1 Contract Every MLB Team Would Love to Trade
If a magic genie granted you the power to remove one player and their contract from your favorite team's payroll, who would you choose?
For a lot of fans, there's not much thought needed to answer that question—they know all too well that one awful contract that, if traded tomorrow, would feel like an early Christmas present.
On several teams, there are no bad contracts. Lucky them, because for a bunch of clubs, there are multiple eyesores effectively preventing them from turning things around. But we picked one and only one contract from each of the 30 franchises.
In the vast majority of cases, it's a contract that goes through at least 2023. Not only is that player's deal potentially keeping the team from living up to its potential this season, but it's also going to hinder it when it comes to free agency and putting together next season's payroll.
Teams are listed in ascending order of how untradable their worst contract is, starting with a few that aren't that troublesome at all.
All contract data courtesy of Spotrac.
The 'Best of the Worst' Tier
30. Cleveland Guardians: Austin Hedges, C
Contract Details: $4M in 2022, UFA in 2023
There's nothing remotely close to a bad contract on Cleveland's ledger. The Guardians have just three players (Jose Ramirez, Emmanuel Clase and Myles Straw) on long-term deals, and they all look like bargains. The only other player with a dollar amount assigned beyond this season is reliever Bryan Shaw, who has a $4 million club option for 2023 with no buyout.
But if they had to get rid of someone for some reason, I guess Austin Hedges makes the most sense. They would need to sign another catcher to replace him, but for $4 million, they can probably find someone who doesn't have the worst batting average in the majors since the beginning of 2019. Hedges does have outstanding defensive metrics, though, which is likely why Cleveland hasn't designated him for assignment on account of his poor hitting.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates: Heath Hembree, RP
Contract Details: $2.1M in 2022, UFA in 2023
Like Cleveland, Pittsburgh has no bad long-term deals. The Pirates wisely locked up Ke'Bryan Hayes through at least the 2029 season. They'll owe Bryan Reynolds $6.8 million next season, which is more than fair value. And that's pretty much it. The only other known number for 2023 is a $1.5 million club option (with a $200,000 buyout) for Daniel Vogelbach, which is one heck of a team-friendly figure for someone who has batted cleanup in May for all but one game.
So I suppose getting rid of Heath Hembree would be the preferred move. Even for Pittsburgh's tight purse strings, $2.1 million certainly isn't much. However, it's silly that the Buccos are spending more than 3 percent of their 2022 payroll on a 33-year-old right-handed reliever who has a 6.68 ERA since the beginning of 2020.
28. Houston Astros: Ryan Pressly, CL
Contract Details: $10M in 2022, $14M per year in 2023-25, UFA in 2026
If we were considering deferred contracts, Houston's owing Kansas City Royal Zack Greinke $62.5 million from now to 2026 would easily rank in our top three. But removing that expense from the conversation, I don't hate anything on the Astros' future payroll. They have seven players (not counting Greinke) on the hook for a combined $128.5 million next season, but they're all reasonable deals.
If they had to move someone, though, do they really need Pressly?
Don't get me wrong. He has been great since they swindled him from the Minnesota Twins before the 2018 trade deadline, saving 47 games with a 2.28 ERA. But Houston has more than enough above-average relievers that it could get by without one of the most expensive closers in baseball. Also, I realize he's recovering from knee inflammation that sidelined him for a couple of weeks, but his average velocity both before and after that injured list stint has been considerably lower than it was for the past five seasons.
But, again, I don't think the Astros should actively shop Pressly. I had to pick one contract from each team, and this seems like the least awful cost-cutting move they could make.
The 'Buyer's Remorse on Recent Acquisitions' Tier
Note: When possible, I avoided choosing players who have started slowly for new teams. For these five teams, however, new contracts were the only ones that made sense. They're near the bottom of the list since they were deemed worthy of these prices just a few months ago.
27. Baltimore Orioles: Jordan Lyles, SP
Contract Details: $6M in 2022, $11M (or $1M buyout) in 2023
Lyles has been one of Baltimore's better pitchers with three quality starts. But why in the world did the penny-pinching Orioles invest this much money in an 11-year veteran who had a career Baseball Reference WAR of negative-2.1?
