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Thursday, October 25, 2012
Worst MLB contracts: The A-Rod debacle

By David Schoenfield

The truth is, there aren’t really any terrible contracts in baseball. There are bad contracts and bad players getting overpaid, sure, but as we’ve seen in recent years, teams can still win with the most burdensome of deals on their ledger and have even been able to offload some of the worst contracts.

Remember all the mocking the Giants incurred on the Barry Zito deal? Seven years and $126 million for a finesse left-hander? Has Zito been worth the money? No, he’s barely been a replacement-level pitcher during his six years with the Giants, with a 3.9 WAR and no seasons with an ERA under 4.00. But the contract wasn’t a franchise-killer. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 (although Zito didn’t pitch in the postseason) and have a chance to win again in 2012 (with help from Zito this time).

When the Blue Jays signed Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 extension after his big 2006 season, it seemed like a reasonable deal for a two-way center fielder in his prime. Wells has produced a .256/.305/439 line since, but the Jays were still able to deal the final four years of his contract to the Angels.

The $142 million the Red Sox gave Carl Crawford immediately turned into a disaster, as Crawford played poorly his first season and battled injuries in his second. Still, the Red Sox managed to dump Crawford by packaging him with Adrian Gonzalez. As P.T. Barnum said ...

So you get the idea. That said, here are 10 contracts I’d rather not be paying out.

1. Alex Rodriguez, 10 years, $275 million: Hey, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Yankees wouldn’t have won the 2009 World Series without A-Rod’s monster postseason -- six homers, 18 RBIs in 15 games. Was that worth $275 million? Considering he still has five years and $114 million left in salary (plus potential bonus payments for reaching home-run milestones), I would say this contract is untradeable -- except it probably isn’t.

Ryan Howard
Suffice it to say, Ryan Howard has spent a good amount of time healing or underperforming since signing his massive contract.
2. Ryan Howard, 5 years, $125 million: Howard’s deal was signed in 2010 but didn’t kick in until 2012. Howard was already in decline then from his 2006-07 peak, and in the past three seasons he has averaged just .256/.339/.483 and 0.3 WAR per season. The Phillies will owe him $105 million over the next four seasons.

3. Carl Crawford, 7 years, $142 million: Crawford was a terrific player for Tampa Bay in 2010, hitting .305, playing awesome defense and stealing 47 bases. He’d averaged 4.3 WAR from 2004 through 2010, so the contract was more risky than outrageous at the time. Still, Crawford was a guy who never had many walks, so his value resided in batting average and defense. He’s 31 now and I wouldn’t write him off, but I wouldn’t want to own that contract, either.

4. Jayson Werth, 7 years, $126 million: Werth was a vastly underrated player while with the Phillies, and his signing was an important moment for the Nationals in that it signified this was a franchise trying to compete and was willing to spend to do it. Werth has produced 1.6 WAR in his two seasons, although bounced back in 2012 and turned into a valuable leadoff hitter. But the $99 million remaining is a lot to pay for a leadoff hitter who turns 34 next season.

5. Albert Pujols, 10 years, $240 million: Pujols had the 24th-best OPS in 2012. He made only $12 million in 2012, which means his salary will really escalate in upcoming years -- all the way to $30 million in 2021. You tell me how this is going to work out.

6. Adrian Gonzalez, 7 years, $154 million: Congratulations, Dodgers fans, your team acquired two of the worst contracts. I could be wrong here, but I still see a player who has dropped from 40 home runs to 31 to 27 to 18 the past four seasons and whose walks have dropped from 119 to 93 to 74 to 42. And he turns 31 in May.

7. Mark Teixeira, 8 years, $180 million: He had a great year in 2009 with the Yankees, but this is obviously a player in decline. His OPS has declined each of the past five seasons and was down to .807 last year. He’s a far better defender than Howard, but the skill set now is about the same: a low-average slugger.

8. Joe Mauer, 8 years, $184 million: Mauer is a great player who led the AL in OBP in 2012, but he also started just 72 games at catcher. In the end, that’s a lot of money to pay for a part-time catcher/part-time DH/part-time 1B who had just 45 extra-base hits. And since the Twins aren’t a team that can afford to spend like the big players, this deal does hinder payroll flexibility somewhat.

9. Vernon Wells, 7 years, $126 million: This contract is so bad that even though it has just two years remaining, it makes the list. Unfortunately for the Angels, that’s $21 million per year for a guy whom they could conceivably just end up releasing.

10. Contract of your choice, too many years, too much money: Jason Bay, John Lackey, Chone Figgins ... even if these deals have only a year or two left, if you’re a fan of these teams, you know the aggravation factor. So fill in the blank here with the contract you love to despise.