Blog Entry

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Posted on: November 13, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 6:17 pm
Werth, zombie

By Evan Brunell

What are the worst contracts in baseball?

Some of them are pretty easy. The names of Vernon Wells and Barry Zito, for example, have been synonymous with horrible contracts. Others aren't as easy to ferret out, but here's one man's look at the 10 worst contracts currently in baseball. To help us figure out which contracts are awful, I turned to a TV show that knows all about things awful: The Walking Dead. Because obviously, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world is completely comparable to the onerous contracts some teams are saddled with.

There are three categories below, inspired by scenes from The Walking Dead that are linked for your viewing enjoyment and quotes, which aren't necessarily tied to the scene in the video. (Don't worry, no spoilers, but if you haven't seen the most recent episode, skip the scene in the last category anyways.) Be warned: If you are squeamish, it's best if you don't click through. Unless you're interested in giving your wastebasket the remnants of your most recent meal.


Walking Dead scene
"It's a waste of time, all this hoping and praying." -- Daryl (season 2, episode 2)

These players are nearing the end of their awful deals, like a zombie with no legs. Just like a zombie with no legs would keep crawling along trying to eat humans alive, so do these players keep on kicking. While their contracts don't look too bad given they're of the short-term variety at this point, there's no denying that these players are still of the undead. The years remaining on the contract to qualify for this list is two or less seasons. Also, this list does not include players who were released and are still owed money, such as Aaron Rowand, due $13.6 million by the Giants in 2012.

BayJason Bay, Mets
Contract: 4 years, $66 million, $16.5 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $39.25 million (includes 2014's $3 million buyout)

The Red Sox thought they had Bay locked up to a deal to stay in town, but Bay balked at medical contingencies in the contract, designed to protect Boston in case Bay's knees went. That allowed the Mets to swoop in on a deal they quickly regretted, as Bay's bat vanished in Citi Field, then struggled with concussions as his batting line in 2011 sank all the way to .245/.329/.374 with 12 homers in 509 plate appearances. Even though the club is set to move in its fences, it's tough to see Bay bouncing back and earning the rest of his deal which could potentially stretch through 2014. If Bay can reach 500 PA in 2012 and '13 -- a cinch as long as he stays relatively healthy, or 600 PAs in 2013, a $17 million club option vests. That would make this deal look even worse.

LeeCarlos Lee, Astros
Contract: 6 years, $100 million, $16.67 million AAV. Remaining: 1 year, $19 million

The Astros' impending move to the AL East for the 2013 season is coming one year too late. Lee's contract is finally due to expire next season, and one has to imagine that Lee will be the last man in a long time to receive $100-plus million for being such a one-dimensional slugger that can't even hit bombs anymore unless the Crawford boxes in left help him out. At this point, Lee is taking up space that could be better allocated to young players on a rebuilding club. Lee should have been dumped in a deal by now, but he has no interest in leaving Houston and has no-trade rights.

SantanaJohan Santana, Mets
Contract: 6 years, $137.5 million, $22.9 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $55 million (includes 2014's $5.5 million buyout)

Santana's never really bandied about as a person with a lousy contract, but the numbers are simply stunning. After the Mets gave up a bounty (of nothingness, as it turned out) to acquire the best starter in the game from the Twins way back in 2008, Santana has given the Mets one season of transcendence. Since then, it's been a whole bunch of injuries, causing the lefty to sit out all of 2011. That means over the last three seasons, Santana's contributed just 54 starts. And it gets worse, as his deal is backloaded for an incredible $55 million coming the next two years, and no guarantee Santana can even approximate the pitcher he once was after undergoing surgery to repair an anterior capsule tear in his left shoulder. New York holds a $25 million option for 2014 that can become guaranteed based on innings pitched and finish in award voting.

ZitoBarry Zito, Giants
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $46 million (includes 2014's $7 million buyout)

This contract is so bad, even the buyout of Zito's team option in 2014 is horrible. The Giants might be paying Zito $7 million simply to go away. Being paid like an ace, he's been the team's No. 5 starter the last two season and will hold that role again in 2012. The selling point to Zito, despite the regression back to being a league-average player, is the fact he can chew up innings. One problem: the 2014 option vests automatically if Zito pitches at least 200 innings in 2013 or 400 between 2012-13. That's very feasible if the Giants keep him on his regular turn through the rotation, so he might have $18 million in 2014 headed his way.


