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Sunday, July 3, 2011
Fallen Angels: a history of costly mistakes

By Justin Havens

The Los Angeles Dodgers visit the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN, 8 ET).

Last month, the Angels released Scott Kazmir and ate the remaining $9.5 million on his contract. It's another chapter in a run of very expensive acquisitions that have not played out well for the Angels.

While the pattern started before GM Tony Reagins took over, the situation has worsened since. To see how unsuccessful the moves have been we can look at dollars spent per wins above replacement (WAR).

Gary Matthews Jr. -- Offseason prior to 2007 (free agency)
Contract: five years, $50 million (2007-11)
Gary Matthews, Jr.
Matthews Jr.
Comments:
Matthews was both the first in the run of bad acquisitions and looked to be easily the worst until the Vernon Wells trade. The Angels bit on Matthews’ career year with the Rangers in 2006, which was both out of line with his career and oddly timed given his age. The Angels released Scott Kazmir with part of a season left on his deal; they released Matthews Jr. with two full seasons left on his deal. In the three seasons he did play for the Angels, he contributed production below replacement value. For the cost of $50M, Matthews Jr. provided a robust minus-0.5 wins above replacement. Net result: $50M for minus-0.5 WAR.

Scott Kazmir -- Midway through 2009 season (via trade with Rays)
Contract: $22.5 remaining at time of trade (2010-11, 2012 buyout)
Scott Kazmir
Kazmir
Comments:
Kazmir was effective for the Angels in 2009, going 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts. Unfortunately, the wheels came off after that, as Kazmir’s velocity declined and his effectiveness went with it. In 2010 and 2011, Kazmir combined to go 9-15 with a 6.17 ERA in 151 ⅔ IP. Between 2010 and 2011, the Angels paid Kazmir $20M and received below replacement level production. Net result: $22.5M for minus-1.0 WAR. **Excludes 2009 partial season given difficulties in parsing out split-season WAR.**

Fernando Rodney -- Offseason prior to 2010
Contract: two years, $11 million (2010-11)
Fernando Rodney
Rodney
Comments:
This contract is obviously still going, but Rodney has been a mix of ineffective and unavailable during his tenure with the Angels. Rodney contributed just 0.3 WAR during his 2010 season and, in his brief time in 2011, went backward, contributing minus-0.1 WAR. While Rodney still has time to turn around this particular season, it’s almost certain he’s not going to be able to turn around the value of the contract. More than 40 percent through this season, the Angels have paid him approximately $8M of the $11M he’s owed. Net result: $8M for 0.2 WAR.

Vernon Wells -- Offseason prior to 2011
Contract: $81M remaining on contract at time of trade
Vernon Wells
Wells
Comments:
Even though he possessed a contract that was largely considered unmovable within baseball, the Angels welcomed Wells -- a player clearly on the downslope of his career -- and almost the entirety of his contract. He’s owed $23M in 2011 and $21M in each season from 2012 to 2014. The Blue Jays chipped in only $5M to facilitate the deal.

Not only did the acquisition of Wells result in $80M worth of dead weight, it also blocked the team’s best prospect -- arguably the best prospect in baseball -- Mike Trout. Wells has posted a .212/.244/.385 line this season, good for minus-0.3 WAR. There are three full seasons left on this deal, but they’ve already paid him approximately $10M and received below replacement level production. Net result: $10M for minus-0.3 WAR.

The Angels have spent approximately $90 million on players who have actually provided a net negative contribution (relative to replacement level).

Given that teams usually spend somewhere around $4-5 million per marginal win on the open market, the idea of paying more than $90 million for negative wins is almost unfathomable.

The most eye-opening angle is that the team still owes Wells more than $70 million, which means there’s a good chance this below-replacement-level bill could ultimately exceed $150 million. Or, in other words, approximately the Florida Marlins' team payrolls from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 … combined.