MLB's $20M Players Who Will Be Irrelevant in 2018
For some, the money is well-deserved.
Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are the two highest-paid players in the game, and a strong case can be made for Trout as the best hitter and Kershaw as the best pitcher in the bigs.
Players like Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Buster Posey, Max Scherzer and Freddie Freeman are established superstars in the primes of their respective careers.
But what about the other end of the spectrum?
Ahead, we'll look at the eight players who will earn more than $20 million and have a projected WAR below 1.0 for the upcoming season, according to the Steamer projections at FanGraphs.
Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
2018 Salary: $22.8 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.8
2018 Projected Stats: 415 PA, .268/.342/.477, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 55 R
One of the biggest questions following the Boston Red Sox's signing of J.D. Martinez was where Hanley Ramirez fits into the team's plans for the upcoming season.
One player who doesn't seem concerned about the issue is Ramirez, who told reporters:
"Looks like you guys are more worried about my at-bats than winning a championship. I don't know why. Me and J.D. trained together in Florida. We have a good relationship. We just want to win. That's good. It's not about me. It's not about the at-bats. That is not on my mind, about the at-bats. You know what's on my mind? Winning. That's it. Common sense. Nothing else matters."
For now, a platoon role at first base seems to be where his 2018 season is headed.
With Martinez penciled in as the primary designated hitter and incumbent first baseman Mitch Moreland—who is a far superior defender to Ramirez—re-signed to a two-year deal, there's no everyday role for the high-priced slugger.
In the final season of a four-year, $88 million deal, he'll have a tough time living up to his salary.
Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
2018 Salary: $22.0 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.8
2018 Projected Stats: 494 PA, .282/.339/.466, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 62 R
The five-year, $70 million deal the Colorado Rockies gave Ian Desmond last offseason doesn't look any better now than it did at the time.
The 32-year-old began 2016 on the disabled list, which opened the door for non-roster invitee Mark Reynolds to seize the everyday first base job.
Desmond returned to hit .274/.326/.375 with 11 doubles and seven home runs in 373 plate appearances while playing mostly left field.
Even though Carlos Gonzalez likely won't be re-signed in free agency, Desmond will still have to compete with the likes of Gerardo Parra, Raimel Tapia and David Dahl for playing time in the corner outfield spots and top prospect Ryan McMahon for action at first base.
It's worth noting Desmond's contract is oddly set up and that this will be the only season in which he makes more than $20 million:
- 2017: $8 million
- 2018: $22 million
- 2019: $15 million
- 2020: $15 million
- 2021: $8 million
A 20/20 player as recently as 2016 when he was with the Texas Rangers, Desmond still has a chance to become a significant contributor to a team that's expected to contend.
Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit Tigers
2018 Salary: $24.0 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.7
2018 Projected Stats: 26 GS, 7-11, 5.25 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 96 K, 150.0 IP
Jordan Zimmermann went 58-32 with a 3.13 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while averaging 202.2 innings per season in his final four years with the Washington Nationals.
That made the five-year, $110 million deal he signed with the Detroit Tigers in November 2015 look like a bargain at the time.
Instead, he's been a shell of his former self in two years with the team:
- 2016: 18 GS, 9-7, 4.87 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
- 2017: 29 GS, 8-13, 6.08 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 0.3 WAR
He'll try to right the ship under the tutelage of Chris Bosio, who's already picked up on one thing that could help.
"One of the first things new Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio noticed about Jordan Zimmermann when he looked at video was his pace. He was much slower, taking more time between pitches, than Bosio remembered him taking when he was with the Nationals," Jason Beck of MLB.com wrote.
There's time for the 31-year-old to turn things around, at which point he'd become a valuable trade chip for rebuilding Detroit.
Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees
2018 Salary: $21.1 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.3
2018 Projected Stats: 274 PA, .258/.328/.389, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 34 R
The New York Yankees still owe Jacoby Ellsbury a whopping $68 million over the next three years.
That's a steep price to pay for a fourth outfielder.
And make no mistake, that's his role on a roster that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier as outfield options.
The 34-year-old began transitioning into a part-time role last season, posting a 97 OPS+ with 31 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts over 409 plate appearances.
