Predicting Each MLB Team's Most Nightmarish Contract by 2021

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2019

Predicting Each MLB Team's Most Nightmarish Contract by 2021

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    Nearly every MLB team is saddled with at least one bad contract each year. This season is no exception.

    But what if we gaze ahead to 2021 and predict the deals that will seem like nightmares for each of the league's 30 clubs?

    Let's do exactly that, limiting our scope to money currently on the books. You won't find any speculative future signings.

    In some cases, we could choose from multiple bad contracts. In others, we had to stretch the definition of "nightmare" to include deals that are merely questionable or represent the buyout conclusion of a regrettable pact. And in one case, there simply was no bad—or even iffy—contract to call out (hint: It's not a rebuilder, but rather a team likely to make the postseason in 2019).

Arizona Diamondbacks: Mike Leake

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks don't have much money on the books for 2021. They'll pay $6.4 million to Ketel Marte and $7.7 million to Eduardo Escobar. But based on their current production, those could be bargain rates for both players.

    The only ugly sum that jumps out is the $5 million buyout they'll give veteran right-hander Mike Leake, assuming they don't pick up his $18 million mutual option.

    Considering Leake will be entering his age-33 season and hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2017, that's a safe assumption.

Atlanta Braves: Ender Inciarte

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    Like those of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Atlanta Braves' books are generally lean in 2021. They'll pay $22 million to Freddie Freeman, but there's no reason to assume he won't still be hitting like an All-Star and perennial MVP contender.

    Atlanta will also pay $8.7 million to center fielder Ender Inciarte. That's not budget-bustingly egregious, but Inciarte has hit just .246 this season and played in only 65 games while battling back and hamstring injuries.

    Considering he'll be 30 years old in 2021, it's worth wondering if the injury issues will only get worse for a guy whose game is built on speed and athleticism. 

Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis

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    You know the story: Chris Davis clubbed an MLB-leading 53 home runs in 2013, then he led baseball once again with 47 homers in 2015. Prior to the 2016 season, he signed a massive seven-year, $161 million deal to remain with the Baltimore Orioles in perpetuity.

    Subsequently, the results have been...not great.

    Davis hit 38 homers in 2016 but batted just .221 and paced MLB with 219 strikeouts. His home run total fell to 26 in 2017 and 16 in 2018. So far this year, he's hit just 10 while posting a ghastly .172/.265/.305 slash line.

    Meanwhile, the O's will pay him $23 million every year through 2022. In 2021, he'll turn 35. This is going to go from ugly to unwatchable. 

Boston Red Sox: David Price

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    David Price owns a 4.28 ERA in 107.1 innings for the Boston Red Sox this season and is on the shelf with a wrist injury.

    He'll turn 36 in August 2021 during a season in which he'll be paid $32 million (he'll make the same sum in 2022).

    There's a chance the five-time All-Star and 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner will enjoy a late-career renaissance, but there's a much greater chance he'll be a back-of-the-rotation arm commanding ace money.

Chicago Cubs: Yu Darvish

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    Speaking of fading aces, Yu Darvish owns a 4.12 ERA and 4.58 FIP in his second season after signing a six-year, $126 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.

    He's shown flashes of his old, four-time All-Star self but has surrendered an NL-leading 31 homers and recently dealt with forearm tightness, an ominous sign for a pitcher who missed the entire 2015 season to Tommy John surgery.

    Darvish will turn 35 in August 2021 and will earn $22 million. Like David Price, he may be more of a No. 4 or No. 5 starter earning No. 1-starter dough.

Chicago White Sox: Kelvin Herrera

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    The Chicago White Sox have very little money committed for 2021 and figure to make at least one—and probably several—major free-agent additions between now and then.

    For the moment, the only 2021 money that stings is the $1 million buyout they'll surely offer reliever Kelvin Herrera. That's not a lot of cash, but it'll represent the ignoble end of an ill-advised deal paying Herrera $8.5 million this season and next.

    Herrera was an All-Star in 2015 and 2016 during his heyday as the Kansas City Royals' lights-out setup man. This year, he owns a 6.70 ERA in 50 appearances for the ChiSox and isn't likely to get better in 2020—certainly not better enough to trigger a $10 million performance-based vesting option for 2021.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

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    Joey Votto is slogging through a subpar season with career worsts (qualified seasons only) in average (.263), on-base percentage (.354) and OPS (.767).

