25 Biggest Franchise-Killing Contracts in MLB History

Zachary Petersel@@ZPeterselFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2012

25 Biggest Franchise-Killing Contracts in MLB History

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    The one thing every general manager tries to avoid is making a deal that kills the franchise.

    Every front office will make some great free agent signings, in addition to some poor decisions, but the ones who succeed and stay around the game are the people who avoid the huge mistake. 

    All of the players on this list were good at some point in there careers, even Hall of Famers, but many of these contracts were given to players past their prime, and ended up hurting the franchise way more than it helped them. 

Texas Rangers: Alex Rodriguez

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    Ten years, $252M

    The first man to shock the baseball world. 

    When the Rangers signed A-Rod back in 2001, a world of pressure was put on his shoulders. He was supposed to turn around a losing franchise, and despite three unbelievable seasons, including an MVP award, his contract never allowed the Rangers to make any other moves to bolster the roster. 

    The Rangers went 216-270 in his three years, and they were forced to unloaded his contract to a team that could afford it, the New York Yankees.

Los Angeles Angels: Vernon Wells

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    Seven years, $126M

    Not only did they Angels trade Mike Napoli to get Vernon Wells, but now that they have his huge contract, they had to send Mike Trout to the minor leagues even though he looked like he was ready. 

    For $21 million last season, Wells hit .218 in over 500 at-bats. While his contract did not stop the Angels Pujols-Wilson spending spree, the Angels still owe Wells $63 million over the next three years, which will no doubt limit their spending at some point.

New York Mets Johan Santana

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    Six years, $137.5M

    For the last year and a half, while the Mets' ownership group has been going through a trial about their involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal, Johan Santana still made around $30 million without throwing a pitch. 

    Santana has looked great coming back from a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder, but after an offseason with the biggest payroll drop in the history of the game, Santana's contract has limited the franchise's ability to improve its roster.

New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez

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    Ten years, $275M

    Considering the Yankees owe $143 million to a 36-year-old with hip problems who has not played more than 138 games since 2008, I think this contract will be so bad even the Yankees are hampered by it.

San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito

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    Seven years, $126M

    Could Barry Zito's contract cost the Giants Tim Lincecum?

    No, probably not, but it certainly won't help.

    The Giants will most likely buy out his 2014 season, which means they will give $46 million over the next two seasons to a pitcher who has a 32-48 record combined over the past four seasons.

Cincinnati Reds: Ken Griffey Jr

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    Nine years, $112.5M

    When the Reds traded for Griffey, they believed they were getting a perennial MVP candidate who would eventually break Hank Aaron's home run record.

    Unfortunately for the Reds, after six out of seven top-10 MVP seasons with the Mariners, Griffey never finished in the top-20 in nine seasons with the Reds.

    The Reds only had one winning season with "Junior" on the roster, as injury problems never allowed Griffey to play at his full potential. 

Colorado Rockies: Mike Hampton

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    Eight years, $121M

    After back-to-back outstanding seasons in 1999 and 2000, the Rockies signed Hampton to what was the biggest contract in baseball history at the time. 

    Hampton never got close to living up to those expectations and only ended up pitching two seasons with the Rockies, going 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA. In order to get rid of Hampton's in-effectiveness, they took on the contracts of Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson, which added up to $52 million.

    On top of everything, the Hampton signing may have cost the Rockies David Wright, as the Mets were able to draft him with the compensation pick they received for Hampton signing in Colorado.

Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano

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    Eight years, $136M

    Even in the big market that is Chicago, Soriano's contract is limiting the franchise and may have cost an ownership group its job. 

    Soriano is owed $54 million over the next three years, despite being an injury-prone left-fielder who has averaged 23 home runs a season over the past three years with a .248 batting average and .305 on-base percentage.

    Like Barry Zito and Vernon Wells before him, Soriano's contract is next to impossible to move, and the Cubs simply have to deal with it until it expires after the 2014 season.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard

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    Five years, $125M

    Coming back from an Achilles injury is a very tough and delicate process. Earlier this spring, everything was going fine, but then Howard suffered a setback and he essentially had to re-start his recovery.

    The Achillies injury could not have come at a worse time for Howard or the Phillies. In 2009, Howard hit .279 with 45 homers, but only two years later, he only finished with 33 homers and a .254 batting average before the injury occurred on the Phillies' final swing of 2011. 

    Howard is just entering his five-year, $125 million extension, so the fact that he now has to fight off his decline while recovering from an Achilles injury spells trouble for the Phillies. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: Darren Dreifort

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    Five years, $55M

    Despite coming off a season in which he allowed 31 home runs, the Dodgers re-signed Darren Dreifort to a five-year extension. At that point in his career, he had a 39-45 career record, but because he had three decent seasons and a lot of potential, he inked such a large deal.

    Five years, nine wins and only one playoff appearance later, Dreifort retired.

Colorado Rockies: Denny Neagle

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    Five years, $51M

    The 2001 offseason was certainly one to forget for Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd. Not only did he sign Mike Hampton to a ridiculous contract, but he inked Denny Neagle to a five-year deal as well.

    Neagle had been successful in the past, but heading into this season at 32 years old, he was already declining after finishing his most recent season with a 5.81 ERA for the Yankees. 

    Neagle only pitched three years for the Rockies, going 19-23 with a 5.57 ERA as they watched him end his career making $10-plus million on the bench.

Anaheim Angels / New York Mets: Mo Vaughn

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    Six years, $80M

    After two great seasons with the Angels, Vaughn suffered his knee injury that essentially wiped out his career. The Angels traded him to the Mets for Kevin Appier, but he only lasted one season with them before his knee gave out.

    The Mets paid him $34 million for three home runs in 2003 and 2004 combined. 