He might not live up to his salary, but he's still a valuable reserve capable of stepping into a bigger role if injury strikes.
"I just know I have a ton of baseball left and I'm excited to just go out there and play," Ellsbury said, per Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News.
James Shields, Chicago White Sox
2018 Salary: $21.0 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.2
2018 Projected Stats: 28 GS, 7-12, 5.55 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 130 K, 164.0 IP
Technically, the Chicago White Sox are paying James Shields just $10 million this season, with the San Diego Padres on the hook for the remainder of his salary.
And he's still overpaid.
Since he joined the White Sox in a June 2016 trade, things have gone south.
In 43 starts with the South Siders, he's gone 9-19 with a 5.99 ERA and 1.57 WHIP while tallying just 17 quality starts.
He may not play up to his salary, but he can still eat some innings and be a mentor for the rebuilding team's young starters. Shields said he's hoping he can pick up a thing or two as well, per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago:
"I don't really look at my position as a mentor. I am their teammate first. I want them to feel like their experiences are the same as mine. I just have had more of them. At the end of the day, you never are going to stop learning until you are finished playing. That means me as well. We are a unit. If these guys need help, I am here for them. I hope it also works the other way."
The 36-year-old is in the final year of his contract, with a $16 million option or $2 million buyout on the table for 2019.
Adrian Gonzalez, New York Mets
2018 Salary: $22.4 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.1
2018 Projected Stats: 275 PA, .255/.326/.423, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 29 R
Back and elbow injuries limited Adrian Gonzalez to 71 games last season, and he hit .242/.287/.355 with three home runs in 252 plate appearances for a minus-1.2 WAR.
In his absence, Cody Bellinger exploded for 39 home runs on his way to National League Rookie of the Year honors.
Looking to get under the luxury tax threshold, the Los Angeles Dodgers packaged Gonzalez with Charlie Culberson, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy and sent them to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Matt Kemp.
The Braves then released Gonzalez, and he latched on with the New York Mets, who will pay him the major league minimum as they give Dominic Smith more time to develop.
Smith, 22, hit .198/.262/.395 in 49 games in his first taste of the majors last year.
Expecting Gonzalez to return to his prime level of production in his age-36 season would be unreasonable.
But if he can avoid further problems with his back, he can more than make good on the $545,000 salary the Mets will pay him.
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
2018 Salary: $21.5 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.0
2018 Projected Stats: 29 PA, .264/.313/.469, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R
The Los Angeles Dodgers brought back Matt Kemp solely as a means of unloading a trio of bad salaries and getting under the luxury tax threshold.
That doesn't mean he won't have a chance to fill a role this season.
The 33-year-old was still a productive offensive player for the Atlanta Braves last season, posting a 103 OPS+ with 23 doubles, 19 home runs and 64 RBI in 467 plate appearances.
And he sounds optimistic that he can make his mark, telling reporters:
"I've still got a lot of baseball in me. I can help this team win. Feel strong, ready to go. I'm older, but I've got a lot to offer, a lot of knowledge. Nobody really knows what their role is, but I'm here to win. I know I can be in this lineup, can help us win, prove to everybody I can still play defense. We all got something to prove every year. It's a fresh start. Why not do it back where I started?"
With Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson and rising prospect Alex Verdugo also vying for playing time in the outfield, Kemp has his work cut out for him.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
2018 Salary: $27.0 million
2018 Projected WAR: 0.0
2018 Projected Stats: 468 PA, .254/.308/.440, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 56 R
And he's still owed $114 million over the next four years.
The addition of Shohei Ohtani means Pujols could be asked to play first base at least a couple of times a week, which will put his ability to stay healthy to the test.
After undergoing surgery on his right foot the previous two offseasons, Pujols had a quiet offseason this year and reported to camp down 13-15 pounds, according to the Associated Press (via USA Today).
"It's good to have a normal offseason where I don't have to go to physical therapy. Just get yourself in a gym and get yourself ready for spring training," he told reporters. "I'm in better shape for sure."
It won't be hard for him to improve on last season's production.
He'll be hard-pressed, however, to live up to his $27 million salary, which will increase by $1 million annually until he closes out the 10-year, $240 million pact in 2021.