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The Worst Contracts In Baseball

Dan Quisenberry said many wonderful things in his too-short life, but probably the most famous is his line about the future. “I’ve seen the future,” he said, “and it’s much like the present only longer.”

A version of that quote kept popping up in my mind throughout the first round of the playoffs. It was more like: “I’ve seen the future, and it’s much like the present in that Alex Rodriguez strikes out a lot.” Or Ryan Howard.

Here, best I can tell, are the 10 contracts with the most money remaining on them:

1. Joe Mauer, 7 years, $161 million.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, 10 years, $152 million.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 7 years, $148 million
4. Alex Rodriguez, 6 years, $143 million
5. Ryan Braun, 9 years, $128 million
6. Ryan Howard, 5 years, $125 million
7. Carl Crawford, 6 years, $122 million
8. Mark Teixeira, 5 years, $112.5 million
9. Jayson Werth, 6 years, $112 million
10. Cliff Lee, 5 years, $109 million

Now, I’m going to point out something about this list that strikes me — something that I think could shape the next era of baseball contracts — but first I should say that this list will get scrambled during the off-season. Albert Pujols will obviously get a lot of money for many years. Prince Fielder too. Jose Reyes. The Yankees might pay a lot of money to lock up Robbie Cano. C.C. Sabathia will probably rework his deal — right now he’s getting $92 million over the next four years — and who the heck knows what the Yankees might offer to C.J. Wilson, or what the Cardinals might offer to Mark Buehrle and so on.

But based on what we have now — there are some scary numbers on that list, no? Start with the top guy, Joe Mauer. He played only 82 games this year, he has hit a total of 12 home runs the last two seasons, and people inside baseball seem pretty confident that the Twins will have no choice but to move him from behind the plate to have any chance of keeping him healthy. I love Mauer as a player. Love him. There was a time when I thought about renaming this whole blog after him (“The Mauer Power Hour”). From 2006-to-2009, he has a good argument as the most valuable catcher in baseball history, right there with early 1970s Johnny Bench or mid-1950s Yogi Berra. But how much do I love Joe Mauer as a 10-home run a year first baseman/designated hitter? No, not quite $161 million much.

After that, I think of the guys we saw in the playoffs. There’s nothing especially surprising left to say about Alex Rodriguez. He’s 36 years old, and he played a lot of innings at shortstop, and his body’s beat up, and there’s no compelling reason to believe he can ever play 150 games in a season, much less be a dominant player. And he has SIX YEARS left on that deal. The thing about sports it that when a player starts regressing, the way A-Rod did two or three years ago, people quickly adjust to the new reality. OK, so A-Rod is not a 40 or 50 home run guy anymore, he’s more like a 30-homer guy. But that’s not how regression works. It doesn’t stop at the level of choice. It just keeps on, you know, regressing. Thirty homer guys become 20 homer guys become 12 homer guys.

If A-Rod could even remain the player he was in 2011 — assuming he could stay healthy long enough to play more than 99 games — then the Yankees would be OK. Sure, a third baseman hitting .276/.362/.461 isn’t worth $30 million a year or anything close. But he’s a good player. He’s about as good as any other third baseman, save a Longoria here, a Beltre there. But he won’t stay at that level, certainly not for another six years, maybe not even for another two years. And the Yankees will be stuck.

The Ryan Howard deal is a looming disaster, and it hasn’t even started yet. He turns 32 in November, and players with his skill set sometimes take a precipitous fall in their early 30s. The truth is, with Howard, the decline started a while ago. For four years — from 2006-2009 — he crushed a lot of home runs. This fed his whole game. It gave him impressive RBI numbers. It sparked teams to intentionally walk him a lot, puffing up his on-base percentage. The last two years, his home runs have dropped, he didn’t even slug .500 in 2011, and managers no longer fear him as much. His inability to hit lefties has become a defining quality. The Cardinals in these playoffs intentionally walked the perfectly fine but hardly intimidating Hunter Pence in order to FACE Ryan Howard.

The last game of the Cardinals-Phillies series, the announcers kept making a big deal about how St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter needed to get a succession of outs so that he would not have to face Ryan Howard in the ninth inning. Carpenter did not quite get those outs, and so the announcers went on and on about how this meant Ryan Howard would come up one more time, there was no avoiding it, Mighty Casey would get one last at-bat. And all I could think of was that those words — Ryan Howard would get one more at-bat — would make me happier if I was a CARDINALS fan than a Phillies fans. Howard ended the game by hitting routine ground ball and he blew out his Achilles going to first base.

Howard has been a fun player, a marvelous slugger, the sort of player that Philadelphia could rally around and there’s a lot of value in that. But he’s basically becoming a one-tool slugger who can’t hit lefties. That contract — even if Howard can somehow get and stay healthy and regain his power — is like that Robert DeNiro attempt to bring “Rocky and Bullwinkle” to the big screen. Even before it begins, you know it has no chance.

But the truth is, if you look at those 10 most expensive contracts, well, would you want ANY of them? Ryan Braun just signed his deal, so if he stays healthy I suspect that one will look good for a good long time. But that’s NINE YEARS. We don’t know who is going to be running for president in six months, how the heck are we going to know about Braun in nine years? The Crawford deal looks like a catastrophe. The Werth deal looks like a catastrophe.

