2011 form.
Predicted Grade: D+
Paying a guy off the strength of a monster contract year that greatly surpasses anything he's ever done is often a recipe for disaster. When that guy is also an oft-injured speedster that relies upon his legs for much of his value, it's difficult to envision that going well in the long-term. This also has the potential to create chemistry issues as it will displace the Marlins' resident star Hanley Ramirez.
After 11 seasons as a Mariner, the last of them being four consecutive monster seasons in Seattle, Ken Griffey Jr. wanted to go home to Cincinnati.
The Mariners granted him that wish and trade him to the Reds prior to the 2000 season.
Following the trade, Griffey signed a massive extension with Cincinnati, a deal which would pay him $116.5 million over nine years.
And thus began one of the most disappointing sagas in baseball history, the sad, premature decline of one of the game's greatest talents.
From 1996-99, Griffey hit .294 while averaging 52 home runs and 142 RBI, as well as gracefully gliding around center field to the delight of baseball fans of every allegiance. He was a pure joy to watch.
His first year as a Red was similarly productive, as he crushed 40 home runs, drove in 118 and posted an OPS of .942.
In 2001 however, Griffey played only 111 games as various injuries derailed his season. It would only get worse from there as he became a permanent fixture on the DL and played 70, 53 and 83 games in the next three seasons. His youthful vigor and exuberance had vanished and he became a shell of the player he once was in Seattle.
Griffey rebounded to hit .301 with 35 home runs in 2005, but played only 128 games, and his career appeared to be nearing a premature end. He did produce one more 30 home run campaign in 2007, but by the 2008 trading deadline, the Reds cut their losses and traded him to the White Sox where he played out the final year of his contract.
Over the life of the deal, he played only 986 games, an average of 110 a year. Due to his many injuries and prolonged DL stints, he hit only .269 and averaged 24 home runs and 69 RBI, far from the glorious standards he set early in his career.
At the time, Griffey's deal appeared to be great, signing one of the premier talents in the game at 30, in the midst of his prime. However, the unforeseen injury plague haunted him for the remainder of his playing days, and he was never able to stay on the field long enough to produce the gaudy numbers expected of him.
With only an AAV of $12.9 million, the Griffey deal actually represents a decent bargain considering some of the contracts that would follow shortly after. Unfortunately, his body broke down and he was unable to perform up to his tremendous potential. Griffey was still a powerful threat with the bat when he was able, but his various injuries robbed him of his brilliant defensive prowess. Over the life of the deal, he was only able to average 1.2 bWAR a season, definitely not enough for the money.
As one of the more dynamic players in baseball at the time, it was easy to see why the Mets lavished $119 million on Carlos Beltran prior to the 2005 season.
A switch-hitting, speedy and powerful center fielder just shy of his 28th birthday is a dream of almost every GM in baseball and the Mets got their man.
Following a stellar postseason run with the Astros, whom he had been traded to midways through the 2004 season, Beltran was a hot commodity. His star had risen considerably after his show in the playoffs, in which he hit .435 while crushing eight home runs with 14 RBI in 12 games.
Upon his move to New York, Beltran struggled in his inaugural season, as he hit only .266 with an OPS+ of 96.
He then returned to his normal levels of production and produced three consecutive 100 RBI seasons, with an OPS + in excess of 125 each year.
Then came the injury bug which would plague him for a few years, robbing him of his quickness and overall athleticism. In 2009-10, he played only 145 games combined. He still hit when he was able to take the field, but the serious knee issues he faced continually kept him sidelined.
Beltran rebounded to post a strong 2011 season, and stayed healthy enough to play 142 games, hitting .300 with 22 home runs, 84 RBI and a 152 OPS+.
Overall, Beltran produced 32.7 bWAR in that span, an average of 4.7 per season. If not for running into health trouble late in the life of the deal, there would be no question whether he was worth the money.
Beltran's average AAV over the life of the deal was $17 million, a reasonable price for a player of his caliber. It made perfect sense to sign him long-term at the time, as he was a dynamic CF in the prime of his career. Unfortunately, like so many others on this list, injuries robbed him of valuable playing time. He did however, have some of the best years of his career with the Mets.
Cliff Lee spurned more money from other teams in order to joy forces with Roy Halladay and return to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Signing a lucrative deal which would pay him $120 million over five seasons, Lee was brought in to join an already talented pitching staff which was expected to dominate baseball all the way to a World Series title.
The season didn't quite end up the way the Phillies planned, as they were ousted by the eventual champion Cardinals, but Lee played a huge role in helping them get to the postseason.
In his finest season since his 2008 Cy Young-winning campaign, Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 232 innings.He provided exactly what the Phillies expected from the lefty.
Once the playoffs rolled around however, he wasn't his customarily dominant self and was shelled in his only NLDS start, allowing 14 base-runners and five earned runs in six innings.
With four full seasons left on the deal, it is impossible to gauge whether he'll live up to the contract, but if his first season is an indication, he has a strong chance to do so. Lee did turn 33 prior to the end of 2011 though, so his age could become a concern, but he has been fairly healthy throughout his career, so the worry is minimal for now.
Predicted Grade: A
While his age is a little bit of a concern, the deal only has four more years left. With an AAV of $24 million, Lee is right up there with CC Sabathia as the highest paid pitchers in the game. His only year of the already netted him 6.9 bWAR, more than Carlos Lee earned over five years of his deal, and five times what Griffey amassed over eight seasons.
Upon leaving Colorado there was worry that Matt Holliday was merely a creation of the friendly hitting environs of Coors Field. His home and road splits may have suggested some legitimacy to the concerns and a lackluster half-season in Oakland furthered those doubts.
However, once he was traded to St. Louis midway through 2009, he has done nothing but hit, providing a strong complement to Albert Pujols in the heart of the Cardinal lineup.
After his St. Louis debut in 2009, in which he hit .353 with a 169 OPS+, Holliday was rewarded with a huge contract which would keep him there through 2016.
During the first two years of the deal, he has hit .305 with a .918 OPS, and slugged 50 home runs and driven in 178 runs. His counting stats would be higher if not for playing only 124 games in 2011 due to injury.
Holliday went missing in the World Series, and was forced to miss Game 7 when he sprained his wrist diving into third in Game 6, but his huge NLCS was vital to helping the Cards to the World Series.
He has produced 9.2 WAR in his two seasons under the new deal, and if he remains healthy, should be able to continue producing at a similar level for at least the foreseeable future. Holliday will turn 32 shortly before the 2012 season and will look to build upon his solid, but injury shortened 2011.
The big left-fielder has five seasons left to prove his value to the Cardinals. In the wake of Pujols' departure, Holliday's production has become increasingly vital to the team.
Predicted Grade: B
Matt Holliday is a highly potent hitter who gets on base a lot and plays solid defense. He's been slightly injury-prone in the last few years, but has averaged 4.1 bWAR in his two years with St. Louis. At $17.1 million AAV, he is perhaps underpaid compared to some of the recent signings that have occurred. He has big shoes to fill as he becomes the centerpiece of the Cardinals' lineup following the departure of Pujols, but he is certainly a quality player, talented in multiple facets of the game.
Following three consecutive monster seasons in Oakland, Jason Giambi entered free agency as a premium talent, primed to cash in.
Tantalized by his final three seasons with the A's, in which he hit .330 with a 1.075 OPS, an OPS+ of 179 and averages of 38 home runs, 127 RBI and 124 walks, the Yankees jumped at the chance to sign the brawny slugger.
With a need at first base, and a short porch in right field, the Yankees saw the left-handed Giambi as the perfect slugger to succeed Tino Martinez. New York secured Giambi's lethal bat with a seven-year, $120 million deal that would keep him in the Bronx through 2008.
For the first few years of the deal, Giambi thrived in the Bronx, getting on base at a tremendous clip and providing the immense power the Yankees craved. In 2001 and '02, Giambi hit .283 with a .423 OBP, an OPS+ of 160, while averaging 41 home runs and 114 RBI.