Walking Dead scene
"You don't know what it's like out there. You may think you do but you don't. It's only a matter of time. There's too many of those things. My boy, my wife, I never told them what I really thought. I never even hinted, just, just kept it in, kept us moving, kept it in, kept us moving." -- Rick (season 1, episode 6)

Little girls are cute... except when they're trying to tear your flesh off. Just as in the Walking Dead, baseball has its share of onerous, undead contracts that once looked pretty but now eat up as much payroll space as they can. Here are the worst deals left with less than five years remaining.

LackeyJohn Lackey, Red Sox
: 5 years, $82.5 million, $16.5 million average annual value (AAV). Remaining: 3 years, $47.85 million

Even though he has yet to reach the halfway mark of his deal, this contract already ranks as one of the worst in baseball history. The Red Sox thought they were getting a fiery, innings-eating No. 2 starter. Instead, what they've received is one of the worst pitchers in the game who shows up his teammates on the field. And now he'll be missing all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. That means, through three years of the deal, Lackey will have given Boston a 5.26 ERA in 61 starts. The only saving value to this deal is the surgery will kick in an additional year at the league minimum Lackey must play at, which will drag down his AAV and give Boston a couple extra million below the luxury tax to play with.

SorianoAlfonso Soriano, Cubs
Contract: 8 years, $136 million, $17 million AAV. Remaining: 3 years, $57 million

Soriano has kept up his home-run production since moving to Chicago, but his bat has slowed to the point where he's lucky if he cracks the .250 barrier in batting average. That wouldn't be such a big deal if the man knew how to take a walk once in a while, but he doesn't, as evidenced by his .289 OBP. New Cubs president Theo Epstein is going to be taking a lot of heart medicine these next three seasons as he watches Soriano clank balls in left field and stifle rallies with his inability to draw a walk. The Cubs appear as if they're going to enter a retooling period, so at least Soriano isn't holding them back from contending. But then again, that's exactly what he's done to Chicago the last couple years.
WellsVernon Wells, Angels
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 3 years, $72.96 million

Patience, Jerry Dipoto. Just keep telling yourself it's just three years. Dipoto, the new Angels GM, will have a challenge to build a winning club that includes Wells and his yoke of a contract that doesn't even tell the full story. For crying out loud, Wells is slated to receive $24.6 million each of the next three seasons. For comparison, only Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard will earn more on a AAV basis than Wells will receive through the end of his contract. Back when the deal was signed, Wells was poised to be one of the best players in the game moving forward. Now? He's essentially Alfonso Soriano, but with a much worse deal. How someone can have an OBP under .250 and still collect over 500 plate appearances is baffling. It will be a shock if Wells can finish out the deal without being released.


Walking Dead scene
"Good thing we didn't do anything stupid like shoot it." -- T-Dog being sarcastic (season 2, episode 4)

These contracts are the worst of the worst. It's almost like being a zombie stuck in a water well for weeks, then finally getting dragged out of the well only to split in half and spew its guts everywhere. In other words, fans of these teams have nothing but good things to look forward to.

HowardRyan Howard, Phillies
Contract: 5 years, $125 million, $25 million AAV. Remaining: This deal kicks in for 2012.

Howard was once a very, very good player that had his career held back due to the presence of Jim Thome in town. When he finally earned the right to play every day, he started mashing and just wouldn't stop. So what did GM Ruben Amaro do? Simple. He gave Ryan Howard one of the richest deals in baseball history... two full seasons before it was set to kick in. And what's happened in those two full years? Well, Howard's essentially become a platoon player who can't field and whose bat has slowed to the point where he can't be considered an elite first baseman anymore. And this is someone who will miss the beginning of 2012 thanks to an Achilles tear that could torpedo his career. His lucrative contract, which will leave him behind just Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez for the highest AAV in baseball history, is just beginning. By the way, he has a 2017 team option for $23 million that will hand him a whopping $10 million in a buyout.

RodriguezAlex Rodriguez, Yankees
Contract: 10 years, $275 million $27.5 million AAV. $30 million due if he hits home-run milestones. Remaining: 6 years, $143 million (plus milestones)

There's no question Rodriguez has been a fantastic player, steroids or not, and he'll retire as one of the best players in the game of baseball. But his 10-year deal with the Yankees was silly when it was signed and it's even sillier now. Coming off what A-Rod called the worst season of his career, the Yankees are suddenly staring at $143 million over the next six years being given to a DH who is lucky if he can reach 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Rodriguez is simply not the same player he once was, and instead of being in his own class these days, he's now merely "very good." And you don't want "very good" from a player earning millions through age 42.

