Each MLB Team's Nightmare Contract by 2023
By Friday morning, only four MLB fanbases will still be cheering their teams on in 2021. Most have already turned their attention to what might lie ahead in 2022.
But we're taking that one step further for a look at the most troubling contract situations for 2023 and beyond.
Although some teams don't have players signed beyond 2022, we're going to address every team and pick a sunk cost it wishes it didn't have.
We'll largely disregard club options since the team can choose to walk away from those potential nightmare salaries. However, player options and retained/deferred salaries are fair game here, since those still count against the bottom line and impact what a franchise may be willing to offer to prospective free agents.
Teams are broken up into divisions and listed in alphabetical order by location.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis, $9.17 million (deferred money)
The Orioles currently don't have a single player with a contract figure on the books for 2022, let alone 2023. But they do still need to pay out perhaps the worst contract of all time for years to come.
Chris Davis signed a seven-year, $161 million, fully guaranteed deal before the 2016 season. He played only five of those seven seasons before retiring, during which time he was worth minus-2.7 WAR.
Not only do the O's still owe him $17 million in 2022, but $42 million of his deal was deferred to be paid off from 2023-37. That starts with more than $9.1 million in 2023.
Boston Red Sox: Matt Barnes, $8.375 million
When the Red Sox signed Matt Barnes to a two-year, $18.75 million extension on July 11, it seemed like a good deal. The All-Star closer had a 2.61 ERA with a .174 batting average against at the time.
But he had a 6.48 ERA and a .269 batting average against the rest of the way, including a rough patch in the first half of August that knocked him out of the closer job for good.
The eight-year veteran has yet to finish a season with an ERA better than 3.65, so the Red Sox may have been sold a lemon.
New York Yankees: Aaron Hicks, $10.8 million
$10 million per year is chump change to the Yankees, but the seven-year, $70 million deal they gave to Aaron Hicks after the 2018 season looks awful right about now.
After a breakout 2018 campaign, Hicks hit only 22 home runs total through the first three years of his new contract. But with both Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo hitting free agency after the 2022 campaign, New York might need to rely on Hicks to hold down an outfield spot in 2023.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier, $13 million (club option)
Tampa Bay only has two contracts on its books for 2023.
One of those is $5.25 million to Brandon Lowe, which is highway robbery for a middle infielder with 70 home runs and an .869 OPS since the beginning of 2019. The other is a $13 million team option on Kevin Kiermaier.
He has been a valuable member of the Rays for nearly a decade, but he hasn't played 130 games in a season since 2015. Tampa Bay isn't a deep-pocketed franchise, so even buying him out for $2.5 million could be painful.
Toronto Blue Jays: Hyun-Jin Ryu, $20 million
Hyun-Jin Ryu had a brutal final third of this season. He had a 7.43 ERA over his last 10 starts for a team that was desperately trying to claw its way into the AL Wild Card Game.
The thought of paying Ryu $20 million for his age-36 season is considerably more unsettling than the idea of giving $24.2 million to George Springer, $10.3 million to Randal Grichuk or $5.8 million to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., which are the only other contracts Toronto currently has through 2023.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada, $17.8 million
In 2019, Yoan Moncada hit 25 home runs while triple-slashing .315/.367/.548. However, he hasn't been able to replicate that 2019 run, and he is on an escalating deal that is only going to get worse if he continues to struggle.
Moncada's 2021 season—14 home runs, 61 RBI and a .263/.375/.412 slash line—was adequate for someone making $6.8 million. But the White Sox are on the hook for $13.8 million next year, $17.8 million in 2023 and $24.8 million in 2024.
If he continues to hit like Andrew Benintendi while getting paid like Xander Bogaerts, Chicago's stay atop the AL Central may not last long.
Cleveland Guardians: None
Cleveland currently has only one player under contract through 2023. That would be Jose Ramirez, for whom the Guardians have until five days after the 2021 World Series ends to decide if they want to exercise their $12 million option to keep him in 2022 and $14 million in 2023.