The trouble soon began however, as Giambi's body began breaking down, and he struggled through only 80 games in 2004.
After the 2004 season, and the Yankees' epic collapse against the Red Sox in the ALCS, word came that Giambi had admitted to steroid use when testifying as part of the Balco trials.
He returned healthy in 2005 and '06, returning close to his prior form, posting an OPS of .973, while averaging 32 home runs, 100 RBI and 109 walks over the two years.
Giambi fell apart again in 2007, managing only 83 games, while looking broken down and tired.
His 2008 season saw a return to his powerful past, as he hit 32 home runs with 96 RBI and an .876 OPS.
After failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993, the Yankees realized change was needed, so they brought in Mark Teixeira to man first base, spelling the end of Giambi's career in the Bronx.
Despite his injuries and steroid admission, Giambi's time in New York was productive. Though he never reached the incredible heights of the tail end of his Oakland days, Giambi owned a 143 OPS+, a .404 on-base percentage and averaged 30 home runs with 86 RBI during his Yankee career.
Though his body fell apart for a portion of the contract and his legacy was forever tarnished by admissions of steroid use, Giambi was still a powerful on-base machine through his seven years as a Yankee. For an AAV of $17.1 million, he averaged 3.1 bWAR a year and was a highly popular player in New York.
From 1994-2000, Mike Hampton was one of the premier left-handed hurlers in baseball. Over six seasons in Houston and one with the Mets, Hampton won 84 games with a 3.36 ERA and a 124 ERA+.
Once he reached free agency following the 2000 Subway Series loss to the Yankees, Hampton attracted significant attention across the league.
However, Colorado's "school system" proved too difficult to resist, and he chose to brave the difficult pitching environment of Coors Field in order to become a Rockie. Oh yeah, and the Rockies gave him an eight-year, $121 million contract.
Unfortunately for Hampton, the most dire of predictions came true and he found pitching in Denver to be a persistent nightmare.
He survived only two seasons in Colorado, hurling 381.2 innings, going 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA and a WHIP of 1.677. Hampton allowed 10.9 hits per nine innings, serving as the perfect illustration for the difficulties of pitching in Colorado during that era.
Hampton was mercifully traded out of Denver following his disastrous 2002 season. He was sent packing to the Florida Marlins and then flipped to the Braves two days later.
Fortunately for him, Hampton resurrected his career in Atlanta and became a solid hurler for Bobby Cox. From 2003-05, Hampton made 72 starts, going 32-20 with a 3.96 ERA.
Sadly, his body betrayed him during the 2005 season as he battled elbow injuries which would eventually require Tommy John surgery. The surgery caused him to miss the entire 2006 campaign and his subsequent comeback season was suddenly cut short when he again experienced elbow pain early in 2007. Hampton then missed his second consecutive year due to recurring elbow problems.
After sitting out two full seasons, Hampton attempted to return for 2008, the final year of his eight year contract. Though his season didn't begin until July, Hampton went 3-4 in 13 starts, posting a 4.85 ERA. Unfortunately, he once again finished the season injured and his baseball future appeared dim.
Over the course of his eight-year deal, Hampton first struggled mightily in Colorado, then was completely undone by physical deterioration.
In eight seasons, he made only 147 starts, going 56-52 with an ERA+ of 96 and a 1.537 WHIP. A healthy starting pitcher could have expected to make approximately 280 starts over that span if he were able to make 35 per year.
With his health never fully cooperating and the harsh environs of Coors Field robbing him of the ability to get hitters out, Mike Hampton's early career success evaporated and he will forever be remembered for failing to live up to the massive contract he was once given.
This has to be the worst contract ever given. Unable to pitch to even a tolerable level in Colorado, he was given up on after only two years of the eight. He was then completely unable to stay healthy due to a variety of injuries. For $15.1 million AAV, he amassed a grand total of 3.3 bWAR in eight years, less than half of what Cliff Lee earned last year alone.
With four years and $92 million remaining on his existing contract with the Yankees, a sly opt-out clause allowed the burly left-hander to reevaluate his comfort level in New York to determine his long-term baseball future.
The Yankees, desperate to avoid losing their workhorse as well as a public relations debacle, added another year and $30 million to the existing deal, ensuring that Sabathia would pitch in the Bronx through at least his 36th birthday. If he meets certain conditions related to health, CC has the ability to kick in another year at $25 million for the 2017 season.
Though he begins the 2012 season at 31, and will be persistently dogged by doubts about his long-term future due to his colossal frame and weight issues, CC has been remarkably durable throughout his career.
In his three seasons as a Yankee, Sabathia has made at least 33 starts every season, averaging 235 innings pitched. With New York, he has already won a World Series title and has gone 59-23 with a 140 ERA+ and a WHIP of 1.18. He has been precisely what the Yankees expected when committing the original $161 million that his initial contract called for.
With incredible durability and consistency thus far, CC Sabathia has given the Yankees every reason to expect more of the same over the next five or six seasons.
As the highest-paid pitcher in the game, the expectations will always be high for Sabathia, but he has yet to shy away from a challenge in his career and appears poised to continue his dominance in the Bronx.
Pitching in a Yankee rotation bolstered by the acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the pressure on CC won't be as great as in his first three seasons and he may thrive even more so.
Barring any unforeseen injury issues, CC has the ability and healthy track record to live up to the massive weight of his expensive contract.
Predicted Grade: A-
CC has been one of the remarkably consistent pitchers in baseball for a decade now. He may not be as flashy as some, but you can generally count on him to provide innings and keep you in a ballgame. The Yankees love his presence, he's well-liked in the clubhouse and the community and he can flat out pitch. If he is able to stay healthy, as he has throughout his career, this will likely be a productive partnership for the next five years.
Upon his arrival during the 2005 season, Ryan Howard was immediately a massive power threat that any team could imagine building their future around.
From 2006-08, Howard averaged 50 home runs and 143 RBI a season, posting an OPS of .967 and an adjusted OPS of 144. After winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005, he claimed the 2006 MVP award and finished in the top five for the next three years.
In April of 2010, the Phillies locked up Howard long-term by signing him to a five-year, $125 million extension that would begin with the 2012 season.
Some questioned the wisdom of such a move, considering Howard was a late bloomer and would be 32 before the extension even began. Combined with his size and likelihood of a future as a DH, critics wondered whether Howard was worth such a commitment. His propensity for lofty strikeout totals also worried some, but if he continued his incredible power production and high walk rates, the Ks could be overlooked.
Between 2010 and '11 though, his power numbers dropped, as he averaged only 32 home runs and 112 RBI. Certainly acceptable numbers, but nevertheless a significant drop from his previous four seasons. Not only that, but his walk totals dropped in every year since 2006, peaking at 108 during his MVP campaign, all the way to 59 in 2010.
The 2011 season was still a solid one for Howard, as he clubbed 33 home runs with 116 RBI and a 125 OPS+. His walks even rebounded to 75, but his average dipped to .253 and his season ended tragically.
Making the final out of the Phillies' NLDS loss to the Cardinals, Howard stumbled out of the box, collapsing in pain as a result of a devastating Achilles injury. As the Cardinals erupted in jubilation, the Philadelphia slugger writhed in agony on the infield dirt of Citizens' Bank Park.
Though he will likely begin the season later due to his injury rehab, manager Charlie Manuel recently stated that Howard is "ahead of schedule."
It may be difficult for Howard to regain his once dominant power production, but considering the length and financial heft of recent contracts given to Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, the Phillies may be rejoicing at their forethought in extending his deal ahead of time.
Predicted Grade: C-
At $25 million AAV, Ryan Howard stands as one of the highest-paid players in the game. A few years ago, that would have made perfect sense, but at 32, is already showing signs of decline and will begin the 2012 season injured after his rupturing his achilles on the final play of Philadelphia's season. He'll likely still be a powerful threat once he heals, but with his power already tailing off and his defense limited, it will be difficult for him to be worth $25 million a year going forward.
