Blog Entry

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

Posted on: February 3, 2012 7:53 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 10:13 am

By Matt Snyder

As we conclude the short series on overpaid players, we'll take a look at the man on the hill: The pitcher.

The interesting thing I found about pitchers is that not too many "long-term" contracts stood out like a sore thumb as being bad in terms of what is left on the current deal. A lot of the honorable mention types are for just one year, maybe two. This, I believe, illustrates the caution the overwhelming majority of teams exercise when coughing up long-term deals for pitchers.

That doesn't mean there are no guys on the list, however. We have a couple really good fits.

As a reminder, we're only talking about the contracts from now until the conclusion of the deal. Any money already banked doesn't count in this exercise.

Right-handed starters

Worst: John Lackey
Remaining contract: 3 years, $47.85 million

Ignore that Lackey is injured now and will miss all of the 2012 season. In fact, that actually helps the Red Sox here if last season was any indication. Lackey was brutal in '11, putting together a 6.41 ERA, 1.62 WHIP while leading the majors in earned runs and wild pitches. He allowed a whopping 203 hits in his 160 innings pitched and posted a negative WAR (Wins Above Replacement player). And when he's healthy again, he'll be 34.

Honorable Mention

A.J. Burnett, Yankees: He helped the Yankees win the World Series title in 2009, but was he really integral? He was bad in the ALCS and was terrible in one of his World Series starts after leading the league in walks and wild pitches during the regular season. Since then, Burnett is 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He's now the Yankees' fifth starter and will make $33 million for the next two seasons.

"Fausto Carmona," Indians: He may miss the season after being caught for identity fraud (his name is actually Roberto Hernandez Heredia). He's due $7 million this season.

Jake Peavy, White Sox: It's hard to not appreciate the way Peavy is an absolute bulldog on the hill, but he was 7-7 with a 4.92 ERA last season as he battled back from a severe injury and he's set to make $17 million in 2012.

Jake Westbrook, Cardinals: Twelve starts in 2010 got Westbrook a two-year deal with the Cardinals. He's going to make $8.5 million this season after a pretty bad 2011 campaign.

Carlos Zambrano, Cubs/Marlins: He'll make $19 million this year, but the Cubs are paying most of it so Big Z can pitch for the Marlins.

Derek Lowe, Braves/Indians: He'll make $15 million this year, but the Braves are paying most of it so Lowe can pitch for the Indians.

Left-handed starters

Worst: Barry Zito
Remaining contract: 2 years, $39 million

Perhaps the worst news is there's actually a club option for 2014. Now, obviously the Giants won't pick that up, barring Zito becoming Tim Lincecum overnight, but there's a $7 million buyout if they don't pick up the option. So Zito will cost the Giants $47 million more, at the very least, before they can wash their hands of him. This actually has to be one of the worst contracts of all time. Zito is 43-61 with a 4.55 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and zero postseason innings pitched in his five seasons with the Giants.

Honorable Mention

Johan Santana, Mets: He was earning his deal pre-injury, so this one isn't really anyone's fault. Santana is due $49.5 million for the next two seasons, though, so that is rough.


Worst: Rafael Soriano
Remaining contract: 2 years, $25 million

Soriano wasn't even the Yankees' best setup man last season (David Robertson was way better). Soriano was a stud in Tampa Bay in '10, so it's possible he's a great closer for the Yankees in 2013, if Mariano Rivera retires. But even when Soriano had a good second half last season, his numbers weren't awesome. And, again, we're talking about a non-closer making eight figures per season.

Honorable Mention

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: It will be interesting to see how Papelbon performs throughout this contract. He could very well earn his $50 million over the course of the next four years, but I'm wondering what the Phillies' front office thought when they saw that the Reds signed 2011 Philly closer Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5 million deal. I also wonder how this deal will feel if the Phillies can't find a way to lock up Cole Hamels long-term (he's a free agent next offseason). So this one has less to do with Papelbon and more to do with what the deal might end up costing the Phillies, because $50 million is an awful lot to give to a closer.

Brandon Lyon, Astros: Lyon will make $5.5 million this season. His 2011 season was cut short due to an injury, but he had an 11.48 ERA with as many blown saves as actual saves (four).

Part I: Infielders and catchers
Part II: Outfielders and designated hitters

Source for all figures was Cot's Baseball Contracts

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Since: Nov 30, 2010
Posted on: February 3, 2012 1:03 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

I was thinking maybe I would see Carlos Silva or Milton Bradley mentioned in these articles.  Even the Cubs / Mariners trade trying to get and "undo" didn't work.

Since: Jan 18, 2012
Posted on: February 3, 2012 1:02 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

Let’s remember that no one in baseball was offering AJ Burnett either the length or amount that Brian Cashman finally signed him. What
makes his contract so bad is that having him on the books for the next two years cost the Yankees big this offseason. 

With the new CBA and its stiff penalties for exceeding its payroll cap force the Yankees to pass on both Wilson and Darvish because of Cashman
expensive blunder with AJ Burnett.   Instead they were force to trade Montero probably the best hitting prospect to come along since Miguel Cabrera for another young pitcher with both potential and a ton of questions surrounding him..


