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MLB's worst contracts: Outfielders

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

Where does Matt Kemp check in on the list of worst outfielder contracts? (USATSI)
Where does Matt Kemp check in on the list of worst outfielder contracts? (USATSI)

Worst contracts: Pitchers | Middle infielders/catchers | Corner infielders/DHs

In this space, we've been conducting a tour of the worst contracts -- "worst" from the perspective of those writing the checks, that is -- in all of baseball. Today our focus turns to the outfield.

In terms of roundly bad investments, things aren't all that bad in the outfield. As such, a couple of the contracts we're about to pillory involve making some assumptions and running with them -- i.e., assuming a player who was disappointingly out of character in 2013 will continue to disappoint. In other words, obviously ill-advised contracts are a bit hard to come by, at least among outfielders.

Now for the reveal ...

Outfielders

Worst: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
Remaining contract: Six years, $127.5 million

When healthy, Kemp is worth this kind of money, as he mans an up-the-middle position, is capable of playing at an MVP level (he should've won the award in 2011), and has a 40-steal season in his recent past. As well, his career batting line of .293/.350/.493 is good for an OPS+ of 126. The primary problem, though, is Kemp's ability to stay healthy lately. He was a very durable player up until 2012 (he averaged 159 games played per season from 2008-11), but he's averaged just 89.5 games played over the last two seasons.

What's especially troubling is that the kinds of injuries Kemp has suffered -- major hamstring strain, a long series of shoulder problems, an ankle sprain that never really healed and eventually required surgery -- aren't the kind that just go away or stop happening. They're the kinds of injuries suffered by a player whose body just isn't holding up to the rigors of a six-month season. Kemp's days in center field surely seem numbered -- in part because of declining range and in part because his body needs a less demanding position -- which will only raise the offensive bar for him.

Kemp's desire and professionalism are obvious -- he's absolutely not a "soft" player or any kind of malingerer -- but his body simply won't cooperate. As well, his attempts to play through his various injuries have resulted in diminished production. If this is the new normal for him at age 29, then what's the back end of this deal going to look like? To be sure, when a team signs a star like Kemp to a long-term deal, they expect to take a hit on the back end, but Kemp's deal has the potential to be a boondoggle by even those standards.

Runner-up1: Vernon Wells, Yankees
Remaining contract: One year, $21 million

If this were all about 2014, then Wells's contract would absolutely take top "honors." Over the last three seasons, Wells has hit a combined .226/.267/.387 (81 OPS+) while being paid more than $68 million. Even in his best years, though, he was never worth the seven-year, $126-million pact he signed with the Blue Jays back in 2006. Since Wells's deal kicked in, he's been paid $105 million, and per FanGraphs he's been worth roughly $18.6 million. That's ... in the red. It's a minor miracle that the Jays were able to unload Wells when they did. It's also another kind of miracle that the Angels will be picking up $18.6 million of Wells's tab for 2014.

Runner-up2: Carl Crawford, Dodgers
Remaining contract: Four years, $82.5 million

After signing this deal, Crawford's tenure in Boston was marked by under-performance, injuries and ultimately mutual distaste. He's actually been a somewhat effective player over the last two seasons when healthy (108 OPS+ in 2013 and 2012), but he's no longer the threat on the bases that he once was, and he's lost a step in the field. The power has never really been adequate by the standards of a left fielder, so this was a bit of a strange decision from the start. Crawford's headed into his age-32 season, so expect the general decline to continue. He's averaged just 92 games played per season since inking this contract.

Runner-up3: B.J. Upton, Braves
Remaining contract: Four years, $59.8 million

Upton was almost impossibly bad in the first year of his Atlanta contract: .184/.268/.289 (53 OPS+) in 126 games. By the time the postseason arrived, he was buried on the bench. Upton is better than this, and he's almost bound to improve going forward (how could he not?). But can he get back to being the 20/30, Gold Glove-caliber center fielder he was during his best seasons with the Rays? Broadly speaking, in 2013 Upton struggled to make contact, and when he did he make contact is was too often of the weak variety. Those two trends don't bode well moving forward.

Runner-up4: Josh Hamilton, Angels
Remaining contract: Four years, $106 million

It's entirely possible that Hamilton will make this contract worth the Angels' while, but he's off to a bad start. Last season, Hamilton batted .250/.307/.432 with 21 homers in 151 games. That's not terrible production, but it's far shy of the level at which he's being paid. Some of his struggles are reducible to an absolutely awful April, but even after that Josh Hamilton wasn't quite Josh Hamilton. If he's going to return value on the dollar through 2017, then he needs to start performing at an MVP level once again. At age 32, can he do that?

Honorable mention

The contract of Jayson Werth (Nationals, four years, $83 million remaining) has the potential to get ugly, but he played at a very high level in 2013 and was effective when healthy in 2012 ... Yes, Alfonso Soriano of the Yankees has one year and $18 million left on the whopper he inked with the Cubs, but he's quietly been a pretty solid player (and unfairly maligned) over the life of the contract. He wasn't worth the money on a dollar-for-dollar basis, but it wasn't the unmitigated disaster it's often portrayed as ... Andre Ethier can hit, but he has no range (ignore that undeserved Gold Glove in 2011), isn't a threat on bases, and can't handle lefties. He's been fine so far, but the second half of his deal (plus a vesting option for 2018) could get ugly ... Don't worry about Michael Bourn yet, but if he continues to decline at the plate and on the bases, then the Indians may regret signing him to that four-year, $48-million contract that includes a vesting option for 2017 ... Alex Rios has been a quality player in three of the last four seasons, but he's in the final year of a seven-year, $69.835-million extension that hasn't turned out to be a wise investment.

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