Hoping to make a splash to announce their intentions and legitimacy as a real contender, the Washington Nationals shocked the baseball world by signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million.
Werth had been a fine player in Philadelphia, deftly complementing the star trio of Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
He had however, never been a star player nor a focal point of a lineup, things that a $126 million contract will cause people to expect of you. Werth had been a patient, powerful, strong defensive outfielder with a great throwing arm and 20-20 potential. In other words, he was a solid player on stacked team.
Upon moving to the nation's capitol, he became a centerpiece, and thus, burdened with far greater expectation than ever before.
The outfielder didn't respond well to the additional pressure, buckling in his inaugural campaign in D.C.
Over 150 games, Werth hit only .232, striking out a career-high 160 times, while hitting only 20 home runs and driving in 58. As a Phillie, he owned an .885 OPS with a 130 OPS+. Those figures dropped precipitously to .718 and 97 respectively.
While it may have been an adjustment period, as he acclimated to his new surroundings and teammates, it may very well be a poorly considered deal that will weigh down the franchise for the next six years.
Werth still has several years to potentially reverse the disappointment of his debut season, but as he will be 33 in May, time is not necessarily on his side.
With a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, the return of Stephen Strasburg, the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez, and the arrival of Bryce Harper on the horizon, the pressure shouldn't be as great on Werth in 2012. He will have to hope to blend in and become a useful piece of the puzzle if wants to escape the scorn often heaved upon under-performing players who are paid like superstars.
Predicted Grade: C-
At $18 million per year, Jayson Werth has little hope of living up to the value of his contract. With an awful debut season as a National, he began the deal in horrific fashion. Already criticized for the deal, the Nationals' worst fears were realized when he struggled mightily all year. If he can revert to his form from Philly, where he averaged 3.8 bWAR per season, he can make it worthwhile, but as he will turn 33 in May, it might be difficult to do so.
This deal was a significant head-scratcher at the time, considering the type of pitcher Barry Zito is, and the evidence of declining performance over the three season prior to his free agency.
Once again, chalk it up to the genius of Scott Boras.
Barry Zito was a great young lefty during the first four years of his Oakland career, as he went 61-29 with a 1.18 WHIP and a 142 ERA+. His curveball was devastating and though he didn't throw hard, he did enough to keep hitters off balance, limiting them to only 7.2 hits per nine inning and 0.8 HR per nine.
Suddenly though, in 2004 something changed. Zito became far more hittable and that trend continued over his final three years in Oakland. From 2004-06, he remained remarkably durable, finishing each year with at least 34 starts made, capping off six straight seasons of doing so for the A's.
Zito wasn't the same pitcher though. His ERA jumped to 4.05 over those three years, his ERA+ dropped to 110, while his WHIP inflated to 1.33. Not bad numbers by any means, but enough of a downward trend to warn a team off of signing a pitcher to a seven-year deal for loads of money.
Not only was he allowing more runs, but his walk rate increased, his strikeout rate decreased, he allowed more than a hit per nine innings more than over his previous three years and his home run rate also increased to 1.1 per nine from 0.8.
Somehow though, the mastermind Boras convinced the San Francisco Giants to ignore all the warning signs of declining performance in favor of giving Zito $126 million dollars over seven seasons beginning in 2007.
Some expected Zito to fare well in moving to a pitcher's park in the National League.
Despite the clear advantages to a pitcher, the circumstances haven't appeared to help Zito.
Over five seasons as a Giant, ZIto has made 146 appearances, 140 of them starts. He has gone 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA, an adjusted OPS+ of 93 and a WHIP of 1.407. His hit rate increased to 8.6 per nine innings, his walks were up to 4.1 per nine and his strikeouts down to 6.4.
During his 2011 season, Zito struggled with injuries for the first time in his career. Various foot an ankle injuries limited him to only 13 appearances for the year, ending his streak of 10 seasons with at least 32 games started.
He still appears to have a role to play in San Francisco after Jonathan Sanchez was traded away to Kansas City over the offseason. While he will likely give the Giants innings, it remains to be seen what the quality of those innings will be.
With only two years left, the end is mercifully within sight. While it hasn't been a disaster on the level of Mike Hampton, one can safely assume that the Giants might like a do-over on this one.
Even more frustrating is the fact that the deal contains an option for 2014 that would pay Zito another $18 million. Obviously, the Giants are highly unlikely to pick that up, but the buyout on the option is $7 million, so they'll even have to pay him to not pitch for them.
Unfortunately for the franchise, this deal has likely played a part in their inability to lock up Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain long-term.
Zito escapes the F level because he has at least been able to pitch often over the first five years of the deal. Unfortunately, you don't pay a guy $18 million a year to eat up innings. He has been almost as far as possible from what the Giants expected from him, though they should have recognized the warning signs well ahead of time.
Is it a rule that contracts signed for seven years and $126 million are destined for massive disappointment? The trio of Werth, Zito and Vernon Wells would certainly suggest so.
Vernon Wells, a solid player for the Blue Jays, but not a consistent star performer, was the beneficiary of a well-timed season and a risky gamble by Toronto management.
Following his productive 2006 season, in which he hit .303 with an .899 OPS, 32 home runs, 106 RBI and an OPS+ of 129, the Blue Jays opted to offer Wells a seven-year, $126 million extension would begin in 2008.
Of course he signed it, who wouldn't? Wells then regressed terribly in 2007, perhaps crushed under the weight of expectation that would forever follow him after signing the lucrative deal. He slipped to .245 with a .706 OPS, 16 home runs and 80 RBI.
For the first three years of the deal, he alternated good seasons for Toronto, sandwiching a terrible 2009 in between two fairly productive years. Wells slipped from .300 in 2008 to .260 in '09. His .711 OPS, 15 home runs and 66 RBI were again far cries from what the Jays needed from their expensive star.
Thankfully for the Blue Jays, he rebounded in 2010, putting together a solid season in which he hit 31 home runs with 88 RBI and a 125 OPS+.
It was enough to dupe the Angels into trading for Wells and his massive contract. Salary dumps aren't uncommon, but somehow, the Jays only ended up paying the Angels $5 million as part of the trade which netted them Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli.
The Angels' move raised eyebrows among observers amazed that the Jays got out of such a poor deal so cheaply.
Wells responded to his change of scenery by being perhaps the worst player in the American League not named Adam Dunn or Jeff Mathis.
Though he hit 25 home runs, he hit .218, walked only 20 times to 86 strikeouts and posted a .660 OPS. He also suffered through various injuries and was benched multiple times for poor performance.
He had an opportunity to opt out of the deal after 2011, but after that performance, he'd be hard-pressed to find a major league deal, much less one paying him $21 million per year.
Los Angeles owes Wells $63 million through 2014 and they hope desperately that he can put 2011 behind him and at least somewhat approach his best form of the past.
At age 33, he's on the wrong side of his prime years so expecting him to hit like he did in 2003 is unrealistic. However, it won't take a massive season to show a marked improvement over 2011.
Whenever you give a player $126 million to be the cornerstone of your team, and then you decide to trade him away only three years into the deal, it has to be considered a disaster. For $18 million a season, he has averaged only 1.5 bWAR a year and in his fourth year, was one of the absolute worst players in baseball.
Alfonso Soriano was once a dynamic player, fast and athletic, with lightning quick hands. He's a member of the 40-40 club and missed it by one home run another time.
He could steal bags with ease and yank pitches on the inner half as quick as anyone in the game. Of course, he certainly had his flaws as well, swinging at everything and lacking a true defensive home.
That youthful, exciting Soriano seems so long ago now.
After several years with the Yankees and a couple with Texas following the Alex Rodriguez trade, Soriano spent one solitary year with the Nationals.
In Washington, he transitioned from second base to left field, initially experiencing difficulty with the move, but his bat stayed potent all the while. That year, he crushed a career-high 46 home runs, stole 41 bases and posted a career-best .911 OPS, with an OPS+ of 135.
