As more and more teams start inking players to long-term contracts, either to keep them in town or attract them to town, more and more of those contracts start going pear-shaped for the teams. Usually, it’s because the player simply starts to see their abilities fall off a cliff, but sometimes, it’s because the team has so much money tied up in that one player that they can’t really get anything else done.
Since we’re in the dog days of the offseason, I figured it would be a good idea to look at each team’s worst contract currently on the books. I’m not considering contracts just signed this offseason (apologies, Ervin Santana and Max Scherzer), and I’m not considering one-year deals that were used to avoid arbitration. Also note that for all options, only the buyout amount was considered, and not the value of the option itself.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill (still owed $24 million over two years). Luckily for the Diamondbacks, the only players guaranteed money in 2017 are Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas. Unluckily for the Diamondbacks, they’ve got some dead weight on the books over the next two years, including starters Trevor Cahill ($12.5 million) and Bronson Arroyo ($14 million). But I’m giving the nod to second baseman Aaron Hill, who will be 33 in March and is still owed $24 million over the next two seasons by the Diamondbacks. Hill was brutal in 2014, hiting just .244/.287/.367 over 133 games with ten homers. Furthermore, he struck out a career-high rate and walked at a career-low rate, and is coming off of a 2013 where he played in just 87 games. His three-year extension looked fine when it was signed, but right now, it’s looking like a burden on the club.
Atlanta Braves: B.J. Upton (still owed $48.15 million over three years). Who else did you expect here? It’s going to take a lot of effort for anyone to knock the elder Upton from his perch as Atlanta’s worst contract, but a reversal of fortunes in 2015 could result in Nick Markakis (three years and $33 million after 2015) becoming more of a drain on the club than Bossman Junior.
Baltimore Orioles: Ubaldo Jimenez (still owed $38.75 million over three years). Ubaldo looked like a decent bargain for the Orioles last winter. In his first year as an Oriole, Jimenez threw just 125 1/3 innings, pitching to a 4.81 ERA while striking out 116 and walking 77. It’s not a stretch to think that Jimenez isn’t one of Baltimore’s five best options in their rotation, though he’ll still likely get a shot in the starting five to begin the year.
Boston Red Sox: Allen Craig (still owed $26.5 million over three years). 2014 was a lost year for Craig, and the highlight was his trade to the Red Sox by the Cardinals in the John Lackey deal. The biggest problem about Craig in Boston is this – the Red Sox have someone at every position he can play. David Ortiz is the club’s DH. Mike Napoli is their first baseman, though he’ll be a free agent after 2015. The team has three highly-paid outfielders (Rusney Castillo, the converted Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino) and two solid bench outfielders (Jackie Bradley Jr, Daniel Nava). Where in the hell can Craig even get playing time this year?
Chicago Cubs: Edwin Jackson (still owed $26 million over two years). When the Cubs signed Jackson two winters ago, they needed starting pitching. Hell, they still could use starting pitching, even after the signings of Jason Hammel and Jon Lester this winter. But Jackson’s been a legendary bust in Chicago, pitching 316 innings with an atrocious 5.58 ERA with the club. This isn’t the White Sox version of Jackson, who threw 196 2/3 innings over two half years with the team and notched a 3.66 ERA.
Chicago White Sox: John Danks (still owed $31.5 million over two years). Oh, the humanity. Danks signed his extension with the White Sox during the winter of 2011. In 2012, he made just nine starts in the majors. In 2013, he made 22, but had a 4.75 ERA. In 2014, he stayed healthy all year, making 32 starts, but was just as bad with a 4.74 ERA. He’s only making 50 grand less than Jeff Samardzija and Chris Sale combined in 2015. That’s not ideal.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto (still owed $213 million over nine years). I love Joey Votto. He’s a fantastic player when he’s on the field. But for a small market club like the Reds, $213 million over nine seasons is *a lot* of money. And while Votto is a perennial MVP candidate, 2014 was the worst year of his career. He played in just 62 games, hitting .255/.390/.409. Votto’s also 31, so the odds of him rolling out 150 game seasons (like he did in three out of four years from 2010-2013) aren’t exactly great. Needless to say, this situation isn’t great for Cincinnati.
Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher (still owed $30 million over two years). I understand why the Indians signed Swisher before the 2013 season, but it didn’t work out all that well for the club. The 34-year old played in just 97 games last year, and hit a pathetic .208/.278/.331. He can really only play first base and the outfield, and the Indians have a first baseman/catcher, a first baseman/outfielder, a corner outfield MVP candidate, and a pair of platoon outfielders on their roster. It’ll be tough for Swisher to get playing time this year, and that’s not what you want to say about a player still owed $30 million.
Colorado Rockies: Carlos Gonzalez (still owed $54.3 million over three years). CarGo is still a great player, but his 2014 was a disaster after he played in just 70 games and hit .238/.292/.431 with 11 homers and only three stolen bases. Given Colorado’s stubbornness when it comes to trading Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki, maybe it would be for the best if Gonzalez wasn’t signed long-term so the team could move on and try to build something new for the future instead of insisting that CarGo was a long-term franchise cornerstone.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera (still owed $270 million over nine years). Cabrera’s contract with the Tigers hasn’t gotten ugly yet, but his extension hasn’t started yet. Seriously – that eight year, $248 million deal he signed last spring was tacked on to the end of this eight year, $152 million contract signed in 2008, meaning that it doesn’t begin until the 2016 season. Cabrera’s still good, but the Tigers are dealing with an obscene amount of money far into the future with Miggy. There’s no way this doesn’t end poorly for them.
Houston Astros: Scott Feldman (still owed $18 million over two years). Houston was a tough choice, because given the “no new contracts” stipulation I set, I didn’t have many options. My choices were Jose Altuve (lol no), Chad Qualls (only $3.25 million left), Jonathan Singleton ($8.5 million over four years, which is peanuts), and Feldman. Feldman didn’t have a bad year at all in 2014, pitching to a 3.74 ERA in 180 1/3 innings. But he’ll turn 32 in a couple of weeks, and his health has always been a question mark. But hey, when $18 million over two years is your club’s worst financial investment, you’re in a good place.
Kansas City Royals: Jason Vargas (still owed $25 million over three years). Kansas City had a busy winter, but all of those potentially rough signings won’t qualify today. I ended up choosing Vargas, a perfectly fine, yet thoroughly unspectacular, pitcher. He’ll be 32 next month, and is coming off of a 187 inning, 3.71 ERA season. Is that worth $25 million over the next three years? Well, I guess so, but that’s eight million less that the Royals can invest in players like Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Albert Pujols (still owed $189 million over seven years). I really wanted to go with Josh Hamilton here, but the sheer length of Pujols’ contract made it hard to avoid selecting him. Pujols has been fine as an Angel, but “fine” isn’t what you expect when you commit $240 million over a decade to a player. He’s already 35, and still has seven years left in Anaheim. This could get ugly.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andre Ethier (still owed $56 million over three years). Los Angeles has plenty of big contracts on the books, and while Ethier’s deal isn’t the biggest, I feel that it’s the worst given that he’s the Dodgers’ fourth-best (or fifth-best, depending on how you feel about Scott Van Slyke) outfielder. And hell, he was the fifth-best (or sixth-best) when the offseason started, but the trade of Matt Kemp to the Padres bumped Ethier up a spot. If baseball had an amnesty rule like the NBA, would Ethier have gotten dumped by the Dodgers this winter? Last winter?
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton (still owed $325 million over 13 years). This is the pick by default, because like the Diamondbacks, Miami doesn’t have much in the form of long-term deals. Stanton is unquestionably a superstar and one of the best players in baseball, but when you’re talking about the largest contract in American sports history, you need to look at it with a questioning eye.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun (still owed $118 million over six years). This was a no-brainer. Not only is Braun the only Milwaukee player signed past 2017, he’s also 31 and coming off the worst year of his career. Who knows how much of his struggles in 2014 came about because of injuries, but he’s not a guy I’d bet on being a great investment through the end of the decade.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer (still owed $92 million over four years). Mauer’s a fine player, but he wasn’t the same player in 2014. As a catcher, .277/.361/.371 isn’t much to get concerned about. As a first baseman, it’s worrisome. Now, if Mauer can replicate his 2012-13 lines over the final four years of this deal, maybe the Twins won’t be sweating the rest of the deal too much. But if 2014 is the new norm, the Twins fans who irrationally despise him could be proved correct by 2018.
New York Mets: David Wright (still owed $107 million over six years). Wright’s 32, and coming off a disastrous 2014 after fantastic years in 2012 and 2013 (though the latter was shortened due to injury). Because of how cheap the Mets have gotten in recent years, my only choices here were Curtis Granderson, Jon Niese, and Wright – and Granderson is owed $60 million less over three fewer years than Wright. It’s simple arithmetic, folks.