WerthJayson Werth, Nationals
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 6 years, $115.4 million

Here's one number to avoid in baseball: 126. That's exactly how much money (in millions, of course) Zito and Wells are receiving to be money drains for the club. And now Werth gets to be a money drain, and he still has so much more due to him after playing 2011 at $10.6 million. You can't blame Werth, who also (of course) has a no-trade clause, for accepting such a deal. It was obviously a gross overpayment that no one was going to match, but it's hard to envision what the Nats were thinking. Yes, they wanted to make a statement. But was someone set to play 2011 at age 32  with notable platoon splits really the man to make a splash with? The right fielder will likely bounce back from his .232/.330/.389 line set in his first year with Washington, but he will never justify this contract.

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The Walking Dead photo courtesy the show's download page available to public.

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: November 14, 2011 2:08 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

By the way, Howard produces runs because he gets more opportunities than anyone else. Plug Pujols in at 1b with the same Phillies lineup, and he'd drive in another 20+ runs, and give you a Gold Glove defensively, AND for less money. He'd score more runs than Howard, too, based on getting on base more often. If the Phillies had Pujols instead of Howard at 1B, they'd stand a great chance of winning another World Series.

I keep hearing that Howard produces runs because he gets more opportunities than anyone else, yet I have never seen any statistics on that.  How does he get more opportunities?  His leadoff guy is a lifetime 272 hitter, and has hit 250, 243 and 268 respectfully in each of the last 3 seasons.  If you say Victorino is his number 2 hitter (bounces a lot), he has hit 259 and 279 over the past 2 seasons.  If you say Polanco, 298 then 277 (the #2 spot also had a whole lot of Wilson Valdez mixed in there due to injuries).  #3 was Utley, who hit 275 then 259 the past 2 seasons.  So how does Howard "get more opportunities than anyone else"?  Or is this a made up number.  I do know that I saw that he had one of the highest batting averages for at bats with runners in scoring position (it may or may not have been with 2 outs, cannot remember) this season. 

But to say "if the Phillies had Pujols instead of Howard at 1b, blah, blah, blah..."  No kidding!  Wow, so if I put the best hitter in the majors over the past several seasons in place of somebody else, anybody else, I can expect that I have a better team?  Amazing!!!  So, does that mean, if the Eagles had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning instead of McNabb/Kolb/Vick over the past 10 years we would have been better too?  You say the most insightful things!  I wonder if that works in other sports.  Would we have won in Philly if we had had Dominic Hasek AND Mario Lemieux instead of Lindros and Garth Snow in the 90s?  How about Shaq instead of Mutombo or Ratliff?

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: November 14, 2011 1:50 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

While Howard is overpaid, and hurt, how can the writer possibly say he is a platoon player the past 2 seasons?  Wasn't he 4th in RBIs in 2010 (despite missing 19 games due to injury) and 3rd in RBIs in 2011 (again, missing a handful of games due to injury and playing the last 2 months with a bad foot?)?  In 2010 he hit 276 (lifetime average is 275). In 2011 his average was way down, with Jayson Werth no longer protecting him in the 5 hole, and him being hurt from about the time when we finally got him somebody to protect him.

Howard's problem is not bat speed, it is his obstinance.  He refuses to go to the opposite field anymore, which is where he was driving the ball when he was an elite HR hitter.  That is not bat speed.  He is trying to pull everything.  His approach at the plate is attrocious.  His problem is between the ears.

Since: Nov 24, 2008
Posted on: November 14, 2011 1:42 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Doesn't matter about the cost of good or bad contracts. In the end, the fans/taxpayers wind up shelling out the dough for the stadiums and the teams.  Never heard of a MLB owner - especially now in modern times - going broke because they overpaid their players. They all seem to come out of the disarray still on their feet and making a lot of $$$$. 

Look to the NFL and the owner of the Dallas Cowboys - Jerry Jones. That majestic sporting palace and players costs  price tag didn't come from his pocket.

Since: Sep 3, 2006
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:57 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Timely article.  I find myself reading it with interest, being a Mets fan who is voicing concern over offering Reyes a sixth or seventh year.  When reading through this list, there is an inclination to split it into two parts, one for the contracts that looked foolish from day one and those that tended with the passage of time to offer themselves to some 20/20 hindsight.  From a Mets fan's perspective, the deal with Bay was a fool's errand from the moment it was being discussed.  The dimensions of Citi Field promised to suppress his power, while at the same time demanding that a guy who wasn't a defensive whiz to begin with start covering a whole lot more ground in the outfield than he had to playing in Fenway.  Fact is the Mets panicked when they couldn't get Bengie Molina on board and wound up saddling themselves with four years of a guy who just didn't fit their ballpark at all.