Seeing as he just hit 36 home runs and stole 27 bags in his age-28 season, that's a no-brainer "yes."
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, $32 million
When the Tigers signed Miguel Cabrera to an eight-year, $248 million extension in March 2014, he had just won back-to-back AL MVPs and was on a streak of three consecutive AL batting titles. They had also won the AL Central in each of the past three years and didn't expect to bottom out in the near future.
By the second year of the eight-year extension, though, Cabrera was already a shell of what he once was. The 11-time All-Star who batted .321/.399/.562 from 2003-16 has put together a line of .264/.335/.401 over the past five seasons.
The Tigers still have to pay him $32 million in each of the next two years.
Kansas City Royals: Hunter Dozier, $7.5 million
In 2021, Dozier ranked dead last among all hitters in Baseball Reference WAR with a mark of minus-2.6. Two years removed from an OPS of .870, he dropped all the way down to .680.
He did at least finish strong, hitting .293 with six home runs over his final 23 games. Kansas City fans can only hope that he can carries those three weeks' worth of momentum into the next few seasons.
Minnesota Twins: Josh Donaldson, $21 million
Donaldson hit 26 home runs with an .827 OPS this season, which is on par with what Josh Bell did for the Nationals and Justin Turner did for the Dodgers. But it's a clear step down from where he was at two years ago (37 home runs, .900 OPS), and his glove has already become a bit of a liability at third base.
Even if he's able to maintain his 2021 level of production for another two years, it isn't worth $21 million per season. It'll be worse yet if his numbers continue to slip.
American League West
Houston Astros: Zack Greinke, $12.5 million (deferred)
Houston already has a trio a major active salaries lined up for 2023: Alex Bregman ($30.2 million), Jose Altuve ($29 million) and Lance McCullers Jr. ($15.8 million). But at least they'll be on the team that year.
The $62.5 million of deferred money that the Astros need to pay to Zack Greinke from 2022-26 will hurt the most, especially since he gave them only a 4.12 ERA between 2020-21. He was great during the second half of 2019, and maybe he'll have some postseason heroics this October, but that's still a lot of after-the-fact money for a guy who wasn't even there for long.
Los Angeles Angels: Anthony Rendon, $38.6 million
Anthony Rendon is currently projected to become the highest-paid MLB player in 2023. He might have been worthy of that honor when he led the majors with 126 RBI in 2019 and had a 1.010 OPS, but expecting anyone to maintain that level of production into their mid-30s is an efficient way to run your franchise into the ground.
Rendon will bounce back from his horrendous, injury-plagued 2021 campaign, but he's unlikely to regain—let alone surpass—his 2019 form. And at this price tag, that's what the Angels are paying him to do.
Oakland A's: Elvis Andrus, $15 million (player option)
Even at his peak, $15 million for a year of Elvis Andrus wasn't much of a bargain, as he never had a season with a FanGraphs WAR north of 4.0.
Now that he's only occasionally stealing bases (15 swipes in his last 175 games) and has merely a .302 on-base percentage over the past four seasons, this might be the worst investment Oakland has made since "Moneyball" entered the MLB lexicon.
It's difficult to imagine a team being willing to pay more than $15 million for a 34-year-old shortstop with minimal power and declining speed, so Andrus will almost certainly be collecting this payday from Oakland.
Seattle Mariners: Robinson Cano, $3.75 million (retained)
The Mariners have a difficult decision to make this offseason: Do they exercise their club option for a four-year, $66 million extension on Yusei Kikuchi?
If they don't, he will have a player option for $13 million in 2022, after which he would become a free agent. But if they do, that's $16.5 million per year for a guy who had a 6.22 ERA over his final 14 starts of this season.
If they decline the team option, the most disturbing thing on their 2023 balance sheet is the final portion of the five-year, $20 million deal they gave Robinson Cano to go away.
Texas Rangers: None
What they'll do with all of their financial flexibility remains to be seen, but Texas will be in a great spot starting in 2023.