He is one of just four players whom they are paying more than $3.3 million this season, and two of them ($6.5 million deferred to Alex Cobb, $5.7 million to Chris Davis) aren't even on the roster. Even if all they got out of trading Lyles is not needing to pay his $1 million buyout for next season, it might be worth it.
26. St. Louis Cardinals: Steven Matz, SP
Contract Details: $8.5M in 2022, $10.5M in 2023, $12.5M in 2024 and 2025
For as solid as Matz was last season with the Toronto Blue Jays and for as much potential as he flashed in his previous six seasons with the New York Mets, four years for $44 million seemed like a good investment. (So good, in fact, that Mets owner Steve Cohen took to Twitter to voice his displeasure about losing out on the bidding war.) The early returns haven't been great, though, as Matz has a 6.03 ERA through eight starts.
It's way too early to call this a bad signing, though. The Cardinals simply don't have any other contracts worth griping about.
25. Miami Marlins: Avisail Garcia, RF
Contract Details: $12M per year in 2022-25, $12M team option in 2026
When I started combing through the list of candidates on the afternoon of May 11, the Garcia signing looked a whole lot worse than it does now. Back then, he was batting .192 with just one home run and four RBI. He has been more potent at the plate since.
All the same, this is a huge contract by Miami's standards, and he's still a far cry from performing like he did from 2017 to 2021, when he hit .278 with a 162-game pace of 26 home runs and 90 RBI. If the Fish could unload this contract and instead use the money to start investing in Jazz Chisholm Jr., Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers, they likely would not hesitate to do so.
24. Seattle Mariners: Eugenio Suarez, 3B/DH
Contract Details: $11.3M per year in 2022-24, $15M team option ($2M buyout) in 2025
When the Mariners traded Brandon Williamson, Jake Fraley, Justin Dunn and Connor Phillips to the Cincinnati Reds for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez in mid-March, there's little question Winker was the main attraction and Suarez had a contract they agreed to absorb to make it happen.
That isn't to say Seattle didn't want Suarez. With Kyle Seager gone, it needed a third baseman, and there's no denying Suarez's raw power. But he's also a shell of the player who hit .277 with 83 home runs across 2018 and 2019, having barely batted the Mendoza line since the beginning of 2020. He's more or less an expensive stopgap until top prospect Noelvi Marte is ready.
23. Texas Rangers: Jon Gray, SP
Contract Details: $15M per year in 2022-23, $13M per year in 2024-25
I could have gone with Marcus Semien, as his seven-year, $175 million pact has looked horrendous. But at least Semien was awesome in two of the past three seasons.
Conversely, Jon Gray spent the past seven years as a "Good for the Colorado Rockies" pitcher, and the Rangers invested $56 million in the hope that he might become an All-Star candidate away from the thin air of Denver. But did you know his career ERA and WHIP are actually higher on the road (4.68 and 1.39) than they are at home (4.56 and 1.29)? A blister kept Gray out for much of April, but there has been little to suggest he is going to be the ace of the Texas staff for the next three-plus seasons.
The 'Not Actively Shopping, Not Ignoring Phone Calls' Tier
22. Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier, CF
Contract Details: $12.2M in 2022, $13M (or $2.5M buyout) in 2023
Kiermaier has been with the Rays since the 2010 draft and is the type of homegrown fan favorite whom you don't mind paying a little extra to keep around.
But the six-year, $53 million contract he signed before the 2017 season sure has gotten expensive.
It was swell initially when he was making $3.2 million for solid production, but that salary has crept up another $9 million for someone who is triple-slashing .231/.296/.385 since the beginning of 2018. Even his three-time Gold Glove Award defense has waned. (No errors this season, but an ultimate zone rating that is not even close to what it used to be.)
21. Milwaukee Brewers: Kolten Wong, 2B
Contract Details: $8.5M in 2022, $10M (or $2M buyout) in 2023
Speaking of once-great fielders, Wong won the National League Gold Glove Award at second base in 2019 and 2020, but he has already committed six errors.
