Predicting MLB's 10 Biggest Nightmare Contracts by 2025

Zachary D. RymerDecember 24, 2022

Predicting MLB's 10 Biggest Nightmare Contracts by 2025

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    Giancarlo Stanton is already having a hard time defying age.
    Giancarlo Stanton is already having a hard time defying age.AP Photo/John Minchillo

    It's that wonderful time of year, folks. The one in which we make everyone sit down and listen while we say "bah, humbug" about Major League Baseball contracts we don't think will age well.

    What? You thought we meant that other wonderful time of year?

    Nah. But getting back to the matter at hand, we're specifically here to gaze into the future and predict which contracts that look fine now are going to turn into nightmares come 2025. Think Stephen Strasburg circa 2019 vs. Stephen Strasburg circa now.

    We set the following ground rules for this exercise:

    • No Layups: Speaking of Strasburg, he and other players whose contracts have already turned sour will be relegated to the honorable mentions. Because that's just too easy.
    • Must Be Real Money: In this case, at least $20 million per year and/or $100 million in total.
    • The Older and Shakier, the Better: Because it's only fair to knock guys whose red flags are already visible. 

    We have 10 players to get to, ranked in order from smallest looming nightmare to biggest looming nightmare. But first, those aforementioned honorable mentions.

These Contracts Are Already Nightmarish

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    Stephen Strasburg
    Stephen StrasburgAP Photo/Nick Wass

    SS Javier Báez, Detroit Tigers

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 6-Year, $140 Million Deal

    Báez's contract was risky from Day 1. He spent all of 2020 and much of 2021 not hitting, in part because his plate approach went from bad to worse. So, go figure that he flopped out of the gate in hitting .238/.278/.393 for Detroit in 2022.


    LF Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 7-Year, $182 Million Deal

    Bryant was a weird choice for the largest (non-inflation-adjusted) contract in Rockies history, given that his peak was clearly back in the mid-2010s. The remainder of his deal would thus invite skepticism even if he didn't miss 120 games this year with back and foot injuries.


    3B Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

    2023 Status: Year 4 of 7-Year, $245 Million Deal

    The Angels bought high when they signed Rendon after he helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series in 2019, and he was about to turn 30 years old to boot. Following a great debut in 2020, he's been lackluster in just 105 games since then.


    RHP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    2023 Status: Year 4 of 7-Year, $245 Million Deal

    The Nats also bought high on one of their own when they re-signed Strasburg in Dec. 2019. The deal always was risky on account of his injury history, but even the biggest skeptic couldn't have foreseen such an immediate breakdown of Strasburg's health.


    LF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

    2023 Status: Year 4 of 9-Year, $215 Million Deal

    Yelich was an MVP-level performer in both 2018 and 2019, but the latter raised questions by way of persistent back trouble and a broken kneecap. He just hasn't been the same player since then, particularly in the power department, as he's hit only 35 home runs in three years.

10. C Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 20:  Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals runs after hitting an RBI double in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on September 20, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    2022 Stats: 114 G, 473 PA, 23 HR, 0 SB, .254 AVG, .292 OBP, .465 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 4-Year, $82 Million Deal


    It's All Good for Now

    The first stage of Salvador Pérez's career was impressive. In addition to helping the Royals reach the World Series in 2014 and win it in 2015, he was an annual All-Star and five-time Gold Glover between 2013 and 2018.

    Pérez's second act, though, really is something else. He's transformed into one of MLB's great sluggers since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2020, putting up a 162-game average of 43 home runs with a record-setting peak of 48 in 2021.


    The Looming Red Flags

    As awesome as it may be, Pérez's power has become his one and only standout tool. He's never been much for getting on base or running well once he gets on, and his defensive skill set now consists of well-below-par throwing and framing.

    Given his age, the odds of Pérez's power drying up between now and the end of his deal are pretty good. Particularly come his age-35 season in 2025, as only four catchers have ever hit so many as 20 home runs at that age.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    The 2025 season will be the last of Pérez's deal, and the Royals have MJ Melendez standing by to take over, so the situation will probably be more uncomfortable than disastrous.

