One of the inescapable truths of baseball, like other major sports, is that a player's salary and contract situation are key components of a player's value to a franchise. Even in a sport without a hard salary cap, franchises face their own payroll constraints, though this obviously varies from team to team.
To put together an 88-win team, a franchise needs to cobble together roughly 40 wins above replacement from their major league roster. If a team tries to assemble a roster solely from free agency, baseball's retail market for talent, you'd expect them to have to shell out something in the range of a $260 million payroll. And that's assuming all that talent is actually available in free agency -- the yearly free-agent market is frequently thin at multiple positions -- and, of course, players must actually agree to sign with them.
Large contracts in baseball are typically guaranteed (or else the player in question would sign elsewhere). When a player with a hefty contract isn't performing, for many organizations, those dead dollars can have a serious effect on a team's ability to acquire the players needed to compete. Even large-market teams don't have unlimited funds and can have their futures affected by a large contract.
Take the Yankees, for example. You can't tell me that in an offseason during which they signed no free agents, the fact that they're paying $25 million to CC Sabathia, $21 million to Jacoby Ellsbury and $21 million to Alex Rodriguez plays no factor in their quiet winter.
So who are these team-killers, players who don't produce enough to justify their pay rate? Which players have contract situations that prevent the team from getting anything in return without agreeing to cover some of the player's salary? And which contracts provide the most serious long-term concerns for their team? Essentially, I'm asking this: Who are the least valuable assets in baseball from a business perspective?
To answer this question, I started out with the ZiPS projections and calculated the difference between the projected long-term performance and how much a team is projected to pay for that performance for every player in baseball, whether from a signed contract or from predicting arbitration-year salaries. That difference, known as surplus value, is expressed in wins rather than dollars; raw dollars can be misleading given that a dollar committed for 2030 (see: Chris Davis contract breakdown) and a dollar committed for 2016 are two very different things.
Now, a computer is good at sifting through large data sets, but it can't know everything about a particular team's situation or how a player is perceived around the league, things that affect a player's ultimate value. A hammer is a good tool for inserting nails, but a poor one for baking a cake. So this list isn't ordered simply by computer readout. There's some personal judgment blended in here as well, which is included in each player's write up.
With that, let's get to Major League Baseball's 25 biggest albatrosses (the 25 best assets will run Wednesday).
1. Albert Pujols, 1B
10 years, $240M (2012-21)
Guaranteed left: $165M
Surplus value: minus-15.7 wins
It's sad to see Pujols, such a dynamic hitter and a future Hall of Famer on the back of his 2001-2011 stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, sitting at the top spot here, but his contract is a gigantic long-term drag on the Angels, and it's not going anyway anytime soon. The Angels paid Pujols as if they were going to get prime Albert for at least most of the contract, which started for his age-32 season coming off the worst -- albeit still All-Star level -- year of his career to that point, his 5.3-WAR 2011 season.
For this contract to not be a disaster, they needed at least five years of that 2011 Pujols. That wouldn't have made the contract a positive for the franchise, but at least they could point to the early years of the contract as the price they paid for suffering the end of the contract. Instead, the 2011 Pujols has been rarely seen in Los Angeles. Even his 40-homer season in 2015, declared in some circles as a personal renaissance, was an underwhelming season for Pujols; he posted a .307 on-base percentage, a dismal number for a player who has topped a .400 OBP in nine seasons. The Angels now essentially have Pujols for a six-year, $165 million contract for his age 36-41 seasons.