The good news is he's roughly on pace to match his career high in home runs (14), and with eight stolen bases, he should demolish his previous best (24). However, those are still modest numbers for a player whose primary value throughout his career has been his fielding. And if the Brewers traded Wong, the middle infield would still be in good hands between Willy Adames and Luis Urias.
Really, though, Milwaukee doesn't have any bad contracts—unless you're worried about the six-plus years left on Christian Yelich's megadeal.
20. Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano, 1B
Contract Details: $9.3M in 2022, $14.3M (or $2.8M buyout) in 2023
Sano is out through at least early July while he recovers from a torn meniscus, but the slugger had gotten out to a terrible start, batting .093 with just one home run.
Batting average and strikeouts have always been issues with Sano, but his lack of power is alarming since he recorded a 162-game pace of 43 home runs and 99 RBI from 2019 to 2021. If another team wanted to buy low, surely the Twins would entertain the offer.
The 'That Balloon Payment Is Going to Sting' Tier
19. San Diego Padres: Blake Snell, SP
Contract Details: $13.1M in 2022, $16.6M in 2023
Snell made his season debut Wednesday, so it's premature to make sweeping judgments about his performance. However, he struggled with walks last season, has been frequently injured and simply isn't a necessary expense for the Padres.
Excluding Snell, San Diego has six starting pitchers in Joe Musgrove, Sean Manaea, Yu Darvish, Nick Martinez, MacKenzie Gore and Mike Clevinger. Five of those six, plus Snell, are making at least $6 million this season, and the exception is the 23-year-old Gore, who might be the best of the bunch but who has been relegated to a bullpen role.
Just like Houston with Ryan Pressly, this isn't a bad contract. It's an expensive one San Diego could live without. (As evidenced by its 23-13 record and 3.41 ERA among starters prior to Snell's appearance.)
18. Arizona Diamondbacks: Nick Ahmed, SS
Contract Details: $8.1M in 2022, $10.4M in 2023
From 2018 to 19, Ahmed hit 35 home runs and won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards at shortstop. The four-year, $32.5 million contract he signed that offseason looked like a steal for the D-Backs.
But since the start of 2020, Ahmed's defense hasn't been nearly as crisp, his strikeout rate has ballooned, and his home run rate is about half of what it used to be. He did hit three home runs within his first seven games this season, but he hasn't done much of anything since then. When this becomes an eight-figure salary next year, yikes.
17. San Francisco Giants: Tommy La Stella, IF
Contract Details: $5.3M in 2022, $11.5M in 2023
When La Stella was making $2 million last season, this three-year, $18.8 million contract didn't seem so bad. But when the journeyman infielder is making $11.5 million in 2023, that might be a problem.
In fairness, La Stella was an All-Star in 2019, batting .295 with 16 home runs in just 80 games. The slugging was unexpected and represented nearly half the home runs in his nine-season career, but he has always been an above-average contact hitter with a versatile glove. Still, $11.5 million is a lot of for a utility player with minimal pop.
16. Kansas City Royals: Hunter Dozier, UTIL
Contract Details: $4.8M in 2022, $7.5M in 2023, $9.3M in 2024, $10M team option in 2025
In 2019, Dozier hit .279 with 65 extra-base hits. Per Baseball Reference, he was worth 2.8 WAR. And the Royals were hoping for more of that when they signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract before last season. Instead, he ranked last in the majors with a WAR of negative-2.5.
Dozier is at least performing at a slightly-better-than-replacement level this season, but this back-loaded contract is going to get painful if that's all he's able to give Kansas City.
15. New York Mets: James McCann, C
Contract Details: $8.2M in 2022, $12.2M in 2023, $12.2M in 2024
McCann used to be one of the better offensive catchers in the majors. He was an All-Star in 2019 with a .273 average and 18 home runs. And in just 31 games in 2020, he hit .289 with seven round-trippers. That success with the Chicago White Sox got him a four-year, $40.6 million contract with the Mets.