9. RHP Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres

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    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 21: Joe Musgrove #44 of the San Diego Padres reacts after allowing a first inning home run to Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Philadelphia Phillies in game three of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 21, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2022 Stats: 30 GS, 181.0 IP, 154 H (22 HR), 184 K, 42 BB, 2.93 ERA

    2023 Status: Year 1 of 5-Year, $100 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Even though he never fully broke out while he was with Houston and Pittsburgh between 2016 and 2020, Joe Musgrove always had top-of-the-rotation stuff. Lo and behold, that's what he's become since his return to his native San Diego.

    Musgrove has pitched to a 3.06 ERA across the last two seasons, notably by way of an approach that seems well-suited for his transition into his early- and mid-30s. He throws more breaking balls than fastballs, and "Why wouldn't he?" is as fair as questions get.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Musgrove's increased trust in his breaking stuff is being driven as much by necessity as anything else. He was never a true "Gas Masterson," but his fastball velocity has gone from the 50th to the 25th percentile since 2017.

    It's likewise an issue that Musgrove only landed in the 51st percentile for whiff rate despite all the benders he was throwing at hitters in 2022. As Lance McCullers Jr. knows all too well, even nasty breaking balls can be handled when batters know they're coming.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Even if Musgrove isn't as dominant in coming years, his $20 million annual salaries won't completely burden the Padres if he at least keeps eating close to 200 innings per year.

8. 2B Trevor Story, Boston Red Sox

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    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox runs to first base against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 10, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2022 Stats: 94 G, 396 PA, 16 HR, 13 SB, .238 AVG, .303 OBP, .434 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 6-Year, $140 Million Contract


    It's All Good Now

    Some might say it's not all good with Trevor Story. His debut season with the Red Sox in 2022 was nothing like his best years with the Colorado Rockies, particularly the ones where he averaged 37 home runs and 29 stolen bases per 162 games between 2018 and 2020.

    Yet even despite a slow start and injuries to his wrist and heel, Story was able to salvage a solid 102 OPS+ while making a smooth transition from shortstop to second base. Better than smooth, even, as he ranked third at the position with 10 outs above average.


    The Looming Red Flags

    And yet, Story didn't quiet concerns about his right elbow. His arm strength was bad even by second base standards. Even if Boston keeps him at second, the upcoming shift regulations may lead to greater exposure of his throwing deficiencies.

    Meanwhile, Story's batting metrics are mostly a collection of concerning data points. One of the big ones is the total collapse of his ability to hit the fastball in 2022, both in terms of overall production and literally in the sense that he swung through them more than ever.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Story's future outlook nonetheless seems more low-ceiling than low-floor, which makes it hard to imagine the $120 million he has left on his contract going completely to waste.

7. RF George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 30  - Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) signals to the bench after hitting a single the first inning  on Canadas National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as the Toronto Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox  at Rogers Centre in Toronto. September 30, 2022.  Each year, in Canada, September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the children who never returned home and Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
    Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

    Age: 33

    2022 Stats: 133 G, 583 PA, 25 HR, 14 SB, .267 AVG, .342 OBP, .472 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 3 of 6-Year, $150 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    George Springer was just what the proverbial doctor ordered when the Blue Jays signed him two years ago. Not just in the sense that he was a needed upgrade in center field, but even more so that he brought oodles of experience to a predominantly young roster.

    Two years in, Springer has been as advertised when he's been on the field. His 135 OPS+ paints him as 35 percent better than the average hitter, and he boasts a 162-game average of 36 home runs.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Springer has, however, too often not been on the field for Toronto. He missed 84 games in 2021, plus another 29 this year even before he sustained a host of injuries in a postseason collision. For a guy who's already in his mid-30s, this is distressing stuff.

    There are also signs of decline to be found in Springer's offensive profile. He was able to survive mixing a 24th-percentile whiff rate with 43rd-percentile exit velocity this year, but that combination doesn't seem terribly sustainable for a guy who's supposed to be a slugger.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Even if Springer's numbers are headed for post-prime territory, his move from center to right field can only help his durability as he cashes $24.2 million checks over the next four years.

6. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 04: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels looks on before the game against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum on October 04, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2022 Stats: 119 G, 499 PA, 40 HR, 1 SB, .283 AVG, .369 OBP, .630 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 5 of 12-Year, $426.5 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Mike Trout is already sixth on the all-time rWAR list for center fielders, and this should be the year he leapfrogs a certain beloved Hall of Famer for the fifth spot on the list: Ken Griffey Jr.

    It was mostly between 2012 and 2019 that Trout charted his own course to Cooperstown, but his productivity hasn't exactly diminished over the last three years. This past season even saw him become only the fourth player to hit 40 home runs in fewer than 120 games.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Trout's prime nonetheless seems over, in no small part thanks to the injury bug. He hasn't enjoyed a fully healthy season since 2016, and this past year brought with it the revelation that he has a rare back condition he'll have to manage for the rest of his career.

    Meanwhile, neither Trout's results nor his metrics are as spotless as they used to be. He's notably fresh off posting his worst walk-to-strikeout ratio since way back in 2011. It's not a coincidence that his out-of-zone swing rate was also his worst since 2011.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Probably not too bad, as these things go. Even if Trout isn't worth every penny of his annual $37.1 million salaries through 2030, it's hard to imagine him becoming an outright bad player.

5. RF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12: Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) reacts after drawing a walk in the fifth inning during the NLDS Game 2 between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 12, 2022 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2022 Stats: 142 G, 639 PA, 35 HR, 12 SB, .269 AVG, .340 OBP, .533 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 3 of 12-Year, $365 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Mookie Betts is just 0.6 rWAR shy of Trout for the overall lead among hitters dating back to 2015, which, if anything, obscures that Betts is the more well-rounded of the two players. To wit, he boasts six Gold Gloves to Trout's zero.

    Though Betts' MVP-winning season in 2018 is looking more and more like an outlier, nobody can say his star is fading. Not while he's coming off a career-high 35 home runs and his second top-five finish in the NL MVP voting in three years as a Dodger.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Even if he's done an admirable job of playing through it, it sets off alarm bells that Betts has been banged up for big swaths of the last two seasons. And with his sprint speed down from the 87th percentile in 2020 to the 49th in 2022, his athleticism is already paying the price.

    Betts also isn't without warning signs in the batter's box. He's had relatively pedestrian walk rates in two of the last three seasons, and he's not hitting the ball in the sweet spot like he did at the height of his superstardom between 2018 and 2020.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Since he doesn't have as strong a bat to fall back on, Betts has a slightly scarier outlook than Trout as he prepares to collect no less than $30 million annually between 2024 and 2032.

4. LHP Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners

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    HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 11: Robbie Ray #38 of the Seattle Mariners pitches in the ninth inning during the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2022 Stats: 32 GS, 189.0 IP, 163 H (32 HR), 212 K, 62 BB, 3.71 ERA

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 5-Year, $115 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    The Mariners signed Robbie Ray when he was weeks removed from winning the American League Cy Young Award for the 2021 season. And deservedly so, as he won what ought to be the pitching Triple Crown by leading the AL in innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA.

    Ray's results did regress in 2022, but not to the degree that his overall numbers suggest. He was indeed quite good for the majority of the season, notably pitching to a 2.97 ERA with a 28.3 strikeout percentage over his last 20 starts.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Even though Ray was able to salvage his regular season, his defining postseason moment was not a good one. He just couldn't get that fastball past Yordan Álvarez, which was emblematic of a 1.4-mph drop in his average velocity from 2021 to 2022.

    Ray's transformation into a sinker-slider pitcher is already underway, and his contact rate jumped accordingly this year. Unless he can get his ground-ball rate up to par, that doesn't figure to be good for his persistent case of homeritis.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Ray was essentially a league-average pitcher this year, so going forward, there's a real possibility of the Mariners paying upwards of $20 million per year for a back-end pitcher.