On the strength of that monster 2006 season, the Chicago Cubs signed Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract, hoping that he could keep up that level of production, despite the fact that he would turn 31 before the deal even began.
Unfortunately, Soriano couldn't replicate his career year in Chicago. He did produce two solid seasons during his first two years as a Cub, as he hit .291 with an .888 OPS and averaged 31 home runs from 2007-08. Soriano stole 19 bases in each of the campaigns.
The drop-off was significant though and it began nearly immediately.
Over the next three seasons, 2009-11, Soriano hit only .248 with a .768 OPS, and an adjusted OPS+ of only 101. He still possessed 20+ home run power, hitting 20, 24 and 26, but his speed and athleticism disappeared due to various injuries and age. Across those three years, he stole nine bases, five and then only two.
With three seasons and $54 million remaining on Soriano's deal, the Cubs are apparently interested in cutting ties with him and will reportedly eat a large portion of his salary to do so.
If a team is in dire need of a DH, they might find a suitor, but most aren't going to be willing to part with premium prospects for a declining veteran with limited value. Especially when guys like Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Vlad Guerrero are still jobless and would only require an inexpensive deal and short-term commitment.
For $17 million a season, the Cubs needed more out of Soriano. He has only averaged 1.6 bWAR a season, very similar to Vernon Wells. Not exactly a favorable comparison. Like the Blue Jays, the Cubs are looking to jettison Soriano and his expensive contract.
When the Mets traded peanuts to the Minnesota Twins in return for dominant, lefty ace Johan Santana, it seemed like a fantastic deal. (OK, it was really for Philip Humber, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra)
Santana had been one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2002-07, terrorizing AL lineups and winning 93 games thanks to his dominant stuff and impeccable command.
The Twins decided they couldn't afford to lock him up long-term and the Mets jumped at the opportunity to do so, trading for him, then signing the lefty to a six-year, $137.5 million contract extension.
Brilliant move if you hadn't been paying attention to the heavy workload on his slight frame.
The Yankees wanted him, but recognized the risk and opted to wait for CC Sabathia to reach free agency the following year.
During his first year as a Met, the move looked like a stroke of genius, as Johan made 34 starts, going 16-7, led the league with a 2.53 ERA and posted a 1.148 WHIP.
2008 was his fifth straight season of 200+ inning though, and the 1,146.2 inning workload from 2004-08 began to catch up with him.
He was still a top-flight starter in 2009 and '10, going 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA in '09, but making only 25 starts due to various physical issues. Santana continued his success in 2010, posting a 2.98 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP, but was only 11-9 due to poor run support. Though he missed a few starts, he still made 29 and pitched 199 innings, despite pitching through pain.
Sadly, the pain was more than normal discomfort, and Santana underwent rotator cuff surgery which eventually cost him his entire 2011 season.
The Mets got solid value out of Santana over the first three years of his deal, as he averaged $20 mil per year, but performed accordingly. Unfortunately, the missed year in 2011 and the fact that pitchers coming back from rotator cuff surgery are never a sure thing to rebound. Also, the salary on his deal escalates to $24 million and $25.5 million over 2012 and '13, and also contains a 2014 option that calls for $25 million or a $5.5 mil buyout.
It will be interesting to see what the Mets get out of a post-surgery Santana, considering he is owned $50 million over the next two years. If he's healthy, there is a solid chance for him to deliver a valuable return on their investment, but after a full year off, no one can say for certain what type of pitcher he'll be moving forward.
Until his injury, Santana was worthy of his deal. He was solid, if already declining over the first three years with the Mets. He averaged 4.8 bWAR over that time. This grade has the potential to either raise or drop considerably depending upon how he returns after his shoulder surgery.
Following his monster 2000 season, in which he led the National League in several categories, including a .372 average, hits, runs, RBI, OBP, slugging, OPS and total bases, the Colorado Rockies signed first baseman Todd Helton to a nine-year $141.5 million deal that would begin in 2003.
He followed up 2000 with another huge campaign, as he hit .336 with a 1.116 OPS, crushing 49 home runs and driving in 146. More of the same followed in 2002 as Helton continued to rip National League pitching, getting on base at an amazing clip.
Once the extension kicked in, Helton provided similar numbers, although his power began to dip once he turned 30. Gone were the days of 40-plus round-trippers, but he still managed to top 30 in 2003 and '04. Helton never again drove in 100 after tallying 117 RBI in 2003.
Though he was never again the prolific power hitter he was for a few years, Helton provided a steady presence in the heart of Colorado's order, while playing stellar first base.
Over the course of his nine-year deal, he hit .316 with a fantastic .423 on-base percentage and an OPS of .931, while his OPS+ checked in at 131.
Helton provided 33.7 bWAR over the nine seasons, averaging 3.7 per year.
While it's difficult to call a guy who reached base 42 percent of the time disappointing, it's safe to assume that the Rockies were envisioning more power and run production from their expensive first baseman after he tantalized with two consecutive seasons averaging 46 home runs and 146 RBI in 2000-01.
Colorado still got solid value out of Helton through the life of his deal, but his peak was too short and his decline began far earlier than most expected, considering the amazing numbers he put up early in the decade. From 2006-11, the last six years of the deal, he hit .299, averaging only 13 home runs and 66 RBI per season, with a 116 OPS+. He still averaged 80 walks per season and posted a .402 OBP, so his presence was still very valuable to the team, just not as powerful as once before.
Though Helton wasn't the incredible power threat that he was prior to the beginning of his deal, he still played great defense and was an on-base machine for the Rockies. Over the nine seasons covered by his deal, he averaged 3.7 bWAR per year.
Prior to his signing with the Boston Red Sox, many around baseball felt that Carl Crawford was destined to sign with the Angels.
Like a thief in the night, the Red Sox appeared and snagged him right from under their noses, luring him from their intra-divisional foes in Tampa Bay with a massive seven-year, $142 million deal.
Apparently, even Crawford thought the Angels were the front-runners for his services prior to talks falling apart with the club.
It wasn't to be and the Red Sox secured the speedy left fielder who had tormented them for years as a (Devil) Ray.
Coupled with the trade for star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Crawford deal strengthened the Sox to such a degree that baseball pundits were tripping over themselves to anoint Boston World Series champions before a pitch was ever thrown in 2011.
Similar to so many others, Crawford had a career year in his final year before free agency, posting career highs in runs scored, home runs, RBI, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and bWAR.
While some questioned the wisdom of lavishing a 29-year-old outfielder whose game is based on his speed with such a long-term, rich deal, Crawford appeared to be maturing into a star and was ready to step into the big time.
Something happened along the way however, and while the Gonzalez deal worked out perfectly, Crawford struggled mightily during his debut season with the Sox.
He did struggle with injury that limited him to 130 games, but even while healthy he appeared over-matched. Crawford hit only .255, a new career-low and reached base at a putrid .289 clip, also the worst of his career. The outfielder walked only 23 times to 104 strikeouts and posted a .694 OPS along with an OPS+ of only 85.
Even his vaunted defensive reputation suffered, as his UZR/150 games was a -2.8. following three outstanding seasons in which he was rated at 23.4, 18.7 and 20.8 by Fangraphs.
One of the lasting images of Boston's doomed season was the sinking liner to left off the bat of Baltimore's Robert Andino that Crawford almost snagged, but couldn't quite come up with, ending the Red Sox season in heart-breaking fashion.
Fortunately for Boston, his salary was "only" $14 million in 2011, but from here on out, it gets really expensive. It escalates to $19.5 million in 2012 and increases incrementally each year up to $21 million by 2017. As the dollar amount grows, so do the expectations.
At only 30, the extremely athletic and fit Crawford would seem to have plenty of time to reverse the negativity that accrued during his first year in Boston. His solid track record through his Tampa Bay years would suggest that the talent is there to help him overcome whatever doomed his first year with the Red Sox.