    Yes, he's been the backbone of the Cincinnati Reds for more than a decade. But he turned 36 on Sept. 10, and his days as an on-base machine and elite offensive force appear to be over.

    The Reds will pay Votto $25 million in 2021 and will fork over the same sum in 2022 and 2023 with a $7 million buyout in 2024.

    In a word: ouch.

Cleveland Indians: Carlos Carrasco

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    The Cleveland Indians don't have many significant contracts that bleed into 2021 or beyond. But they are on the hook for a $12 million payout to right-hander Carlos Carrasco. 

    Carrasco finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award balloting in 2017 and has electric stuff when he's at full strength. He's also 32 years old and has missed significant time due to a leukemia diagnosis this season.

    We're all rooting for a long-lasting recovery, obviously. And who didn't get a bit misty during his emotional return to the mound on Sept. 1?

    That said, he'll turn 34 in 2021 and will bite off a significant chunk of the budget-conscious Indians' payroll.

Colorado Rockies: Charlie Blackmon

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    Charlie Blackmon made his fourth All-Star team with the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He's hitting .319 with a .938 OPS and leads the National League with 41 doubles.

    In July 2021, he'll turn 35 years old. He's already slid from center field to right field, where he's posted minus-eight defensive runs saved.

    Blackmon isn't part of the problem now for the Rockies. In two seasons, when he'll earn $21.5 million, he probably will be.

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

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    Miguel Cabrera will have a bust in Cooperstown when it's all said and done. He also owns a modest .751 OPS through 124 games and will turn 37 on April 18, 2020.

    The rebuilding Detroit Tigers will pay him $30 million in 2020 and 2021, then $32 million in 2022 and 2023 with potential $30 million vesting options for 2024 and 2025.

    As a veteran leader, Cabrera has value. But it's a near certainty he'll be a payroll-sapping albatross for the next few campaigns.

Houston Astros: Zack Greinke

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    The Houston Astros went all-in when they acquired right-hander Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

    Greinke joins Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to form a potent top-of-the-rotation combo for the 'Stros.

    By 2021, however, he'll be 37 years old and set to earn $35 million. Even with the D-backs covering $24 million of Greinke's remaining deal, that'll be a steep price for the Astros to pay a hurler rounding the bend toward the big four-oh.

Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy

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    Danny Duffy hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2017. The veteran left-hander will be 32 years old in 2021 and will earn $15.5 million from the rebuilding Kansas City Royals.

    Unless the Royals are prepared to eat the bulk of Duffy's deal, they'll pay him a sizable chunk of change to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

    "It could be a lot worse," Duffy told reporters of a hamstring injury that put him on the shelf in August. "Getting old ain't it."

Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols

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    Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters of his generation. He'll be enshrined in Cooperstown when the time comes.

    But a .249/.312/.445 slash line in 2019 suggests he's a player lightyears away from his peak.

    The Los Angeles Angels will pay Pujols $30 million in 2021 before a 10-year, $10 million personal-services contract kicks in. The odds of him earning even a fraction of that are somewhere between zero and zilch.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen

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    Kenley Jansen owns a career-worst 3.79 ERA in 2019 and a 5.00 ERA since the All-Star break. He's saved 28 games and averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but he's not the elite closer he once was.

    On Sept. 30, 2021, Jansen will turn 34 years old. That season, he'll earn $20 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Even with L.A.'s perennially gaudy budget, Jansen could be a sunk cost in a couple of seasons.

Miami Marlins: Wei-Yin Chen

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    Wei-Yin Chen is 34 years old and has posted a 6.82 ERA in 63.1 innings for the Miami Marlins. Next season, he'll earn $22 million from the rebuilding Fish.

    After that, Chen will become a free agent unless the Marlins somehow allow him to pitch 180 innings in 2020 or a combined 360 innings in 2019-20, thereby triggering a $16 million vesting option.

    That won't happen, obviously. But it speaks to the folly of the deal Miami handed Chen prior to the 2016 campaign.