3. CF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 20: Byron Buxton #25 of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the Texas Rangers on August 20, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
    Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2022 Stats: 92 G, 382 PA, 28 HR, 6 SB, .224 AVG, .306 OBP, .526 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 2 of 7-Year, $100 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Former Twins teammate Carlos Correa called Byron Buxton "the best player in the world" earlier this year. That's coming from a guy who's agreed to two $300 million contracts in a single winter, but there have been times aplenty when such praise hasn't seemed excessive.

    After all, this is a guy who's been among the fastest-running, hardest-hitting and hardest-throwing players in the game. That's MVP-caliber talent, and Buxton might even win one of those if he's able to stay healthy.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Alas, staying healthy is something that Buxton has struggled with throughout his career. He's played in over 100 games in a season exactly once, and it wasn't this year thanks to multiple hip and knee injuries.

    Those help explain why Buxton's speed took a turn for the worse in 2022, which may be a sign of what's to come in that department. He'll need his bat to do more heavy lifting in that case, so it's not optimal that he already whiffs and strikes out too much.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Buxton is arguably the most volatile big-money player in MLB right now, and it's just hard to imagine him being healthier and more consistent in his 30s than he has been in his 20s.

2. RHP Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 08: Jacob deGrom #48 of the Texas Rangers addresses the media at an introductory press conference at Globe Life Field on December 8, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)
    Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    2022 Stats: 11 GS, 64.1 IP, 40 H (9 HR), 102 K, 8 BB, 3.08 ERA

    2023 Status: Year 1 of 5-Year, $185 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Well, this is only the greatest pitcher of all time we're talking about. That's obviously hyperbolic to an extent, but there's some compelling testimony in favor of the idea, and there's no way to not be impressed by deGrom's recent numbers.

    Those include a 2.05 ERA and just about seven times as many strikeouts as walks across the last five seasons. Such things go to show what a guy can do when he has impeccable command of a fastball and slider that touch 102 mph and 96 mph, respectively.


    The Looming Red Flags

    Though it bears noting that Jon Heyman of the New York Post heard that deGrom's medicals "actually looked very good," there's also no ignoring that he's a mid-30s pitcher who's missed huge chunks of time with elbow and shoulder injuries across the last two seasons.

    Even setting aside how poorly this bodes for his availability going forward, there's room to question how much longer deGrom can keep his stuff in "high-octane" territory. He notably couldn't this year, as his increased hittability in September coincided with a velocity drop.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    The odds of deGrom reverting to his peak self for the Rangers just don't seem good. If he doesn't, having to pay him no less than $37 million between 2024 and 2027 is going to hurt.

1. DH Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 23: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out in the second inning against the Houston Astros in game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 23, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    2022 Stats: 110 G, 452 PA, 31 HR, 0 SB, .211 AVG, .297 OBP, .462 SLG

    2023 Status: Year 9 of a 13-Year, $325 Million Deal


    It's All Good Now

    Nobody's going to argue that Giancarlo Stanton is still in his prime. Those days clearly happened when he was with the Miami Marlins, for whom he clubbed 267 home runs and won an MVP between 2010 and 2017.

    Stanton is still a dangerous hitter, though, especially under pressure. He leads all of MLB with 19 home runs in high-leverage spots since 2021, and he's likewise lifted the Yankees with a 1.087 OPS and nine long balls in their last three postseason appearances.


    The Looming Red Flags

    This is a weird thing to say about a 6'6", 245-pound Greek god of a human being, but Stanton's body is not what it once was. He's only played in 53 percent of the Yankees' games since 2019, and his once-respectable baserunning and defensive value are now nonexistent.

    Yet the real scary thought for the Yankees should be how much longer Stanton can sustain as a dangerous hitter. He's obviously coming off a sub-.300 OBP, and there's some evidence his bat is slowing down. Namely, an elevated whiff rate against four-seamer fastballs.


    How Bad Will It Get?

    Stanton is this close to devolving into a designated hitter who can't hit. Even if not all of it is on them, that's not the kind of player the Yankees want to pay $160 million for through 2027.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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