Regarding the Soriano signing this still could work out for the Yankees

First if he is healthy he could give them a total lock down bull pen

Second if father time starts to catch up with Mo he could slide in and close for them

Therefore I think the jury is still out on whether this is a bad signing. 

Since: Oct 3, 2006
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:34 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

All of these are pretty stupid. Its the beginning of Feb. (I know nothoing to report). But to rate contracts at this point is dumb, let a good 90% of these play out before you add them to the list. Write about previous contracts that are bad.

Also the market is set and a team has to fill the request of the player to an extend or they dont get the top tier talent, so what do you expect them to do. I am sure they woul dratehr pay less.

I get your point but there is little to no factual evidence supporting some of these players on teh list, YET!

Since: Apr 28, 2007
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:34 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

You can't have this list unless Jason Schmidt to the Dodgers a few years ago is on it.  The guy was making like 17 million a year and hardly ever saw the field for them.  Whomever the trainer/doctor was that passed his physical should never be allowed near a team again.  Right along with the GM that oversaw it.  It had been rumored that PED's factored into his good years while with the Giants.

Since: Sep 3, 2006
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:16 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

Zito is just tough to figure.  In spite of what some say, he was a very effective pitcher while in Oakland.  Perhaps cases like his should serve as a caveat to players who leave a comfort zone to chase big bucks and then never again approach previous success.  Shades of Mark Davis back in the 80's. Went from a mediocre starter to solid closer for the Padres, until Boras convinced him to chase dollars and he went to Kansas City and never had a decent season again in the six or so seasons he managed to stick around after that.  The grass isn't always greener.  As for Johan, as I have posted before, the Mets gave up nothing to get him.  Consider the salary a purchase price.  He could have easily won 22 games with a decent pen in 2008, maybe even stealing the CY from of Lincecum, pitched well for two years after and was worth the money for that particular team even if he never pitches again.  As for Papelbon, I question whether he lives up to the deal.  Like Davis, he's made his big score.  But prior to last year, his peripherals had been slipping.  And frankly, the history of closers as big money acquisitions is dubious at best.  And there is only one reliever worth that kind of money.  He pitches in the Bronx and has the track record to prove it.  Again, the impulsive buyers market that comes every offseason makes for some very questionable decisions when it comes to signings.  Frankly, given the frequency of arm issues among pitchers today, an interesting topic of discussion for a bigger space than this, anyone going more than four years on a pitcher has to be aware there is likely going to be some expensive down time involved in the proposition.

Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:10 pm

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

but I'm wondering what the Phillies' front office thought when they saw that the signed 2011 Philly closer to a one-year, $8.5 million deal.
What they thought?  That's easy.  They thought "man, Boras is a piece of crap and screwed another one of his clients".

Since: May 17, 2007
Posted on: February 3, 2012 11:52 am

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

I still think this is disjointed logic to say that a pitcher (or player) who was injured is somehow part of a bad contract.
To continue to hammer away on "if he's healthy" (Lackey, Peavy) as a point of reference, it's nothing more than saying you could predict the future because you had the facts in advance.

I DO agree that the Zito deal will be among the worst ever. The Carmona reference to his real name is not relevant. He has just run out of gas as a top pitcher.

Since: Oct 7, 2006
Posted on: February 3, 2012 11:48 am

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

I would take O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel over Dotel, Beniot and Valverde.. 
Dotel has pitched for 14 teams for a reason.. Valverde had his best year ever last season and is way to inconsistant to repeat that. To me its not even close but thats my opinion.  

Since: Jan 24, 2012
Posted on: February 3, 2012 11:41 am

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

The best 7/8/9 combo could now be the Tigers:
 - 7th - Dotel 2011 3.50 ERA 0.98 Whip $3.0M 2012 salary
 - 8th - Benoit 2011 2.95 ERA 1.05 Whip $5.5M 2012 salary
 - 9th - Valverde 2011 2.24 ERA 1.19 WHIP $9.0M 2012 salary

Since: Apr 11, 2007
Posted on: February 3, 2012 11:35 am

Baseball's worst contracts, Part III: Pitchers

LOL perhaps the Kimbrell/Venters duo??? that is (no offense) almost laughable, include o'flaherty in that line and you have by far the best set up closer group especially compared to the yankees, Robertson is good, and we know about the sandman, Soriano is and can be good, but there is no comparison in terms of ability and ceiling, the three braves pitchers are just beginning their careers and the combined era was well under 2.0 for the season, with more innings pitched, saves, better whip. I'm not sure where the comparison even begins? it is also agreed that, the braves need to do this for a few years to be in the "Career" conversation with Mo and soriano, but in this league of "what have you done for me lately" the braves are by far and away better, including, wait for it.....Salary the salary for all three braves setup/closer group is less then that of either Mo or Soriano individually. in any statistical way that does not include "career" numbers, there isn't even a conversation here. Luckily for the yankees, there is more to baseball then the relief squad :)

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