The Rangers still owe $12.3 million to Rougned Odor (currently with the Yankees) and $7.25 million to Elvis Andrus (currently with the A's) for next season, but they have no other retained/deferred payments due beyond 2022. In fact, the only known figure for 2023 is the $6 million team option they have for closer Jose LeClerc, who missed all of 2021 following Tommy John surgery.
If he doesn't look right in 2022, the Rangers have a $750,000 buyout clause on his club option.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Marcell Ozuna, $16 million
Marcell Ozuna is currently on administrative leave as MLB investigates domestic violence allegations made against him in May, but that isn't why he's on this list. It's because he hit .213 and slugged a paltry .356 in 48 games this season before suffering two fractured fingers in his left hand.
Ozuna was sensational in 2020, hitting .338 with an NL-best 18 home runs in the 60-game season, but that was only the second time in his nine-year career that he posted an OPS better than .800. Even without accounting for the off-the-field issue, the four-year, $65 million deal he signed in February is liable to turn into an albatross.
Miami Marlins: None
Miami only has one player signed through 2023, and that deal with reliever Anthony Bass is a club option for $3 million. There doesn't appear to be a buyout clause in that deal, either, so the Marlins could cut Bass loose and start over from scratch.
Miami will eventually need to worry about the $10 million of deferred money it owes to Giancarlo Stanton each year from 2026-28. For a franchise that almost always has one of the five lowest payrolls in the league, that might be a problem one day.
New York Mets: Robinson Cano, $24 million
Robinson Cano was suspended for the entire 2021 season after testing positive for PEDs for the second time in three years. However, the Mets still have to honor his contract, which means paying $24 million in both 2022 and 2023 to a second baseman who turns 40 next October.
Before that suspension, Cano hit .316/.352/.544 with 10 home runs in 49 games during the pandemic-truncated 2020 season. But what are the odds of someone at his age getting back into that type of groove after more than 18 months away from Major League Baseball?
Philadelphia Phillies: J.T. Realmuto, $23.875 million
The Phillies have three big contracts—$27.5 million to Bryce Harper, $24.5 million to Zach Wheeler and $23.9 million to J.T. Realmuto—on the books for 2023. They also have three sizable club options in Jean Segura ($17 million with a $1 million buyout), Aaron Nola ($16 million with a $4.25 million buyout) and Odubel Herrera ($12.5 million with a $1 million buyout).
If forced to pick one, the Realmuto deal might become problematic by the time it expires in 2025.
There's a positional scarcity component with Realmuto, but nearly $24 million per year for a guy with a career-best WAR of 4.6 seems like a lot. However, the 30-year-old had a career-high 13 stolen bases this season, so his knees are still in great shape in spite of all that time spent squatting behind home plate.
Washington Nationals: $23.5 million for a quartet of ghosts
If you want to put Stephen Strasburg's $35 million salary or Patrick Corbin's $24.4 million in this spot, I can't argue with you. But they at least have a chance to return nearly $60 million worth of value in 2023.
The Nationals won't be getting anything from the $15 million owed to Max Scherzer, the $3.5 million due to Brad Hand, the $3 million for Jon Lester or the $2 million to Rafael Soriano. That's a combined $23.5 million of deferred money to pitchers no longer on the roster, and it's only the beginning.
They'll be paying Scherzer $15 million each year from 2022-27, they'll owe Corbin $10 million in 2025, and Strasburg is due $26.7 million each year from 2027-29. That's a lot of sunk cost for a franchise that should invest a fortune in Juan Soto before he becomes a free agent after the 2024 season.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Jason Heyward, $24.5 million
The Cubs were able to trade away the vast majority of their impending free agents at this year's deadline, but Heyward's eight-year, $184 million contract isn't going away any time soon.
Through the first six years of that deal, Heyward is hitting .247/.326/.383 with 14.2 home runs per 162 games played. He has also missed at least 15 games in each of those seasons, and the shine of his once golden glove has faded considerably.
The Cubs still owe him $24.5 million in each of the next two seasons, followed by $5 million of deferred salary in each year from 2024-27.
Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas, $18 million
Cincinnati can't be thrilled with its return on investment from Mike Moustakas' four-year, $64 million deal.
After clubbing 101 home runs from 2017 through 2019, Moustakas has hit only 14 over the past two seasons. He also has just a .217 batting average and has missed more games (114) than he has played (106).
Making matters worse, it's an escalating contract, so his biggest salary of the deal has yet to come.
Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich, $26 million
Yelich was the NL MVP in 2018 and was well on his way to a double dip in 2019 prior to suffering a fractured kneecap in September. In the two seasons since then, he's at .234/.360/.392 with a 162-game pace of 19 home runs.
The Brewers owe him $26 million per year for the next seven years, plus a 12-year, $28 million deferred contract from 2031-42. He's still young enough to turn his career back around—he turns 30 in December—but he hit only four home runs over his final 298 plate appearances this past season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: None
We can safely assume the Pirates won't be exercising their $10 million club options on Felipe Vazquez in 2022 and 2023 since he's currently in jail for statutory sexual assault, among other charges.
Otherwise, they don't owe anyone anything in 2023. In fact, their only known figure for 2022 is the $3 million of retained salary owed to Gregory Polanco.
St. Louis Cardinals: Miles Mikolas, $16.75 million
Signing Miles Mikolas to a four-year, $68 million extension in February 2019 was justified. He went 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 2018 and looked like he could be the ace of this Cardinals staff through 2023.
But he struggled a bit in 2019 with a 4.16 ERA, missed all of 2020 following surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his pitching arm and was only able to make nine starts with a 4.23 ERA this season.
Even if Mikolas continues to deliver an ERA slightly north of 4.00, this salary won't be that painful if he can stay healthy. Twenty-five starting pitchers made at least $15 million in 2021, and many of those teams would've been thrilled with 30 starts and a 4.00 ERA.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Nick Ahmed, $10.375 million
Between 2018-19, Nick Ahmed hit 35 home runs and won two Gold Gloves. It got him an escalating four-year, $32.5 million contract.
His defense was still solid in 2021, but he hit only five home runs and batted .221. He had a 0.7 WAR, good for 15th-best on the worst team in the National League.
More than $10 million for barely replacement-level production is not a great use of money.
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, $16 million or $21 million (retained)
In 2023, the Rockies need to cut a massive check to former third baseman Nolan Arenado.
When they traded Arenado to St. Louis, they agreed to pay $51 million of the money still owed to him, more than $30 million of which is guaranteed. At least $16 million will be paid in 2023, and if he does not exercise his opt-out clauses after either this season or next, that price tag goes up to $21 million in 2023.
Los Angeles Dodgers: None
Excluding a handful of players for whom the Dodgers hold a club option, they have only three players under contract in 2023: Trevor Bauer ($35.3 million), Mookie Betts ($25 million) and A.J. Pollock ($10 million player option).
Aside from the sexual assault allegations against Bauer and not knowing whether he'll be allowed to pitch again, it's hard to argue with any of those price tags.
Bauer pitched extremely well in his 17 starts this season and was at least in the mix for a second consecutive NL Cy Young award at the end of June. Betts had a bit of a down year and missed 40 games, but he finished either first or second in the MVP vote in three of the previous five seasons. And Pollock just set a career high in OPS for the second straight season.
San Diego Padres: Yu Darvish, $18 million
Yu Darvish, who turns 36 next August, started struggling mightily this season right around the time they started checking pitchers for foreign substances.
It might be completely unrelated, but Darvish had a 6.65 ERA over his final 14 starts. The Padres can only hope the highest-paid pitcher on their staff for both 2022 and 2023 recovers from that collapse.
San Francisco Giants: Tommy La Stella, $11.5 million
For $2 million, Tommy La Stella's 2021 season was fine. He played in only 76 games and batted .250, but he was a valuable part of the middle infield rotation for a team that had no one appear in 140 games.
However, his salary jumps up to $5.25 million next year and $11.5 million in 2013. That's a hefty price tag for a guy who has been worth only 4.5 WAR over his 607-game career.