New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez (still owed $64 million over three years). The Yankees are the one team that has several plausible choices here. But come on, is anyone but A-Rod really any option here? He might not have a position with the Yankees this year, is a cancerous figure, and is owed a ridiculous amount of money. Maybe it would be best if they just released him, ate the remaining money on his deal, and got the hell out of Dodge.
Oakland Athletics: Coco Crisp (still owed $22.75 million over two years). Crisp wins by default, though I’d love to go with Billy Butler, just signed this winter. It’s not a ridiculous contract, and Crisp is still a good player, but the situation isn’t ideal.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard (still owed $60 million over two years). At least Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon can be free agents after 2015. At least Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley are still productive. Howard is stuck in Philly for the next two years, isn’t productive anymore, and is making way too much money. Furthermore, he’s potentially blocking prospect Maikel Franco at first base. There’s nothing good about this situation anymore.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Tabata (still owed $9.1 million over two years). $9.1 million over two years isn’t a lot of money, but Tabata isn’t even on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster anymore. Over the last three years, he’s been worth a sterling 0.2 fWAR in the majors, homering nine times and stealing 12 bases while hitting .266/.325/.375 in 289 games. Tabata is the prime example of what happens when a low risk contract for a young player goes horribly wrong.
San Diego Padres: Cameron Maybin (still owed $16.2 million over two years). Or maybe Maybin is the prime example of what happens when a low risk contract for a young player goes horribly wrong. In 2013, Maybin played in just 14 games. In 2014, he played in 95, and was handed a suspension for a positive amphetamine test. He was so disappointing that the Padres acquired three new outfielders this winter, pushing him down to sixth on the depth chart. At least Matt Kemp, while getting paid a lot, is still productive.
San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain (still owed $70 million over three years). Is Matt Cain broken? Maybe. he hadn’t posted an ERA over 4.00 since his rookie year of 2006, but crossed the mark in both 2013 and 2014. He also never failed to pitch 200 innings since that 2006 season, but missed the threshold in each of the last two seasons. Last year, he made just 15 starts, notching a career-low strikeout rate, a career-worst ERA, and his highest walk rate since 2008. If he doesn’t rebound in 2015, the Giants could be looking at Cain as a sunk cost.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez (still owed $134 million over five years). I love Felix Hernandez. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. But before this winter, Seattle was only committed to him and Robinson Cano long-term. When the choice is between a pitcher and a hitter long-term, I’d rather have the hitter.
St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter (still owed $50.75 million over five years). Carpenter’s another guy that’s a really good player, but lands here almost by default. After a breakout year in 2013, Carpenter’s numbers slid to a still respectable .272/.375/.375 line in 2014. That, along with Carpenter’s versatility, makes him worth his salary, but if he keeps sliding like former teammate Allen Craig did, St. Louis could be in a difficult situation.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria (still owed $123.1 million over eight years). Another default option, simply because he’s the only Ray making a significant amount of money for more than the next season or two. Longoria is the face of the franchise, and possibly Tampa Bay’s lone untouchable player, but following a disappointing .253/.320/.404 2014, his best years could conceivably already be behind him.
Texas Rangers: Prince Fielder (still owed $114 million over six years). Even with the Tigers kicking in $30 million (which is why the remaining value is just $114 million as opposed to $144 million), Fielder’s contract is a mess for the Rangers. His stats began to decline in 2013, and bottomed out in 2014 over a 42 game sample before neck surgery ended Fielder’s year before the summer even began. Is he already a sunk cost? Maybe, and that’s a problem for a Rangers club that has already committed a lot of money to Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, and Matt Harrison.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Reyes (still owed $70 million over three years). Reyes and Russell Martin are the only Blue Jays guaranteed money past 2015, and Martin was signed this winter. Reyes hasn’t really broken down in Toronto like many expected (though he did miss time in 2013 because of a severely sprained ankle), but at 31, his best years and more than likely in his rear-view mirror.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman (still owed $76 million over five years). Zimmerman’s gone from one of the best third basemen in baseball to a guy who’s defense has declined to the point where he needed to be shifted across the diamond to first base. He missed 101 games in 2014, and while he can still hit pretty well when he’s on the field, his contract is a lot more questionable when it’s going to an average first baseman as opposed to an elite third baseman.