    Plus, no other Marlins player is under any type of contract past the 2020 season.

Milwaukee Brewers: Lorenzo Cain

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    After making the All-Star team and finishing seventh in NL MVP voting in 2018, Lorenzo Cain has majorly tumbled for the Milwaukee Brewers this season.

    He's hit eight home runs with a .673 OPS in 132 games while battling a knee injury. He'll turn 35 in April 2021, when the mid-market Brew Crew will pay him $17 million.

    That's usually when players experience an irreversible slide, as opposed to a resurgence.

Minnesota Twins: N/A

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    Good news, Minnesota Twins fans: Your team is cruising toward an American League Central title in 2019 and isn't saddled with any bad deals in the near future.

    The Twins will pay Max Kepler $6.5 million and give $4.3 million to Jorge Polanco in 2021. Both deals will probably look like highway robbery on behalf of Minnesota.

    Other than that, the Twinkies' books are pristine. That frees them up to sign multiple free agents in the coming years even as they reap the rewards of their cost-controlled core.

New York Mets: Robinson Cano

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    Robinson Cano played just 80 games last season for the New York Mets because of an 80-game suspension after he tested positive for a banned substance, and he has been limited to 92 games while posting a .742 OPS due to injury this season.

    He'll turn 37 on Oct. 22. The chances of him turning in a fully healthy campaign, let alone turning the clock back to his eight-time All-Star ways, are not great.

    And yet Cano will earn $24 million every season through 2023. Some of that money, about $20 million, was offset by cash considerations in the trade that sent Cano from the Seattle Mariners to Queens, but the Mets will still be shelling out big bucks for what's likely to be minimal production.

New York Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Jacoby Ellsbury hasn't played an inning for the New York Yankees since 2017 because of various injuries. He's reportedly rehabbing at the Yankees' minor league facility in Tampa Bay, but there's no timetable for his return.

    The odds he'll never again don pinstripes are not small.

    Yet New York is paying the 35-year-old, who was the AL MVP runner-up and won a Gold Glove for the Boston Red Sox in 2011, more than $21 million this season and next, plus a $5 million buyout for 2021.

    That $5 million won't represent a huge chunk of the Yanks' budget compared to, say, the $29 million Giancarlo Stanton will rake in (assuming he doesn't opt out after the 2020 campaign). But it'll be one final, painful reminder of the mostly sunk cost Ellsbury has been since he arrived in the Bronx.

Oakland Athletics: Khris Davis

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    Khris Davis swatted an MLB-leading 48 home runs in 2018 and finished eighth in American League MVP voting.

    This season, he's crashed to earth with a .673 OPS, .222 average and 125 strikeouts in 119 games. Davis is almost exclusively a designated hitter, so all his value comes from his bat. And right now, he's not providing much pop for the Oakland Athletics.

    Oakland will pay Davis $16.8 million in 2020 and 2021, a hefty sum for a small-market club on a perennially tight budget.

    Considering Davis will be 33 in 2021, the long-term outlook for a power resurgence isn't good.

Philadelphia Phillies: Andrew McCutchen

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    Andrew McCutchen played just 59 games in his first year with the Philadelphia Phillies before a torn left ACL ended his season.

    He had a solid .834 OPS when he went down but will be 34 years old in 2021 when the Phils will pay him $20 million.

    Phillies fans can grumble all they want about Bryce Harper's megadeal (13 years, $330 million) after the 2015 MVP's up-and-down 2019 season. But given his age and recent injury history, McCutchen will likely be the real payroll drag for the next couple of seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates don't have a lot of committed payroll for 2021 and beyond. The only player set to earn eight figures that season is right fielder Gregory Polanco, who is set to pull down $11.6 million.

    That's a sizable sum for the budget-conscious Bucs. And Polanco has played just 42 games while battling a balky shoulder that could linger into next season. He's slashed just .242/.301/.425 when he's been in the lineup and will turn 30 in Sept. 2021.

    That's enough red flags for Pittsburgh to be nervous.

San Diego Padres: Wil Myers

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    Wil Myers hasn't been terrible for the San Diego Padres, but his .244 average and .746 OPS don't scream "superstar money."