If so, the Red Sox will likely enjoy four five years of solid production and dynamic play from Crawford. His speed may recede some in the oncoming seasons, but a guy like Crawford has some to burn. However, if he can't move beyond his frustrating debut and performs anything like he did in 2011, Carl Crawford could become Fenway Faithful's favorite target of scorn and derision for years to come.
With J.D. Drew gone and John Lackey on the DL for the year, there is an opening available.
Predicted Grade: C+
While I expect Crawford to rebound significantly from his 2011 season, he is similar to Reyes in the way that much of their value lies in their ability to run. Once that diminishes even slightly, Crawford is not an elite player that I'd want to be paying $20.3 million a year.
In December of 2007, the Detroit Tigers pulled off a blockbuster trade for one of the game's brightest young talents, Miguel Cabrera. Along with Dontrelle Willis, Cabrera moved to the Tigers in exchange for prospects Cameron Maybin, Burke Badenhop, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio de la Cruz, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo.
Bursting upon the MLB scene in 2003, as a precocious 19-year-old with the Marlins, Cabrera has done nothing but hit during his career as a big leaguer.
As a Marlin, he hit .313 with a .929 OPS over five seasons, averaging 28 home runs and 105 RBI.
Following his trade to the Tigers, he signed an eight-year extension for $152.3 million that would keep him in Detroit until at least 2015.
With the Tigers, he has stepped up his game even further, as he has hit .322 with a .974 OPS, an OPS+ of 157, while averaging 35 home runs, 115 RBI and 80 walks a season. He won his first career batting title with a .344 average in 2011.
It may seem like he has been around forever, but Cabrera won't turn 29 until April of this year.
There have been the occasional questions about his attitude and the few well-documented issues with alcohol, but aside from that, his production has never wavered.
His deal has four more years on it, and things could potentially get really interesting in Detroit, as Cabrera now has protection in the lineup like he has never had in his career. With Prince Fielder now in the fold, the Tigers have one of the most potent 3-4 combos that baseball has seen in years. Whether he bats in front or behind Prince, the presence of Detroit's new toy can only benefit Cabrera.
It's scary to imagine Miguel Cabrera becoming even more dangerous with a bat in his hands.
Due to Fielder's arrival, Cabrera will return to third base, a position he hasn't played since 2008. He is enthusiastic about the move and it will likely take an adjustment period, but he's moved around before, between the outfield, third and first, while continuing to mash the entire time.
Detroit is posed for several exciting seasons with the dynamic offensive duo of Cabrera and Fielder anchoring their already dangerous lineup.
Miguel Cabrera has averaged 5.7 bWAR for the Tigers, all on the strength of his bat. As one of the game's most prolific batsmen, he can hit with anyone. He would earn an A+ if he offered more defense or base-running ability, similar to Pujols. However, he falls short in those facets of the game, so he's just a notch below. He may hit even more now with Prince Fielder alongside him.
There had been whispers of Boston's interest in Adrian Gonzalez for a few seasons. Toiling away in the shadows of San Diego's cavernous Petco Park, Gonzalez was thriving in a park that most hitters find oppressive.
Despite little protection in San Diego and playing in the NL West, home of a few of baseball's most notorious pitcher's parks, Gonzalez put up great numbers in his five seasons as the Padres' first baseman.
From 2006-10, Gonzalez hit .288 with an .888 OPS and a 141 OPS+. He averaged 32 home runs, 100 RBI and 81 walks a season, despite being the only legitimate bat in San Diego's lineup for much of that time.
In December of 2010, the two teams finally consummated the long-rumored deal, as Boston sent prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and Eric Patterson to San Diego in exchange for their star attraction.
Early in the 2011 season, Boston signed Gonzalez to a seven-year, $154 million pact, making him the new centerpiece of their lineup for the foreseeable future.
Gonzalez responded wit a fantastic season, as he posted new career-highs in batting average with a .338 mark, led the league with 213 hits and set a new personal best with a .410 OBP. He hit 27 home runs, drove in 117 runs and posted an OPS of .957 with an OPS+ of 155.
The slick first baseman also earned his third Gold Glove of his career helped by a new career-high UZR/150 of 10.8.
His 2011 debut was the final year of his previous deal which only paid him $6.3 million. The new deal with the Red Sox begins in 2012 and his salary will jump to $21 million for the next five years before escalating to $21.5 million for the final two years of the contract.
As he won't turn 30 until May of 2012, Gonzalez is still right within his prime years and should provide peak production for the Sox for at least the next several years.
He has been extremely durable, missing only 14 games since becoming a regular in 2006. Even if his home run total of 27 from last year is what Boston can expect from him, his plate discipline and smooth stroke to left-center should allow him to thrive by swatting doubles off the Green Monster for years.
With a year of adjustment to the AL under his belt, Gonzalez will likely develop a new level of comfort with his new team and with the protection that their lineup provides, should continue his assault on pitching staffs across the league.
In light of the Pujols and Fielder deals, Boston has to love their deal with Gonzalez. They're paying him plenty, but only through the age of 36 and won't be stuck with an aging DH for nine or 10 years.
Predicted Grade: A
With one 6.9 bWAR season in the books, the Red Sox can likely expect more of the same over the next several seasons. Patient, powerful and slick with the glove, Gonzalez belongs in the upper echelon of players across the league. As he continues to thrive in Boston, his star will continue to rise among even casual fans.
Signing Troy Tulowitzki to a long-term deal made perfect sense to everyone around baseball.
Doing so in November of 2010, when he was already under contract through 2013, was somewhat of a bizarre move.
However, with the escalation of contract values, perhaps it was a stroke of genius that helped them lock up a young talent at a premium position for a discount.
The extension that Tulo signed late in '10 essentially wiped out the final three years of his previous deal, as well as the 2014 option. It ended up as a 10-year, $157.75 deal that would keep the star shortstop in Colorado through his prime and beyond.
Powerful, athletic and great with the glove, Tulowitzki is precisely the type of player to build a franchise around. Though he has struggled with injuries somewhat during the early portion of his career, he has been tremendously productive and consistent as he has matured.
His 2011 season was his third consecutive fantastic season, and the first of his new deal with the Rockies.
They had to have been satisfied with his .302 average, .916 OPS, 30 home runs, 105 RBI and OPS+ of 133. Additionally, he won his second straight Gold Glove. Of course, those aren't necessarily an accurate barometer of fielding prowess, but his 8.0 UZR/150 games over the last two years is a solid indicator.
When anyone erroneously calls Jose Reyes the best shortstop in baseball today, the name they meant to say was Troy Tulowitzki.
With nine years left on the deal, expect Tulo to put up some monster numbers over that span. Since he just turned 27 at the end of the 2011 season, he is well within his prime and poised to ascend into the upper echelon of baseball stardom.
Colorado signed Carlos Gonzalez through 2017 as well, so the thought of them wreaking havoc together for at least the next six seasons has to be thrilling to Rockies' fans.
In light of the recent deals for Reyes, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, a contract averaging $15.8 million a year for Tulowitzki looks like a fantastic deal.
Predicted Grade: A
Tulo is a powerful, well-rounded shortstop that is an elite defender and a team leader. In his five years as a regular, he has averaged 4.8 bWAR, which is brought down by his injury in 2008. At only $ 15.8 million per year, he will likely be considered underpaid over the next several seasons.
Matt Kemp is precisely the type of player most teams hope to lock up long-term if the opportunity arises. Strong, fast and powerful, Kemp is a true five-tool talent capable of carrying his team on his back for significant stretches.
Long considered a multi-talented star-in-the-making, the 27-year-old Kemp finally put it all together in 2011, making a serious bid for an NL triple crown with a career season.
The Dodgers' center fielder led the NL in multiple categories, pacing the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored, total bases and OPS+. He was a serious contender for the league's MVP, bested only by Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.