Different story with Santana.  As you point out at the time of the trade he was unquestionably the best pitcher in the game, and showed it in 2008, with Johan leading the league in ERA and pitching well to easily win 20-22 games if Billy Wagner and Aaron Heilman hadn't spent the first half of the year on what seemed like a personal quest to blow every late inning lead Santana turned over to the Mets bullpen.  And in the next to last game of the year, with the Mets needing to win two games to get into the postseaon, he turned in one of the best pitched games in recent Mets history, shutting out the Marlins pitching with a bad knee, and showing more guts than that shown by the rest of the collective Mets roster during those two Septembers.  Pitched well enough in 2009 and 2010 as well, although both seasons were derailed by injuries.  Like with Reyes, I cringe at the thought of paying a pitcher for six years.   A couple of points to consider, however.  As you point out in your article, Santana was acquired for next to nothing, with only Phil Humber among the players Minnesota acquired displaying anything above marginal major league ability.  So it is tempting and not unjustified to look at some of the salary due as a deferred payment on a guy the Mets under normal circumstances never could have acquired for the player package they sent to Minnesota in return.   Secondly, the collapse of 2007 demanded a decisive move on the part of Minaya, a GM of whom I have often been critical, but not in this particular case.  The fact is Santana nearly singlehandedly pitched the Mets into the postseaon in 2008, and if not for the human torches in the Mets pen would have won enough games to probably have unseated the Phillies as division champs in '08.  I wold argue he was worth the price, and it is worth noting that even before the injury relied heavily on one of the best changeups in the game and was already beginning the transition from thrower to pitcher.  Tough surgery to come back from, but with some adjustments it is not out of the realm of possibility that Johan gives the Mets some of their money's worth over the later part of this year and in 2013.  Even with the lousy team he is likely to have backing him up.  

Since: Nov 18, 2007
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:27 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

I think you have to factor in the time at which the contract was granted and whether the team was handing out money they didn't need to in order to get/keep the player and by how much they were overpaying.  With that consideration, Zito, Lackey, Wells and Howard are the worst 4 contracts in baseball (although I think A.J. Burnett's should be on this list too).

Since: Jul 22, 2010
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:15 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Sep 20, 2006
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:00 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson are now trying to get on this list, and players like Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay are just a millisecond of timing, or a tweak of connective tissue from joing as well.

The current NBA quagmire should be a good example of what happens to sports franchise owners that just can't say "NO" to paying more than the profit margin can bear.

The Mets and Dodgers are bankrupt. The Rangers were too. There will be more. The White House isn't going to convince taxpayers to hock their grandchildren to bail these fools out, too.

If you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it. 

MLB is working on a new CBA right now. Hopefully, both players and owners still remember the stoppage of '81 and it's impacts on the game. Baseball has survived that, free agency, the DH, gambling, PED's, and now have to concentrate on a business model that makes SOME kind of financial sense.

All franchises have to do, is stop offering 5-6-10 year deals. Offer 1-2-3 year deals with incentives instead... Make luxury taxes punitive at a lower level... Increase revenue sharing. Before they can make players accountable, owners must be accountable first. Fans understand baseball, but they don't understand $10 beers, $7 hot dogs, $75 seats and players that don't hustle turning down $100 million dollar contracts.    &

Since: Sep 5, 2009
Posted on: November 14, 2011 11:38 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

     Wow, I didn't even know Howard's contract had yet to begin.  The Phils better hope he comes back 100% from his Achilles tear.  And I questioned A-Rod's deal when he signed it- did the Yanks really expect him to put those kind of numbers when he hit his late 30's?  Insert Barry Bonds joke here.

Since: Apr 6, 2009
Posted on: November 14, 2011 11:10 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

When you people cry out for them to make less if they get hurt should first consider, teams are usually compensated for guys on DL. Most of the star players or even the player who are only compensated like stars have huge insurance policies on them. I am sure on the even larger contracts their policies cover much more than just the salary. These policies  probably have huge riders that cover much more than their salary and the owners/teams make a nice chunk of money off the injured.

Since: May 16, 2011
Posted on: November 14, 2011 10:59 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Hey mai, how did Kei Igawa work out for you? Matsuzaka has been a terrible player for the Red Sox but at least he has actually pitched in the majors. Igawa's contract has to be pretty close to making the list considering the Yankees posted $26 million and gave him a $20 milliion contract and he pitched, what, half a season? Nice job there.

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