But his .808 OPS in 2019 and 2020 has plummeted to .631. And while Francisco Alvarez probably isn't going to be ready for the big leagues in 2022, at some point before the end of McCann's contract, New York will want to hand the reins to one of the most highly touted prospects in the minors.
The 'They're Paying How Much for a Middle Reliever?!' Tier
14. Los Angeles Dodgers: David Price, RP
Contract Details: $16M in 2022, UFA in 2023
Were we solely focused on 2022 salaries, Price would easily rank in the top five along with Miguel Cabrera and Jason Heyward. But because this is finally the last season of his seven-year, $217 million contract—and because the Boston Red Sox are paying half of his $32 million salary—this one doesn't seem like that much of an albatross anymore.
It also bears mentioning that these are the Dodgers, whose money evidently grows on trees. If it was the Pirates or Oakland Athletics trying to pay this $16 million, that'd be a disaster. For L.A., it's more of a minor inconvenience.
And at least Price is still effective when he does take the mound. He has a line of 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB and 8 K in six appearances. Still, Los Angeles would trade him in a heartbeat if it could.
13. Boston Red Sox: Matt Barnes, RP
Contract Details: $8.1M in 2022, $8.4M in 2023, $8M team option in 2024
The contract extension Barnes got in July sure did age like fine milk.
Over the final two months of 2021, Barnes had a 10.13 ERA and lost his closer gig after saving 24 of Boston's first 109 games. And things haven't gone much better this year, as he has a 7.11 ERA and doesn't appear to be a candidate for the ninth-inning job, even though the Red Sox don't have a clear closer. (Hansel Robles is the guy, almost by default.)
It's an outrageous amount of money this season and next for an ineffective middle reliever. But at least Barnes was solid less than 12 months ago, and at least we're not talking about an eight-figure salary. That kept him out of the top 10.
The 'Sure Would Be Swell If They Could Start Playing Like It's 2020 Again' Tier
12. Toronto Blue Jays: Hyun Jin Ryu, SP
Contract Details: $20M per year in 2022-23
From 2018 to 2020, Ryu was one of the best in the business. In fact, only Jacob deGrom (2.10) had a lower ERA than Ryu (2.30) during that stretch. But the 35-year-old lefty was just OK in 2021 (4.37 ERA) and has been injured (forearm inflammation) and underwhelming (6.00 ERA) in 2022.
Maybe Ryu can turn things around. The forearm issue hasn't cost him any velocity, and his two starts since he spent four weeks on the IL were better than the two starts he made before that stint. But since the start of last season, his breaking balls have been less effective, resulting in a steep decline in swings and misses. And with fewer strikeouts plus an increase in home runs allowed, the $20 million price tag could get painful.
11. Atlanta Braves: Marcell Ozuna, OF
Contract Details: $16M per year in 2022-24, $16M (or $1M buyout) in 2025
Considering Ozuna batted .338 and led the National League in home runs and RBI the season before he signed this contract, $16 million per year for four years had the potential to be a colossal bargain.
Some 16 months later, things haven't gone according to design. He struggled for the first 48 games of last season before suffering a broken wrist. Then he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and misdemeanor battery. The charges were dropped after Ozuna completed a pretrial diversion program. And even with four home runs in the past week, his numbers in 2022 are similarly disappointing to what they were in 2021.
A repeat of the 1.067 OPS from 2020 was always unlikely, but no one expected Ozuna to be hovering in the mid-.600s.
The 'Already Bad and About to Get Worse' Tier
10. Philadelphia Phillies: Scott Kingery, UTIL
Contract Details: $6.3M in 2022, $8.3M in 2023, $13M (or $1M buyout) in 2024
I had no idea where to put Kingery on this list, which feels fitting, since the Phillies have no idea what to do with him either.
The once highly touted prospect hit .258 with 19 home runs in 2019, but then he hit .159 in 2020 and had one hit and 12 strikeouts in 19 at-bats last season. Kingery made his 2022 minor league debut Tuesday. Maybe he will get right and be worth this back-loaded contract.