With free agency approaching after the 2012 season, Los Angeles moved quickly to secure their homegrown star, hoping that 2011 was an indicator of what to expect going forward.
Some will say that Kemp's deal looks like a steal now in the wake of the Pujols and Fielder signings, but realistically Kemp has not displayed anywhere near the consistency of either player.
He is still young however, and in the midst of his prime, so he may be ready to join the ranks of legitimate big league stars. Dodger fans will likely feel like he's already there, but one great season does not necessarily make a star.
This is the same Matt Kemp that suffered through a mediocre 2010, a season in which he hit .249 with a .760 OPS and a 106 OPS+, garnering only 2.3 bWAR in the process.
Of course, inconsistency is the hallmark of many a young athlete, and Kemp is at the age where he may be ready to make the leap expected of him. His 2011 was surely a brilliant sign of what the Dodgers hope will be his new reality.
Predicted Grade: B
In 2011, Matt Kemp was the total package, challenging for a triple crown up until the final days of the season. In 2010, he was rather disappointing, appearing distracted, while lacking focus or drive. He's a premium athlete blessed in power and speed. If he can replicate 2011 more so than '10, his grade has an opportunity to reach the A level.
Before Manny was Manny, long before the multiple suspensions for failing MLB administered drug tests, there was a sweet-swinging Dominican kid knocking baseballs all over the park for the Cleveland Indians.
Manny Ramirez, now a fading star clinging to his last hopes of resurrecting a career torn apart by deception, was once one of the brightest talents in the game.
After six monster seasons as an Indian, free agency beckoned and Manny took his immense talents to the pressure cooker in Boston, signing an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Red Sox prior to 2001.
Already a young star in the making during his time in Cleveland, Manny ascended to another level in Boston, becoming a modern legend and a pop culture phenomenon.
In the eight years that his deal covered, Manny hit .315 with a 158 OPS+ while averaging 36 home runs and 115 RBI.
For years, he was the dynamic core of a Red Sox team built in response to the Yankees' dominance of the late 90s and early 00s. He was a vital presence in Boston's lineup throughout those years, standing tall as their most feared bat, despite his enigmatic personality.
It was Manny who struck fear into the hearts of the evil empire. His presence made the career of David Ortiz, the man fortunate to bat behind Manny for so many seasons. The fear of Manny's prolific bat left Ortiz plenty to feast upon and he took full advantage of the situation.
Ramirez helped lead the Red Sox to two World Series championships, winning the MVP in 2004 as Boston finally shed their reputation as perpetual bridesmaids and reached baseball's ultimate pinnacle themselves.
In his later years, though still a potent force with the bat in his hands, Manny became a character. As he wore out his welcome in Boston, Manny became a parody; fighting teammates, showing questionable dedication to the Red Sox cause, getting into altercations with team personnel, and eventually the drug suspensions, tarnished his legacy beyond repair.
Manny Ramirez had succumbed to his own hype, believing he was larger than the team and the game itself.
Though the manner in which Manny came undone was terribly unfortunate, no one, not even the most ardent Yankee supporter, could deny his offensive potency or impact upon the game.
The end was messy, but there is little doubt that the Red Sox were completely satisfied with the return they received on their $160 million investment.
Similar to Cabrera, Manny is another strictly offensive player. His value all lies in his bat, but what a bat! Despite his many distractions, Manny could hardly have done more at the plate. Over the course of the deal, he averaged 4.3 bWAR and was a threat every single time he strode to the dish. In his eight years with Boston, he was a primary factor in them winning two World Series titles, their first since 1918.
The New York Yankees had been looking for a true ace to lead their rotation for a few seasons.
They had bypassed Johann Santana the previous year, knowing that CC Sabathia would likely become available as a free agent following the 2008 season.
Sabathia enhanced his stature as a leading man with a Herculean effort down the 2008 pennant stretch, as he led the Milwaukee Brewers to their first postseason appearance since the seventh game of the 1982 World Series.
Milwaukee wasn't home for too long however, as the illustrious history of the Yankee franchise beckoned him, and their massive financial wherewithal sealed the deal.
Lavished with a seven-year, $161 million deal, CC Sabathia stepped into the big time, instantly becoming the undisputed ace of the championship-starved Yankees. Following eight seasons of baseball without a World Series title, New York's ownership had grown restless and pledged in excess of $420 million over three personnel moves designed to end the drought.
Along with Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia made an instant impact for the Yankees. With their brand new recruits, New York won 103 games, the most in MLB, before storming to the 27th World Series title in franchise history.
CC only played out three of the seven years on the contract before he and the Yankees reworked the deal following the 2011 season.
For approximately $70 million, Sabathia helped lead the Yankees to a World Series title and in the regular season has anchored their rotation like no one had in years. His unwavering consistency has become so commonplace that his fantastic years almost seem almost taken for granted.
Over the course of his deal, CC has gone 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. He has made at least 33 starts a season and provides bullpen relief nearly every start as he routinely works deep into ballgames.
Since they moved to extend him beyond the original terms of this massive deal, it is safe to assume that the Yankees have gotten precisely what they had hoped for when committing to CC Sabathia.
CC has done nothing but win in his Yankee career. He helped lead the Yankees to their first championship since 2000 during his first year with the team. The big man has anchored the rotation, bringing a sense of calm confidence every time he takes the mound.
Following the Yankees' 2008 season, a year in which they failed to make the postseason for the first time since 1993, the franchise was determined to avoid repeating a similar scenario.
In a few swift, decisive strikes, the Yankees signed premier free agents CC Sabathia, A.J, Burnett and Mark Teixeira, reinforcing themselves for a run at returning to baseball's postseason.
Rumors at the time had stated the Angels, Red Sox, Orioles and Nationals as the most interested parties, but the allure of the Yankees proved too strong and Teixeira opted to follow in the footsteps of his boyhood idol, Don Mattingly.
While the Yankees laid low, waiting for the precise moment to pounce, rumors abounded regarding the heavy interest of the other contenders. Suddenly though, the announcement came that Tex had agreed to take his game to the Bronx in exchange for $160 million over eight years.
The slugging switch-hitter took to New York immediately, becoming a powerful force in the middle of the Yankee order along with A-rod and Robinson Cano.
During his debut season, Teixeira crushed 39 home runs, drove in 122 runs and posted an OPS of .948. He was an integral part of the Yankees' championship run that season, providing power, patience, and solid glove work at first.
Over his first three seasons as a Yankee, Teixeira has averaged 37 home runs and 114 RBI, posting an OPS+ of 128. In those three years, he has posted 12.0 bWAR,
After his initial Yankee campaign in which he finished second in the AL MVP vote, leading the AL in home runs, RBI and total bases, the luster has started to fade from his once sterling reputation.
Still a dominant force, he has become too pull conscious as a left-handed hitter, becoming overly reliant on the short porch in Yankee Stadium. As such, he has seen his OPS drop in three consecutive seasons, from .948 in 2009 to .835 last season. His splits were strong in that first year, but he has been far better from the right side of the plate in the two seasons since.
With A-rod apparently in a persistent state of age-related decline, the Yankees will need Teixeira to avoid succumbing to the allure of the short porch in order to regain his prior form.
As he is still short of his 32nd birthday and in top physical condition, Teixeira is still within the time frame where he could continue his productive run through the next several seasons. Though his counting stats aren't the most critical, Teixeira has surpassed 30 home runs and 100 RBI in every season he has played since his rookie year.
If he is able to overcome the reliance upon pulling the ball over the short wall in right, there is no reason to expect his production to fall off anytime soon.
Predicted Grade: B
Along with CC, Teixeira was a significant driving force in the 2009 push to a title. He's averaged 4.0 bWAR per year, providing power and run production in the heart of the order, along with solid defense and a great ability to pick errant throws. If he can correct his pull-happy approach from the left side, he could even improve his offensive production over the next few seasons.
Joe Mauer is a hometown hero and a sweet-swinging pure hitter who has drawn comparisons to Ted Williams. He became the only AL catcher to win a batting title after hitting .347 in 2006, and then won two more in '08 and '09 for good measure.
