Bloated MLB Contracts Who Can Actually Be Trade Assets This Winter

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2015

Bloated MLB Contracts Who Can Actually Be Trade Assets This Winter

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Without a doubt, Major League Baseball teams hand their players the most ridiculous contracts—in money and length—in all of North American professional sports. 

    It is a reason to scoff at cynics who claim baseball is a dying sport, but it is also ammunition for heated debates about just how bad some deals might be, in terms of dollars, duration or both. There are plenty to choose from thanks to owners and front offices willing to pay players greatly for past production while crossing their fingers for some of that production to happen in the future.

    While certain players may be grossly and obviously overpaid, and for long periods of time, it does not mean they are bad players. And if some of them are considered in decline, it does not mean they are without value to their current teams or possibly new ones via offseason trade.

    That is what this list of players is all about—those with bloated contracts who can still have some decent-to-high value on the trade market. Some of the players seem close to being completely washed up, while others still have the potential to be heavy contributors or even MVP candidates.

    Trades for some of them might seem unlikely, but never say never when teams have more than three months of cold weather to negotiate.

Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Red Sox might not have believed it at the time they signed Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million deal, but they now know their reunion was a disaster.

    Ramirez, who Boston signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, had about the worst season of his career, playing in 105 games and finishing with a career-low .717 OPS and 90 OPS+. His FanGraphs WAR was minus-1.8 and among the worst values in the majors along with teammate Pablo Sandoval.

    A National League general manager told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe:

    They have to decide whether having those two players in their clubhouse, in what is otherwise a young, accountable clubhouse, is worth it. You don’t want players tearing down what you’re trying to build. So whatever method was used to acquire those players didn’t work. So now you have to have your own chemistry lesson and determine if you can live with those guys. I would think they’d try to move one or both.

    Ramirez was a disaster in left field, and the Red Sox would like to get him his at-bats as a first baseman next year. His power could still have some value there or as a designated hitter, as his swelling body screams for an American League suitor while he tries to lose about 20 pounds at Boston’s request.

    Ramirez would have value on the trade market for an AL club. He had a couple of productive months last season when he hit 10 home runs in April and hit .338/.377/.479 in June. He was hurt for part of August and did not play at all in September.

    The problem for the Red Sox in moving him is they still owe Ramirez at least $66 million, not counting a $22 million vesting option if he gets at least 1,050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018, which does not seem likely. Add that to his sharply declining impact with the bat and no value as a defender, and the Red Sox would have to eat a major portion of that deal while not getting much in return.

    But as the NL GM told Cafardo, the Red Sox have to weigh if that hurts them as much as having him in their clubhouse and giving them little in return.

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    After a couple of seasons filled with injuries and a slide in production in 2014, the Brewers’ superstar right fielder, former National League MVP and convicted performance-enhancing drug user bounced back last season to regain his value on the trade market.

    Braun hit .285/.356/.498 with an .854 OPS, 130 OPS+ and 25 home runs in 568 plate appearances. He did that with nagging injuries, including a back issue that required offseason surgery, but that likely will not keep him from starting spring training on time. 

    That is critical because the Brewers now have some leverage back if they choose to trade the 32-year-old. Braun is still owed at least $95 million—that accounts for a $4 million buyout after 2020 and not for a $15 million mutual option—over the next five seasons.

    Braun has not been involved in any real trade rumors since his major league debut with the Brewers, but the team is now in a rebuild. That means the roster could look drastically different by next season if the team dives into it now.

    "We took Step 1," manager Craig Counsell told Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel. "I think that Step 1 is always the hardest because it's a big admission. I think it makes it easier to take Steps 2, 3, 4 and so on.”

    Those next steps and “so on” could mean moving Braun for a solid return while he again has value. Considering his age and that he is probably in decline even without the injuries, the Brewers would be wise to explore his market now rather than waiting. If they keep him, they risk another more serious injury or poor production sapping his stock.

Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Kemp has been a polarizing player over the last handful of seasons, flashing signs of being an elite offensive player while also inciting belief he might be a clubhouse distraction and declining lineup threat.

    The Padres are already shopping Kemp and might be willing to make him more attractive by pairing him in a deal with Tyson Ross, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. That could be part of a San Diego “full rebuild,” an executive said in the report.

    Kemp is owed $86 million over the next four years, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are picking up $14 million of that. That means whichever team takes Kemp off the Padres’ hands will be paying him no more than $72 million, and that does not include the likelihood that San Diego kicks in some money to offset that cost. 

    For the second season in a row, Kemp had a resurgent second half. He hit .286/.339/.528 with an .868 OPS and 15 home runs in his last 65 games. That might have been enough to pique some interest for this offseason, as his big second half in 2014 did last winter when the Dodgers traded him to the Padres.

    Considering Kemp’s inconsistency, the Padres might not get a huge prospect haul for him, but getting him off the books for the vast majority of his money would be the inspiration for dealing him before next season. And at a reduced price, some team might strike big if Kemp can put two halves together.

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The suggestions are out there on Twitter, but the rumor mill has not yet stirred regarding Reds first baseman Joey Votto. He finished third in the National League MVP voting for this past season, but he is 32, has small injury concerns, cannot DH in the NL and, most importantly, is owed $199 million over the next eight years as part of his 10-year, $225 million extension.

    Those reasons, along with the Reds' desire to sell as they start to rebuild their club, say Votto should be on the market. The Reds are not going to compete in the NL Central anytime soon, and considering Votto’s age, that contract could become burdensome very soon.

    The Reds would have to undoubtedly push money across the table in such a deal, but paying out $40-50 million is much better than nearly $200 million, including a buyout. That should be Cincinnati’s motivation, along with getting some young prospects in return.

    For an acquiring team with money, the motivation should be that a healthy Votto, which he mostly was last season, is still an MVP candidate. And because his value isn’t totally dependent on power, his skills won’t erode quite as quickly as someone else’s at his age.

Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays made the blockbuster trade for Tulowitzki last July, but aside from a hot stretch here and there, he was not the Tulo of old. He had a 102 OPS+ last season between the Colorado Rockies and Jays, teams that play in hitter's parks. With Toronto, he had a below-average 92 OPS+.

    According to TSN's Rick Westhead (h/t Fox Sports), new team president Mark Shapiro reportedly “scolded” former GM Alex Anthopoulos for trading away too many prospects, including ones in trades last season that helped the team win the American League East and reach the American League Championship Series. That makes it possible to think Shapiro, who has final say in player/personnel decisions, will look to bring back some youth in offseason deals. 

    With $98 million over five years remaining on Tulowitzki’s contract, not to mention he is a 31-year-old oft-injured shortstop playing on an artificial surface in Toronto, Shapiro and his people could be open to trading him. If the Jays were willing to swallow some of the remaining money, they could get a decent package in return.

    While this last season was a down one with the bat, Tulowitzki can still play good defense, and a rebound on offense is realistic.