The 10 biggest franchise-killing contracts in baseball
1. Vernon Wells, OF, Jays; 5 years, $99 million remaining on contract. When the Jays signed Wells to an extension before the 2007 season, they thought they were locking up a franchise player for years to come. In fact, they locked themselves into the game’s worst contract. Wells had a pretty good year at the plate in 2008 (.840 OPS), and a pretty poor one in 2009 (.711 OPS). However, according to advanced fielding stats, he’s been atrocious in the field, costing Toronto about 20 runs per season with his defense in center. Part of the reason the Wells contract is so bad isn’t his fault. Wells’ contract is back-loaded, so Toronto was actually getting a bargain in ’08 and ’09 in the prime years of his career. The Blue Jays failed to take advantage of the additional financial flexibility and now it’s time to pay the piper. Wells is owed $99 million over the next five years. Since 2004, Wells has been about a league-average hitter (OPS+ of 105), but a poor fielder. The average $20 million he is owed for the next 5 years is way more than he’s worth, especially considering he’ll be 35 at the end the contract.
Trade Outlook: Unlikely. There’s no doubt Toronto would love to unload Wells. However, he has a full no-trade clause and the most untradeable contract in baseball.
2. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs; 5 years, $85 million remaining. After Soriano’s massive 2006 season in Washington, the Cubs signed him to an even more massive contract in 2007. Soriano produced in his first two years but, as so often happens with aging players, he experienced a major drop-off in production last year. Next year, he’ll be 34 and will have five years left on his contract at $17 million per. During his prime years from 2004 through 2009, Soriano has put up an OPS of .843 — about 12 percent better than league average. It would be bad enough if the Cubs were paying him $17 million for that production, but it’s almost a sure bet that Soriano’s hitting will drop off considerably during the next five years. Not to mention that his already poor defense will also be in decline. While Soriano will likely improve in 2010 over his poor performance last year, the long view is grim over the next five years — his value certainly isn’t close to the $85 million he’s owed.
Trade Outlook: Unlikely. The Cubs don’t seem to be shopping Soriano, and his contract is probably too big to trade.
3. Barry Zito, SP, Giants; 4 years, $76 million remaining. So, Zito had a pretty good year in 2009, posting a 4.03 ERA. Not amazing, but still better than his previous two seasons as a Giant. But even if Zito can keep up that pace, he is still owed an enormous amount of money at $18 million per for the next four years. It’s safe to say Zito’s contract should never have been signed. After an awesome first four years in the league, Zito’s performance dropped precipitously from 2004 through ’06, during which he posted an ERA just 10 percent better than league average. You don’t pay starting pitchers $126 million for that kind of performance. But the Giants did, and now they’re stuck with him. If they’re lucky, Zito will continue to be an average major league starter over the next four years. But of course, $72 million is far too much to pay for that production.
Trade Outlook: Unlikely. Zito has a full no-trade clause and his contract is so bloated that no other teams will touch him. Unless, of course, he is traded for one of the two guys above him on this list.
4. Carlos Silva, SP, Cubs; 2 years, $25 million remaining. The Mariners signed Silva to a 4-year $48 million contract from Minnesota after a fine 2007 season. What they got was the Silva of 2006, in which he posted a 5.94 ERA. In two years in Seattle, Silva has thrown 184 innings and put up an atrocious 6.84 ERA. He was injured for most of 2009, and saw limited action when he returned in September. While Silva was perhaps once a decent No. 3 starter, those days appear to be over for the 31-year-old righty. Simply put, Silva was dead weight in Seattle. Miraculously, the Mariners unloaded him by eating just $9 million of the $25 million remaining on his contract. Of course, they also had to take on Milton Bradley and his bloated contract. So who was the winner in that coal-for-coal deal? The Cubs are now carrying the bigger lump. Silva is nearly a lost cause who was a fair bet to be released sometime in 2010. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Bradley is almost assured to provide some decent value to a major league team if he can stay healthy. In essence, the Mariners traded $6 million and a near-worthless starting pitcher for two years of an above-average-hitting starting outfielder. Even considering Bradley’s attitude, that’s a good deal. As for the Cubs, it certainly seems that they could have gotten more than a lost-cause starting pitcher in return.
Trade Outlook: Already unloaded. If the Cubs can turn around and deal Silva, they should jump at the chance. However, it’s hard to imagine many takers.
5. Oliver Perez, SP, Mets; 2 years, $24 million remaining. The Mets had to know they were taking a gamble when they spent $36 million on a guy with such an up-and-down career. Perez has always been erratic. The year before Perez signed the deal with the Mets, he led the league in walks. Omar Minaya signed him anyway — and paid for it. Last year he posted a 6.82 ERA and walked nearly eight batters per nine innings before heading for season-ending surgery. Additionally his ground-ball rate plummeted, causing a ton of balls to leave the yard. Is it possible that the 28-year-old lefty could turn things around before his contract is out? Yes, but he’s already done major damage to his teams by posting ERAs above 5.40 in four separate seasons. How long can the Mets wait for him to turn it around?