Though the Twins have rarely spent wildly, the idea of letting Mauer slip away was unimaginable. If the Twins couldn't keep their homegrown prodigy, what hope did they have of keeping anyone long-term?
Prior to the 2010 season, Minnesota circumvented all the drama by making a preemptive strike, signing Mauer to a massive contract extension covering the 2011-18 seasons. The deal was for eight-years and $184 million, including a full no-trade clause.
Unfortunately, the first year of the deal was disappointing, as Mauer struggled with injuries throughout the entire season. He was limited to only 82 games, the fewest of any full season during his big league career. Mauer hit only .287 with a .729 OPS and an OPS+ of 103, all career lows for the 28-year-old backstop.
The time has come for the Twins to seriously consider Mauer's future positioning. Although he's a great catcher, his bat is too valuable and the financial commitment to him too great to continue risking his long-term health by exposing him to the daily rigors of catching.
Of course, the obvious spot to move Mauer would be to first base, but incumbent Justin Morneau is signed through 2013.
Morneau has dealt with his own severe injury problems which have greatly limited his ability to play regularly. In 2010 and '11, Morneau was limited to 81 and 69 games respectively, so it appears that ample opportunity for Mauer to play first might exist.
However, the Twins need to keep both of them healthy for decent portions of the season, otherwise they won't be able to truly compete in the AL Central. Mauer will either have to see some time in right field when Morneau is healthy or they'll have to trade off sharing first and the DH role.
Mauer will turn 29 shortly after the 2012 season starts and is a natural born baseball player with an amazing skill set. His health has been an issue in the past, but much of that can likely be attributed to catching regularly for years.
If the Twins are able to greatly reduce his catching workload, eventually moving him altogether, his production should increase as should his ability to stay healthy. As one of baseball's golden boys, immensely talented and popular, the Twins should be able to get solid value out him over the next seven years, even at $23 million per.
The position switch needs to happen sooner than later though, otherwise they run the risk of him doing further damage to his body, something they can surely not afford.
Predicted Grade: B
Joe Mauer is a fantastic player, but I have a feeling the Twins will eventually regret this deal to some degree. Once he switches from behind the plate, he will be a power-starved hitter learning a new position, not nearly as valuable as he was as a catcher. He could very well win a few more batting titles and his on-base prowess will continue to make him highly valuable to the Twins. They need to find a way to preserve his health though in order to extract as much value as possible. If attendance drops after the novelty of the new stadium wears off, the $23 million he earns might tie the hands of the team long-term
Following a run of four World Series titles in his first five years as a major league player, Derek Jeter's future as a Yankee was assured when he was given a 10-year, $189 million contract extension prior to the 2001 season.
Though he lacked the raw power of his shortstop contemporaries Alex Rodriguez, Nomar or Miguel Tejada, Jeter had thrived since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1996 and was seen as the type of player to build a franchise around.
Love him or hate him, the guy has built an incredible career filled with his own personal highlight reel of memorable moments. Sure, he has garnered more hype and attention due to playing on the game's grandest stage, but that same environment has crushed others while Jeter has thrived.
He has generally been recognized as one of the few most marketable players in the game, serving as the "face of Major League Baseball" throughout his career.
His power numbers and run production aren't what is generally expected from $20 million players, but his overall game and value to the Yankees goes far beyond his on-field statistics. Sure, the "intangibles" are one of the things that drive Jeter detractors mad, but some players just have an aura that is impossible to quantify statistically.
Over the life of his deal, Jeter hit .310 with a .380 OBP, a .445 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 117. He averaged 16 home runs, 72 RBI and 108 runs scored per season.
Awe-inspiring numbers, they are not. Jeter has been called a glorified singles hitter and "the least effective defensive player in the majors, at any position" by stat-guru Bill James.
The hyperbole surrounding Jeter swings both ways. His supporters can be obnoxious with their unwavering blindness to his shortcomings, but his detractors can be similarly unjust.
Admittedly, his defense, especially range up the middle, has been suspect throughout the years, but with players like Adam Dunn, Chris Duncan, Mark Reynolds and Jermaine Dye playing the field throughout Jeter's years in the majors, I find it difficult to accept that he is the worst with the glove of everyone.
With the deal now in the rear-view mirror, the Yankees only won the World Series once during the 10-year span—generally considered a failure by New York's standards—but whether one chooses to accept it or not, the value of a player like Jeter transcends most normal barometers of performance applied to other players.
Jeter has never put up the gaudy numbers of Manny, Miguel Cabrera or A-rod. However, he has been a team leader, a highly productive shortstop and the face of baseball throughout his illustrious career. If given the opportunity again, the Yankees would likely make this deal in a heartbeat.
To think that just days ago, some were worrying whether Prince Fielder and his super-agent Scott Boras had waited too long into the offseason before securing a new home for the slugger.
Apparently, they knew what they were doing all along.
Shocking baseball observers who generally felt that Fielder was destined for the Nationals or Rangers, Prince signed a massive, nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, a team that had yet to be rumored in the chase for the first baseman.
Perhaps the reason they had escaped mention was the fact that they already had a slugging, superstar first baseman signed to a long-term deal. Miguel Cabrera, still only 28, has been entrenched at first, and is signed through 2015.
The recent loss of Victor Martinez to a season-ending knee injury may have compelled the Tigers to act, fearing a regression after a successful 2011 campaign culminated in an ALCS trip.
In signing Fielder, the Tigers improve themselves considerably in the short term, adding a tremendously powerful left-handed slugger to complement Cabrera in the heart of the order. Not only does Prince bring pop, but he has averaged 110 walks over the last three seasons, boasting an OBP of .409 with an adjusted OPS of 155.
At only 27, Fielder is still well within his prime and should combine with Cabrera to form a dynamic 3-4 duo for the Tigers for at least the next several seasons.
The acquisition does raise some questions, as to who claims first, and who will be forced to defer to the other.
For now, the Tigers and Miguel Cabrera are claiming that he will return to third base, the position which he considers his "natural" home.
It's fantastic for the Tigers that their incumbent star player is willing to selflessly relinquish his position in order to accommodate the arrival of Fielder.
However, it remains to be seen whether Cabrera still retains the mobility to successfully man the hot corner. He hasn't played a single inning at third since playing 14 games their for Detroit in 2008, though he regularly featured at the position for Florida in 2007.
Whether he makes the transition to third or not, the Tigers possess a potent first base/designated hitter combo that should terrorize opposing pitching staffs.
Still, that also raises questions in the future, as Victor Martinez will still be owed $25 million over two seasons between 2013-14. Of course, the Tigers will cross that bridge when they get to it, but it will eventually present a dilemma.
There is also issue that most players experience a drop-off in production when reduced from a full-time player to a regular DH. Fans want to simply assume that everything will continue as it has, because they want it to, but in reality, the majority of players hit far better when involved in the entire game.
Cabrera, in his young career, is a .317 career hitter with 277 home runs and a .950 OPS. In limited action as a DH, he has hit only .230 with a .676 OPS, far cries from his normal production.
Of course, that is only 111 plate appearances, so it could be the random outcome of a small sample size, but Cabrera is hardly the only player that has experienced such a phenomenon.
Much of the value of this deal hinges upon whether Cabrera can successfully revert to a third baseman. If so, the next few years will be bright at Comerica Park, as a trio of Cabrera, Fielder and V-Mart can rival the heart of any team's lineup.
Doubts persist over Fielder's long-term health, considering his robust waistline. However, since becoming a regular major leaguer in 2006, Fielder has displayed incredible durability, missing only 13 games total over the course of six seasons.
Considering he won't even turn 28 until May however, Fielder likely has several more seasons of elite production that he will bring to Detroit. The last few years of the deal could potentially prove problematic, but for six or so, the Tigers should get precisely what they want out of the deal.