New York Mets: Jason Bay

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    Four years, $66M; five years, $80M

    As I mentioned with the Johan Santana contract, the Mets ownership group is fighting through serious financial troubles, which is greatly limiting their payroll.

    The performance of Jason Bay and his contract are seriously hampering their ability to turn themselves around.

    After seven consecutive great seasons with the Pirates and Red Sox, Bay has 18 home runs in 220 games with a .250 batting average. If Bay's option year vests, the Mets will pay $80 million to an outfielder that would not start on a majority of the teams in baseball while they suffer through his "production."

Kansas City Royals: Gil Meche

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    Five years, $55M

    For the budget-stricken Royals to make a $55 million splash in free agency, they really need it to work out. Unfortunately for them and Meche, his arm did not hold up over the five years of the deal.

    Meche went 29-39 in four years before retiring with arm trouble, saving the Royals what was left of his deal.  

New York Mets: Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez

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    Castillo: Four years, $25M. Perez: Three years, $36M

    The Mets paid Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez a combined $61 million, but they essentially got nothing in return and would have been better off with just about any other players. 

    They were so bad that the Mets ended up releasing the two of them and getting nothing in return. They found it was a better investment to pay $18 million, $12 million to Perez and $6 million to Castillo, just to get rid of them rather than hope they could contribute.

Texas Rangers: Chan Ho Park

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    Five years, $65M.

    Park only won 22 games with the Rangers over three-plus seasons despite being one of the 10 highest-paid players in the league from '02 through '05.

    Scott Boras struck again with this deal, as he sold Park to the Rangers while they were desperate for starting pitching. They ended up with a pitcher who never had an ERA lower than 5.46 in Texas and was shipped off before his deal even ended.

New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett

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    Five years, $82M

    No, the Yankees were not killed financially by the Burnett deal. After all, he helped them win a World Series in 2009. However, because he was so terrible and the Yankees essentially gave him away to the Pirates this offseason, the Yankees needed to trade for starting pitching.

    With that, they unloaded one of the best hitting prospects in baseball in Jesus Montero to acquire RHP Michael Pineda. As of now, Pineda is out until at least May with shoulder tendinitis and Montero is playing every day for the Mariners.

    If the Pineda injury is more serious than the Yankees are letting on, which I believe is the case, this trade could really come back to bite the Yankees, and had A.J. Burnett been good, there would have been no need for this trade.

Los Angeles Angels: Gary Matthews Jr

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    Five years, $50M

    Never has one catch made a man so much money. 

    Matthews Jr. was never very good before his catch, nor was he good after it. The Angels ended up trading him to the Mets and were willing to pay $21.5 million of the remaining $23 owed to him just to get rid of him.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kevin Brown

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    Seven years, $105M

    After leading the Padres to the World Series in 1998, Brown became the first player in baseball history to sign a contract for more than $100 million.

    Brown won 18 games in his first year, but only made more than 30 starts one more time with the Dodgers and they ended up trading him to the Yankees for Jeff Weaver before his deal was finished.

Chicago Cubs: Carlos Zambrano

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    Five years, $91M

    The Cubs have not won in a long time, so it is hard to call a single contract a franchise killer, but Zambrano never lived up to the performance standards that went along with his contract.

    He often fought with Lou Pinella and clubhouse leaders such as Derrek Lee during his time as a Cub, and they were willing eat $15.5 million of his $18 million 2012 salary just to get him off their roster.

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey

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    Five years, $82M

    The Red Sox are only two years into Lackey's deal, but after two subpar seasons, Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery that will cause him to miss the entire 2012 season.

    With Lackey earning more than $15 million a year, he is taking up money that the Red Sox could have possibly spent on another pitcher. They may have gone after Yu Darvish or Edwin Jackson, two pitchers that would be serious upgrades over their current fourth starter, Felix Doubront, and guys who would have helped the Sox a lot more than Lackey ever will.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

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    Eight years, $184M

    Starting with Mauer, the next couple of players on this list are predictions.

    Mauer is no doubt a great player. The problem for the Twins is, outside of his one incredible MVP season, he has never performed to the level of his current contract. 

    The Twins have always been a team run on a tight budget, and if they give $184 million out to a player, they need him to be an MVP-type player every season. Mauer has not lived up to those expectations over the past two seasons, and if he does not reverse this trend and quickly, this contract will end up hurting the Twins for the next seven years. 

Washington Nationals: Jayson Werth

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    Seven years, $126M

    Like Mauer, it is still early in Werth's contract, but if last year repeats itself, there will be cause for concern.

    The Nationals are similar to the Twins in that they do not shell out $126 million very often, so when they do, the players need to perform. 

    I believe Werth bounces back to some degree this season, but if he does not, this contract will be as immovable as any on this list and will hurt the Nats for a long time.

Detroit Tigers: Prince Fielder

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    Nine years, $214M

    Does that body look like it will last nine years?

    Fielder may help the Tigers win a World Series this year, maybe even two throughout the life of his contract, but by the time year five or year six roll around, Fielder will be a shell of the player he is today.

    His dad Cecil was a similar player with tremendous power but went from 39 homers as a 32-year old to 13 as a 33-year old. That is the type of precipitous decline that I can see in Fielder's future.

New York Mets: Bobby Bonilla and the Deferral

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    I have been following sports with a passion for a long time, and I have never seen another contract like this one. 

    The Mets did not want to pay Bonilla his $5.9 million salary in 1999, so they decided to buy him out and defer the payments.

    For 25 years!

    Starting July 1, 2011, the Mets will be paying Bonilla $1,193,248.20 every year for 25 years. 

    If there was one crazy contract that belonged on this list, Bonilla's was it.


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