As with Boston's Matt Barnes, though, the good news for Philadelphia is Kingery "only" has a seven-figure salary. If he never makes it back to the majors, oh well, the Phillies have seven other players making at least $16 million each in 2023. But this is still an eyesore of a contract.
9. Oakland A's: Elvis Andrus, SS
Contract Details: $7M in 2022, $15M vesting option in 2023
Early on in Andrus' eight-year, $120 million contract, he was at least arguably worth it. He hit .302 and stole 24 bases in 2016. The following year, he batted .297 with 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases in what was the best season of his career.
Lately, though, he has been an extremely expensive replacement-level player. Since the beginning of 2020, Andrus is batting .233 with seven home runs and 17 stolen bases. And I have no earthly idea what Oakland was thinking or planning when it traded for Andrus in February 2021, even though Texas agreed to eat about half his salary in 2021 and 2022.
The intriguing part to monitor toward the end of the campaign is that Andrus' 2023 player option will only be available if he reaches at least 550 plate appearances. He has been playing every day, but buried in the bottom third of the order, he is on pace for 514 plate appearances. Don't be surprised if he gets more frequent "routine" days off here and there to make sure the A's don't have to pony up that $15 million next season.
(For what it's worth: If that $15 million were guaranteed, Andrus would have landed in the top five.)
8. Chicago White Sox: Dallas Keuchel, SP
Contract Details: $18M in 2022, $20M vesting option in 2023
From 2014 to 2020, Keuchel had a 3.25 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015, won four Gold Glove Awards and was a two-time All-Star. And he was especially impressive during the coronavirus pandemic-shortened season, making 11 starts with a 1.99 ERA.
Since then, though, Chicago has been left holding the bag. Keuchel had a 5.28 ERA in 2021 and has been even more disappointing in 2022, struggling to find the strike zone like never before.
As is the case for Oakland with Andrus, it is in Chicago's best interest to not overuse Keuchel. If he logs 160 innings, that $20 million option for 2023 will vest, and the White Sox would be on the hook for another, even more expensive season.
7. Cincinnati Reds: Mike Moustakas, 3B
Contract Details: $16M in 2022, $18M in 2023, $20M (or $4M buyout) in 2024
From 2017 to 2019, Moustakas clubbed 101 home runs and averaged 89 RBI per season. So when the then-30-year-old third baseman hit free agency, he was a hot commodity, signing with Cincinnati on a four-year, $64 million deal plus a $20 million team option.
With the way he has performed for the Reds, though, it's hard to imagine any world in which they will exercise that option. Since the beginning of 2020, Moose is batting .223 with 17 home runs. He missed more than 25 percent of 2020 and more than 60 percent of 2021 and has already missed 10 of Cincinnati's 38 games this year.
The 'Long-Term Headaches' Tier
6. New York Yankees: Aaron Hicks, OF
Contact Details: $10.8M per year in 2022-23, $9.8M per year in 2024-25, $12.5M (or $1M buyout) in 2026
As is the case for Philadelphia with Scott Kingery, at least New York isn't saddled with an eye-gouging number for Hicks. However, his contract ranks near the top of our list because it isn't going away any time soon.
In his age-28 season in 2018, Hicks swatted 27 home runs and had an OPS north of .830 for the second consecutive year. But now in the fourth season of the seven-year, $70 million deal that he signed after that career-best campaign, he has just 23 cumulative home runs with a slugging percentage that seems to get uglier by the day.
Hicks missed a combined 233 games from 2019 to 2021. But as far as we know, he has been healthy this season and still has just two extra-base hits.
Less than a month after the Mets opted to eat the remaining $40 million-plus on Robinson Cano's contract, many Yankees fans are clamoring for a similar solution with Hicks.
5. Los Angeles Angels: Anthony Rendon, 3B
Contract Details: $36.6M in 2022, $38.6M per year in 2023-26
From 2017 to 2019, Rendon hit .310, averaging 28 home runs and 43 doubles per year. And during the Washington Nationals' 2019 World Series run, he had a 1.004 OPS during the playoffs. He was inexplicably named an All-Star only once during his seven-year stay with Washington, but that sensational postseason at the end of a strong three-year stretch helped get him a seven-year, $245 million deal in free agency.
