Baseball's worst contracts: Relief pitchers

Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell both signed big contracts last offseason. (US Presswire)

We close our series on the worst contracts in the game, fittingly, with the relievers. You could argue that most relievers are overpaid -- at least when you go dollar per inning. And then there's the constant debate about the overvaluing of closers.

The way this works is we're looking at contracts as they sit today, not what they've paid in the past. That money is gone, and any contract that runs out soon can be a good contract.

While some of the other position groupings in this series had easier, more clear-cut answers to these questions, the relievers might be more of a philosophical question than a judgment of performance.


Winner: Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Remaining salary: Three years, $39 million with vesting option for another year and $13 million.

This isn't saying Papelbon isn't a good pitcher or doesn't get the job done as a closer. Papelbon is one of the best closers out there, but does any closer deserve to get $13 million over each of the next three years plus a vesting option for another $13 million in 2016? That's a lot of cheese for a pitcher who pitched 70 innings for the first time in his career last season. Yes, Papelbon converted 38 of 42 save chances, but is that worth $13 million, especially when Fernando Rodney was better last season and is making just $2.5 million in 2013?

Runner-up: Carlos Marmol, Cubs (one year, $10 million left). Unlike Papelbon, Marmol is on this list because he's not been very good. Marmol recorded 20 saves in 2012, blowing just three. Marmol has struggled with control and hasn't been very reliable either of the last two years. He put up a 3.42 ERA in 2012 and a 4.01 ERA in 2011 when he blew 10 saves. The good news is that he's gone after this season. The bad news is he's owed $10 million in 2013. The lame-duck factor is the only thing holding him from the top spot.

Also considered

Jonathan Broxton, Reds (three years, $21 million). Yes, his signing moves Aroldis Chapman to the rotation, but the 28-year-old is just a year removed from elbow surgery and exile in Kansas City. Broxton was good in limited duty as Chapman's setup man in Cincinnati, but his track record is spotty. This deal -- for three years -- is a long commitment for the likes of Broxton.

Brandon League, Dodgers (three years, $22.5 million). Last season, League was demoted from the Mariners' closer's spot despite the fact the Mariners weren't in contention and were showcasing him for a trade. The Dodgers didn't give up much to get him at the trade deadline, but they're certainly going to be paying to keep him in Los Angeles.

Set-up man

Winner: Heath Bell , Diamondbacks
Remaining salary: Two years, $21 million

The Diamondbacks didn't sign Bell, but the Marlins did a year ago as part of their makeover -- and that worked out so well that he's now in Arizona. The Marlins are picking up $8 million of the $21 million left on his contract, but that's still $13 million owed by the Diamondbacks. The 35-year-old Bell will set up J.J. Putz, who is making $6.5 million in 2013.

Runner-up: Jeremy Affeldt, Giants: Like Papelbon, this isn't saying Affeldt isn't a good pitcher or good at what he does -- it's just that is he worth three years and $18 million? Affeldt appeared in 67 games last season, pitching 63 1/3 innings. He's more than just a LOOGY, facing more right-handers than left-handers, but it still seems like $18 million is just too much for any reliever at this point.

Also considered

Sean Marshall, Reds (three years, $16.5 million): Marshall is one of the best lefty setup men in the game, but three years is a long time to bank on any reliever. It could end up being a good deal for the Reds, but there's plenty of risk on Cincinnati's part by being committed to the 30-year-old for the next three years.

Joaquin Benoit, Tigers (one year, $5.5 million): Benoit hasn't lived up to expectations in Detroit, where he signed a three-year, $16.5-million deal before the 2011 season. In two years there, he's been good, but not as good as he was in Tampa Bay in 2010. Last season he put up a 3.68 ERA and saw his WHIP rise for the second year in a row. He'll likely take a pay cut in 2014 after going through free agency again.

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