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.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
The Walking Dead photo courtesy the show's download page available to public.

Since: Apr 7, 2010
Posted on: November 14, 2011 10:34 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Dice-K certainly didn't work out for my Sox, but we got a good year out of him (which is more than we can say for Lackey), and the Red Sox organization have more than recouped their posting fee in licensed gear to traditional Boston fans and fans in his home country.

Since: Apr 28, 2007
Posted on: November 14, 2011 10:26 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

You're going to be able to add at least 2 more after this season. Albert and The Prince are going to get big money for big years and by the time they are half way thru they will both be terrible deals. I can see clubs paying big money, but in some of the above cases, why would you add a no-trade clause? Werth is a prime example, no one else was going to pay that amount, but yet they tossed in another gift...

Since: Jun 16, 2011
Posted on: November 14, 2011 9:38 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Carlos Lee is a victim of his surroundings.  This guys best years were wasted in Houston.  Arod and Howard are still scary, but just got too much $$$ at the time.  Werth is the worst contract by far - the guy is a flash-in-the-pan!  I can't believe he got all that money because of one monster year.  It's who's out there that dictates how much and who gets the most $.  Just look at AJ Burnett, never a stud, but the 'best' pitcher on the market at the time...way overpaid! This is why Pujols will effect what Fielder gets.

Since: Jun 29, 2010
Posted on: November 14, 2011 8:08 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

I think there is a bigger bust out there than Lackey, How about Matsusucka???? How much did the RedSux pay him including the posting fee?????

Since: Apr 28, 2007
Posted on: November 14, 2011 7:59 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Why do the Mets always make the wrong type of lists.  Make Omar pay the salaries!  Actually a pretty interesting article.  Sad but interesting!

Since: Apr 8, 2009
Posted on: November 14, 2011 2:49 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Not to be predictable as a Philly fan, but I have to disagree with the assessment of Howard and Werth.  Werth will bounce back from his horrible season, and sure maybe never enough to justify the contract, but the Nationals stunk, and what they needed most from Werth more then a good bad is that he is a winner and understands how to win and can change the culture in the clubhouse, espescially with all the young kids the Nats have.  Werth still plays good defense and has a good arm, if he returns to just an average offensive player his intangibles in the locker room with all their young guns will go a long way to turning around the team and making them relevent.  As for Howard, his deal was never terrible until he blew up an achilles tendon.  His defense has gotten better every year and the notion that he is a bad defensive player is based off of what he was 5 years ago and not what he is today.  And he most definitely does not have a slow bat, everyone if Philly has seen him go on a month long tear where he is responsible for 10 wins by himself.  But as a hitter he is streaky and everytime he gets into a funk it is always because of a bad approach at the plate, NOT because his bat is slow.  He may not be worth what he is going to get paid to finish out his career, but before he blew up a ankle his contract was tradeable.  To pile on him now is an unfair shot, it would be like saying Dave Dravecky is a terrible pitcher after he had his arm amputated.  And how does Carl Crawford not make this list?  And Zito and A-Rod are the worst deals hands down bar none.

Since: Jun 21, 2009
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:33 am

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

The sad thing about all these idiot contracts is there's no honor amongst players to say "I'm not playing up to the level of the money I was signed for so let's restructure it to help the team." Nope, it's all about "I got mine" and most of you readers would agree with players in that respect. Some might even say the contract is binding and can't be changed. Just once I'd like to see a player say, "I really sucked last year, I'll play for nothing this year and that should balance out the $10 mil or $20 mil you signed me to. Course that will never happen ...
Remember Mark Fidrych? Remember his great rookie year? How he became such a draw that attendance went way up for every start, home or away? Remember as a rookie how he played for the major league minimum, and how after the Tigers made over a million additional dollars off him, they gave him a $25,000 bonus? Kind of hard to expect the kind of honor you're looking for from the players when management hasn't exactly been honorable either for the entire history of the sport.

Don't take this the wrong way, but do you act this way yourself? Have a bad day at work or call in sick and tell the boss, 'Sorry bout that-  I'll work tomorrow for free to make up for today'?

Since: Feb 9, 2007
Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:55 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Howard is a human windmill that will only continue to decline I think was what he was getting at....

Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:44 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Having said all that (see my previous post), I must also say that I too have felt since the beginning that this was a dangerous and probably ill-advised contract, that will probably hurt them in its last few years--and possibly sooner, if he breaks down physically much more than he has recently.
I'm guessing that when they gave him the extension, they were impressed not only with his power/RBI production but with the fact that up till then he'd been quite durable and in fact had lost significant weight, presumably helping his agility and reducing the chances of injury (or, presumably, at least shortening the recovery period for some possible injuries)--though possibly cutting down on some of his power.  In connection with the latter, there's no question that his home run power has been pretty steadily decreasing (going down almost every year, I think, since his peak in 2006).  On the other hand, at least he's been finding other ways to get his 100-plus RBIs.  And he rarely missed a game, even after the contract was signed, until fairly recently.  And they evidently felt that the prospect of excellent performance from him for three or four years, perhaps helping them win another championship or two, was worth the risk that the last few years of the deal won't be so good.
Unfortunately, now the injuries have started, and we can't be confident that there won't be more of them for a guy his size, even assuming he comes back well from the Achilles heel thing (and is able to run somewhere close to as well as he did before, which wasn't all that fast to begin with).  In the latter part of this last season, with the lingering foot problem, it was painful to watch him unable to score from second on a base hit through the infield, even with two out, or score on what should have been a sacrifice fly, or go first-to-third with two out, etc.
So the contract is certainly problematic.  But that certainly doesn't require padding the article with any reasons that don't hold up; the contract is easy enough to attack without doing that.

Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:16 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

How many games Howard played in is irrelevant toward being a platoon player. Go ahead, look up the splits.
Huh?  "Irrelevant"?  Either he's been platooning regularly or he hasn't.   And he hasn't, except a little bit during his recovery from a foot problem (not the Achilles heel) in the latter part of this last season.  The fact is that for most of his career, including most of this past season, he was playing every day and was surprisingly durable--I say surprisingly, because of his large body type, though he slimmed down a good bit--more on this later. 
If you want to argue that he should be platooning because of difficulties against lefty pitchers, go ahead and argue it, though I am sure there are those who will disagree with you.  But you cannot argue that he has regularly been platooning--except for the brief period I mentioned--when in fact he was starting every day (except for that period).
He plays full time because the team a) has no one better . . .
Well, no, they don't have anyone else who gets 30-plus HR and 100-plus RBI every year.  Few clubs do. So how does that mean that he has been platooning? 
. . .and [the club] b) isn't about to bench Howard BEFORE that contract starts.
That makes no sense.  Why would they suddenly start benching him just because his new contract starts?  Or that they wouldn't do it before that if they felt they needed to?   

To be continued . . .

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or