    That's what the Friars will give him in 2021, however, when they'll shell out $22.5 million. Only Manny Machado, at $32 million, will bite off a bigger chunk of San Diego's payroll. He won't qualify here, though a 31-year-old Eric Hosmer might if he continues to underwhelm in a Padres uniform while making $21 million in both 2021 and 2022, then $13 million through 2025.

    Myers, meanwhile, will be in his age-30 season and has never posted a full-season OPS above .797. There are few ways to justify his deal.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

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    There are plenty of potentially lousy 2021 contracts to pick from on the San Francisco Giants: Johnny Cueto ($21.8 million), Evan Longoria ($18.7 million), Brandon Crawford ($15.2 million), Brandon Belt ($17.2 million).

    We'll give the "honors" to Buster Posey, however. 

    Yes, Posey was the heart and soul of the team's even-year title runs in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And granted, he's an experienced catcher and above-average pitch-framer.

    However, he owns a full-season career-low .694 OPS with just six home runs. By 2021, he'll be 34 years old and may have to save his legs with a move to first base, where this offensive output would not suffice.

Seattle Mariners: Yusei Kikuchi

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Seattle Mariners will pay Yusei Kikuchi $17 million in 2021. In 29 starts with Seattle, the Japanese import owns a 5.24 ERA, 5.76 FIP and a poor 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

    He'll turn 30 in June 2021. It's possible he'll provide value for the M's at the back of the rotation or in middle relief.

    As a guy earning ace-level money on a team transitioning into rebuild mode? Not so much. 

St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler

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    The $18.5 million owed to Matt Carpenter and even the $26 million earmarked for Paul Goldschmidt could be a bad look for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021.

    Worst of all may be the $16.5 million they'll pay Dexter Fowler. 

    Fowler will be 35 years old in 2021 and, while he's enjoyed a modest resurgence in 2019 with a .768 OPS, he had the worst season of his career in 2018, posting a .576 OPS and missing 72 games because of injury.

    Again, Carpenter's slightly higher sum could sting as much or more, but Fowler seems the most likely to be a fringe role player in two years' time.

Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier

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    Kevin Kiermaier is a two-time Gold Glove winner and elite defensive center fielder. He's also slashing .238/.286/.414 for the Tampa Bay Rays and has never been a force with the bat.

    The small-market Rays will pay Kiermaier $11.7 million in 2021, which is sizable by their standards. He'll be 31 that season, an age when a player's athleticism, range and defensive ability can begin to erode.

    Without his stellar leather, Kiermaier is merely a light-hitting outfielder with minimal on-base abilities, not a guy who should consume a significant portion of Tampa Bay's payroll.

Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor

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    Rougned Odor is hitting .203 with 158 strikeouts in 130 games for the Texas Rangers. He's only 25 years old, but the second baseman is a questionable, inconsistent contributor at best in his sixth MLB season.

    He'll earn $12.3 million from Texas in 2021. Maybe he'll cut down on the whiffs and raise his numbers.

    But the safe money is on his being a payroll drag for the remainder of his overpriced deal, which pays him another $12.3 million in 2022 and carries a $3 million buyout for 2023.

Toronto Blue Jays: Randal Grichuk

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    With a .232/.283/.440 slash line in 136 games for the rebuilding Toronto Blue Jays, Randal Grichuk has been a minimal contributor in 2019.

    By 2021, the outfielder could be a semi-major payroll drag. He'll be in his age-29 season and earning $10.3 million, the same amount he'll receive in 2022 and 2023.

    That's not backbreaking, but for a club that's looking to shed salary and add young, cost-controlled talent with an eye on the future, it hurts.

Washington Nationals: Anibal Sanchez

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    Anibal Sanchez has a 4.04 ERA and 4.51 FIP in 147 innings with the Washington Nationals. That's decent for a back-of-the-rotation arm.

    In 2021, Sanchez will be owed at least $6 million in deferred salary in the face of a $12 million option the Nats are unlikely to exercise. 

    Still, Washington will be paying significant money to a guy who's already a so-so pitcher and will be entering his age-37 season.

    As can be said with many of the names on this list: ouch.

              

    All contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference; all stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.  

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