Following an ALCS appearance in 2011, the Tigers sense a window of opportunity right now. Armed with a legitimate, elite ace and two superstar sluggers, Detroit was willing to risk the money to compete immediately.
If their gamble pays off in a World Series title, it will all be worth it. They could potentially regret the length of the commitment to Fielder, but for now, the signing has reinvigorated a city devastated by economic woes and has created an opportunity for baseball to help heal some of the wounds.
Predicted Grade: C+
For the first four or five years of the deal, Fielder's presence will likely be massive, providing excitement as he teams with Cabrera in the heart of Detroit's lineup. He will be an offensive force who gets on base at a fantastic clip. His power may take a hit in the larger Comerica Park though, and his defense is suspect. I'd expect the last four years or so to prevent an issue, as Prince is destined to be a DH and might have difficulty matching his early production.
From the year 2001 through 2011, Albert Pujols was the best baseball player in the world.
Over 11 seasons as a St. Louis Cardinal, Pujols hit .328, clubbed 445 home runs, drove in 1,329 and produced a massive career OPS of 1.037. His OPS+ of 170 trails only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Mickey Mantle.
Pujols won the Rookie of the Year, a batting title, two World Series titles and three NL MVP awards during his tenure with the Cardinals.
However, this offseason, following the second World Series championship of his career, he decided to forgo a lifelong association with the Cardinal franchise in favor of a move out west.
After setting a spring training deadline for contract discussions, Pujols stayed true to his word and tested the free agent market for the first time in his career.
The slugging first baseman apparently liked what he found, as he was enticed to join the Angels by a 10-year, $240 million contract.
He has been the greatest MLB player, but that was from ages 21 to 31.
The Angels will be paying him to be the best player in the league, but as he just had his worst season of his career, it is difficult to predict how he will produce moving forward.
There is little doubt regarding his ability and past production, but 32 to 42 is far different than the first decade of his career.
Predicted Grade: B-
Like Fielder, Pujols will invigorate the Angels and their fans, helping to sell out tons of games through his first four or five years. Once the reality sets in though and he is an aging DH making $25-30 million, fans won't be nearly as excited. If they win a World Series during his first few years, it will be considered worth it, but the 10-year contract length at his age almost sets it up for disappointment.
Alex Rodriguez's first monster contract was given to him by then-Rangers' owner Tom Hicks, though most fans like to credit the Yankees with ruining baseball's free agency system.
At the time, Rodriguez was a massive talent, shy of his 25th birthday, the type of player that doesn't often reach free agency. A true five-tool stud that played shortstop
Once he did reach the free agent market, A-Rod was undoubtedly the crown jewel of the offseason,
Leaving Seattle behind, Rodriguez joined the Texas Rangers, enticed by a long-term commitment and the most money ever lavished upon one player. The 10-year, $252 million deal stunned the baseball world, but at the time, Rodriguez was possibly the only player in baseball that one could possibly justify giving such a deal.
During the three years that he spent in Texas, A-Rod did everything possible to earn the money. He produced three incredible seasons, hitting .305 with a 1.011 OPS, a 155 OPS+, while averaging 52 home runs and 132 RBI. Rodriguez played great shortstop, earning two Gold Gloves, three All-Star berths, three Silver Sluggers and an AL MVP award in 2003. The slugger led the AL in home runs during all three years.
Unfortunately, all the gaudy production didn't translate into wins, as the Rangers finished in last place in each of the three seasons. They were at least 16 games below .500 each year.
The massive deal tied the hands of the organization and didn't allow them to maneuver in other ways to strengthen the team around Rodriguez. They had hitters, but apparently neglected the pitching staff.
As it became too heavy of a burden to bear, the Rangers explored trading scenarios involving their expensive star. They had thought that they worked out a deal to move him to Boston, but the players' union nixed the deal when it found out that A-Rod had tried to restructure his contract in order to facilitate the trade.
Prior to the 2004 season, Yankees' third baseman Aaron Boone, who had delivered the crushing blow to Boston with a walk-off home run in ALCS Game 7 the previous fall, injured his knee in a pick-up basketball game. Instantly, the Yankees were in dire need of a third baseman, and they worked out a deal to acquire Rodriguez and move him to the hot corner.
A-rod would only play out four years of the deal before opting out of the final three years, according to the conditions of his contract.
Over those four years however, he continued to crush the ball, hitting .303 with a .976 OPS and an OPS+ of 153. He averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBI, while winning two MVP awards for the Yankees.
Despite his incredible regular season performances, he fared miserably in the postseason, becoming the poster child for the Yankees' playoff failures during that era. Whether fair or not, his massive contract and public persona stoked the fires of expectation and made him a magnet for scorn and derision.
A-rod's production over the seven years of his deal, including three MVP awards, helped justify his massive salary, but his off-field antics and later admission of previous steroid use detracted from his performance and reputation.
Strictly speaking from a baseball perspective, his play was worth the money, but as Jeter's "intangibles" increased his value, Rodriguez's always seemed to have the opposite effect.
Over the course of his first mega-deal, A-rod was one of the few best players in baseball. He averaged 7.5 bWAR over the seven year prior to his opting out. A-rod averaged 47 home runs and 130 RBI with a 154 OPS+. His defense and base-running were strengths as well and he won three MVPs during that stretch.
The picture above depicts what the Yankees and their fans fear the most: Alex Rodriguez participating in yet another minor league rehab stint in a bid to return to the big league squad.
When the Yankees famously bid against themselves in the winter of 2007 and awarded the then-33-year-old Rodriguez a 10-year contract extension, many feared that they had just committed themselves to a decade of declining production from a slugger beyond his prime.
Until then, A-Rod had been one of the most feared sluggers in the game, and his record of physical durability had been beyond reproach.
Through 2007, Rodriguez had produced numbers that supported his reputation as one of the all-time greats, and the Yankees paid him accordingly. They even worked milestone clauses into his deal which would come into play as he prepared to assail some of the sport's most hallowed records.
Then in the spring of 2009, Alex Rodriguez was revealed as yet another MLB star who couldn't produce without the outside help of performance-enhancing drugs and his reputation took a devastating blow.
Following his monster season in 2007, during which A-Rod crushed 54 home runs with 156 RBI and an OPS+ of 176, the Yankee slugger's production has diminished in every season of his new contract.
While still remaining a potent force at the plate, his adjusted OPS has declined every year, from 150 in 2008 to 138, 123, and 116 in 2011.
Perhaps most disturbing to the Yankees is that he has only averaged 124 games played over those four seasons, while suiting up for a career-low 99 contests due to various injuries in 2011.
As he prepares for his ninth season in the Bronx, a year in which he will turn 37, the future remains a significant question mark.
Once considered the best player in baseball by many, he is now a slugger deeply embroiled in the latter stages of his glory days.
That would be perfectly normal and acceptable if not for the fact that A-Rod's contract calls for $143 million over the course of the next six seasons. Not only that, but the performance clauses in the deal could increase the dollar amount by as much as $30 million as he surpasses certain home run milestones.
Even the most committed supporter of A-Rod might have a difficult time envisioning the remainder of his deal being anything less than a massive albatross weighing down the Yankee franchise.
At least the Yankees were savvy enough to structure the deal in such a way that they yearly salary reduces over the life of the pact. It peaked at $32 million per year in 2009-10, dropping to $31 million in '11, while continuing to decline to $20 million for the last two years of the contract.
With a monster 2012, A-Rod could hush some of the naysayers, but the five seasons after that will likely offer many more opportunities for them to resurface.
Predicted Grade: C-
Like Pujols, A-rod's deal will take him through his forty-second birthday. Despite his incredible talents and past production, it is very difficult to maintain that level of dynamic performance as he ages. A-rod is already severely declining and will likely be an albatross to the Yankees over the last four years of his deal. If he continues with the off-field distractions, his value will be diminished even further. The last thing any team needs is to have their highest-paid, veteran star detract from focusing on the task at hand.