Trade Outlook: Questionable. The Mets are shopping Perez, but they’ll have to offer a lot of cash or take on another bad contract to get rid of him. However, there may be some teams who are tempted by the opportunity to help Perez find his form outside of New York.
6. Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Angels; 2 years, $23 million remaining. One catch can mean so much. Heading into the 2006 season, Little Sarge had never been much of a player. But he had a great first half in ’06 punctuated by a reality-defying, over the fence catch right before the All-Star break. The catch practically single-handedly made him an All-Star and, after the season, the Angels inked him to a 5-year $50 million deal. He’s had an OPS+ well below 100 in each of the past three seasons, and last year he hit just four homers while batting .250 in 316 at-bats. According to advanced fielding metrics, his defense has also cost the Angels about 10 runs per year. So much for that catch. Oh yeah, and he’ll be 35 next year. Matthews is pretty much done providing any kind of significant value to a major league team, leaving the Angels to pick up the final $23 million.
Trade Outlook: Questionable. The Angels are reportedly shopping Matthews, but it’s hard to imagine any takers unless L.A. eats most or all of his remaining salary.
7. Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals; 3 years, $32 million remaining. After Lohse turned in a career-best year for the Cardinals in 2008, St. Louis thought it prudent to extend him a 4-year, $41 million deal. However, 2008 was a fluke and in 2009 he reverted to the pitcher who was pounded for a 4.84 ERA from 2001 through 2007. Now that the mirage of his 15-6 season is gone, the Cards are stuck with paying big money for a No. 5 starter for the next three years.
Trade Outlook: Unlikely. Lohse has a full no-trade clause, so it will be difficult for the Cardinals to move him.
8. Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants; 3 years, $36 million remaining. Rowand has been a pretty consistent 15 HR, .270 average guy throughout his career. While he has had a couple of seasons in which he has performed better than that (2004, 2007), Rowand, at age 32, has pretty much proven that he’s a below-average starting outfielder. That’s not the kind of guy whom it’s advisable to pay $60 million over five years. Unfortunately for Giants, they inked the deal, and they still owe Rowand $36 million over the next three years. It’s not that he’s a bad player — he does the little things right, is a nice guy and hustles on every play. It’s just that he’s way overpaid.
Trade Outlook: Questionable. There hasn’t been a ton of speculation on a Rowand trade, and he has a limited no-trade clause.
9. Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers; 2 years, $18.5 million remaining. Everyone loves a .300-hitting speedster who is one of the biggest basestealing threats in the game. At least that’s what the Dodgers were thinking when they signed Pierre. Unfortunately, that .300-hitting speedster can be a pretty bad player if he hits with absolutely no power and rarely takes a walk. Especially when he plays left field, an offensive position. According to OPS+, Pierre has been a league-average hitter or better just twice in his career (last year and in 2004). Considering that defensive metrics have him at just an average defensive left fielder, Pierre certainly isn’t worth the money he’s owed. Add in the fact that Pierre was unhappy being a fourth outfielder, and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti had to move him. Colletti convinced the White Sox to take the Pierre contract off his hands by giving Chicago $10 million, meaning the White Sox will pay Pierre around $4 million per season — far closer to what he’s actually worth. Pierre and $10 million to the White Sox would have been a decent trade for L.A. in itself, but Colletti also managed to grab a decent prospect in John Ely, a 23-year-old pitcher who led the Double A Southern League in strikeouts.
Trade Outlook: Already unloaded. Traded along with $10 million to the White Sox for prospects Ely and Jon Link.
10. Milton Bradley, OF, Mariners; 2 years, $22 million remaining. Bradley is one of the most prominent lumps of coal out there, if only because the Cubs had all but publicly promised to get rid of him by any means necessary before the 2010 season (not exactly the best way to leverage other teams). This week, Jim Hendry found a buyer, trading him to the Mariners. When the Cubs signed him, they thought he would be a bargain if he only stayed healthy. The Cubs got their wish, but his production fell sharply off his 2008 pace. Despite being Chicago’s whipping boy, he actually played well enough in the second half to bring his 2009 totals up to average major league levels. In all, Bradley has an excellent .902 OPS in 1,200 plate appearances over the past three years. While Bradley is overpaid at nearly $12 million per season, he still has the potential to produce in Seattle. Meanwhile, the Cubs are just happy to get rid of his attitude (which should improve if he can get off to a decent start in 2010).
Trade Outlook: Already unloaded. Traded to Seattle for Silva and $9 million in cash.