Save for Max Scherzer and Mike Trout, Rendon has the highest average salary in the majors.
And, to put it lightly, the Angels have not gotten what they paid for.
Rendon's disappointing 2021 season was chalked up to a litany of injuries (groin, knee, hamstring, hip). He played in only 58 games before season-ending surgery and batted a career-worst .240. But he hasn't been any better in 2022 with a .244 average and 19.1 percent strikeout rate, which is well above his career norm.
4. Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, SP
Contract Details: $35M per year in 2022-26
Not only is this a nightmare, but $80 million of Strasburg's $245 million contract is also deferred until 2027-29. So, instead of $35 million per year from 2022 to 2026, it's more like $25 million per year from 2022 to 2029—and he won't be pitching for those final three years.
In a word: yikes.
The lone thing that kept this oft-injured flamethrower from landing at No. 1 is that he has been really good when healthy. Granted, it has been two-and-a-half years since Strasburg was last healthy, but he had a 1.98 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings during the 2019 postseason. So while the players in our top three have repeatedly proved unworthy of their $20 million-plus salaries, there's at least hope in the nation's capital that Strasburg will come back from thoracic outlet syndrome with ace-level stuff.
Speaking as a Nationals fan, though, we are already bracing for how painful it is going to be when Juan Soto departs via trade or free agency because Strasburg's contract rendered the franchise unable to pay the superstar right fielder what he's worth.
The 'OMG, Can It Please Be 2024 Now?' Tier
3. Colorado Rockies: Charlie Blackmon, OF
Contract Details: $21.3M in 2022, $18.3M player option in 2023
What stings the most about the Blackmon contract is that the Rockies agreed to absorb $51 million when they traded Nolan Arenado before the 2021 season, got nothing when Trevor Story left as a free agent after the 2021 season and yet are still shelling out all this money.
They gave away the two faces of the franchise but couldn't convince anyone to take Blackmon's salary off their hands.
In his prime, Blackmon was easily worth this sum. The four-time All-Star entered this season with a career .300 batting average and four seasons with at least 29 home runs. But his average and slugging percentage have fallen by the wayside with less than two months remaining until he turns 36.
Between Blackmon's $18.3 million salary and the $21 million owed to Arenado next year, the Rockies probably can't afford to do anything in free agency this offseason and will need to wait until 2024 to start providing any support to Kris Bryant.
2. Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, DH
Contract Details: $32M per year in 2022-23, $30M mutual option (or $8M buyout) in 2024
Detroit got a lot of great years out of Cabrera. Both his MVP seasons and most of his 500 home runs and 3,000 hits came in a Tigers uniform.
But this eight-year, $240 million contract has been a disaster since Year 2, when he started going downhill in a hurry. (It's no coincidence Detroit fell off a cliff at the same time that its superexpensive first baseman-designated hitter did.)
By normal standards, Cabrera hasn't actually been bad. He's hitting .267 and averaging 18 home runs per 162 games since the beginning of 2017. For the past five-plus seasons, he has given the Tigers what Dylan Carlson gave the Cardinals while nearly winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award last season. But Cabrera makes about 55 times what Carlson does, which means "comparable to a near ROY" is a gigantic letdown.
1. Chicago Cubs: Jason Heyward, CF
Contract Details: $24.5M per year in 2022-23
Have we finally reached the point when we can talk about this as one of the worst contracts of all time?
It'll never supersede the Red Sox's $72.5 million for Rusney Castillo to play 99 career games, but $184 million for less than 10 wins above replacement (9.1 on Baseball Reference, 9.0 on FanGraphs) is brutal.
At least for a little while, Heyward was a Gold Glove Award right fielder who wasn't a black hole in the lineup. But both in the field and at the dish, he's a far cry from what he was in the mid-2010's. He's batting .208 with zero home runs, and per FanGraphs, only AJ Pollock has a worse UZR/150 among outfielders.
The Cubs jump-started their rebuilding process by trading their key players last summer, but they can't hit the reset button until Heyward's contract is finally gone.