OK, here you go, my list of the 10 worst contracts in baseball at the moment (and what’s left on those deals):

1. Vernon Wells, 3-years, $63 million.
— I love that in order to get their hands on this death-defying contract, the Angels traded away Mike Napoli, who ended up getting traded back into their division where he might have been the most valuable player on the division winning Texas Rangers. There is just layer upon layer of madness here.

To be fair: Wells has shown the ability to lift his game up during even-year seasons, and he does have two of those left on the deal. But let’s not kid anybody. Wells had a .248 on-base percentage in 2011. That’s two … four … eight. The last qualifying outfielder to have an on-base percentage that low? I’m sure you already know: George Barclay. Yeah. Oh, wait, you didn’t know that? Right: That was 1904. Wells’ was the lowest on-base percentage for an outfielder in more than 100 years. Wells from what I’ve heard is a good guy, people love having him around the clubhouse, and he’s had some superb years. But this is the worst contract in baseball, perhaps the worst ever offered.

2. A-Rod, 6-years, $143 million.
— I could be wrong, certainly. He looked good enough in spring training this year that some people were actually predicting an MVP type season from the guy. But I’ve thought for a couple of years, and think even more now, that it looks all downhill from here. I’ve been on record for a while now saying that he will not set the all-time home run record.

3. Carl Crawford, 6-years, $122 million
— Crawford could rebound. You might even say he SHOULD rebound. But at the moment, because of the big number tagged to it, this contract surpasses the Zito debacle, the Soriano debacle, the Lackey debacle, even the Dunn debacle. There was something about this deal that bugged me from the start. Oh, don’t misunderstand, I thought Crawford would be a dynamic player for the Red Sox — heck, I named the guy the 22nd-best player in baseball in my preseason poll.

No, what bothered me was that Crawford has always been more EXCITING than GOOD. This is a sports theme I’ve been thinking a lot about. Ask yourself this: Which statement is more true?

1. Michael Vick is a great quarterback.
2. Michael Vick is an exciting quarterback.

Both statements might be true. But i would think the second statement rings truer. I’ve taken some heat from Verlander fans, and I think this topic fits him too. I think Verlander is a great pitcher. And I think Verlander is an exciting pitcher — all those strikeouts, the 100 mph fastballs in the late innings, the amazing breaking balls, are you kidding? Thrilling. And I think the thrilling part of the equation sometimes puffs up the great part.

Carl Crawford has always been a thrilling player. He hits triples. He steals bases. But we are talking about a left-fielder with a lifetime .333 on-base percentage and a lifetime .441 slugging percentage. I remember when I was going out to buy my first car, they showed me all the extras you could get on a Ford Escort. Sunroof. Leather seats. Automatic locks and windows*. And even then it struck me: No matter how you dress up this car, it’s still a Ford Escort. I don’t think Crawford is a Ford Escort. But his lifetime on-base and slugging percentage match up frighteningly close to Aaron Rowand and Eric Hinske. So you could argue he’s Aaron Rowand with a sunroof.

*Yeah, there weren’t as many cool gadgets for cars then; automatic locks and windows felt futuristic.

4. Ryan Howard, 5-years, $125 million.
— If he can get healthy, and if the Phillies keep him in the middle of the lineup, he will keep driving in 100 RBIs. And maybe that will postpone the inevitable realization that Ryan Howard is become a less and less useful player all the time.

5. Barry Zito, 3-years, $46 million
— The Giants are paying down that contract — they’re still upside down on the deal, but there will come a time when they pay it off. It’s amazing to think that time is still three years from now.

People often say — I often say — that Scott Boras does a great job for his clients. And it’s undeniably true: But by “great job” what we really mean is “he will get his client more money.” That’s a perfectly reasonable definition of what you want in an agent; you want someone who will get you the most money. But, not to go all Jerry Maguire here, isn’t there something more? It’s interesting how many Boras clients seem to be in miserable spots. A-Rod seems doomed to declining years of boos. Carlos Beltran didn’t exactly fit New York. Zito was on the decline anyway, but he seems entirely destroyed by the pressures of his contract. There are a lot of stories like that. I’m not saying that anyone should feel sorry for a player who will make all that money. I’m just saying that there probably are other things that are important too.

6. John Lackey, 3-years, $45.75 million
— In some ways, this contract might be even worse than the Zito deal because the Giants at least have made their peace with the idea that Barry Zito never again will be an effective pitcher for them. The Red Sox haven’t crossed that bridge yet, and before they cross it there will likely be a lot more pain for everyone. Lackey had a very difficult year off the field, and so there’s hope that with a fresh start at spring training, with his mind refocused, he might still be at least a fourth or fifth starter for them.

But looking back, Lackey wasn’t an especially healthy or great pitcher the two years BEFORE the Red Sox signed him — he threw 163 and 176 innings those two years — and now he’s 32, and last year was so miserable in so many ways that the Red Sox may be forced to just eat this contract. And that will be hard because of the No. 3 on this list.

7. Alfonso Soriano, 3-years, $54 million.
— According to Baseball Reference WAR, Alfonso Soriano actually contributed more defensively (0.7 dWAR) than offensively (0.6 oWAR). And I think that pretty much says it all.

8. Adam Dunn, 3-years, $44 million.
— I’m making this crazy call: I think Adam Dunn will have a rebound season in 2012. In some ways this is a pretty easy call because it is all but impossible for him to be worse than he was in 2011. People years and years from now will look back at Adam Dunn’s 2011 season and wonder: “Did someone really hit .159 in Major League Baseball?”* The man slugged .277. Adam Dunn!

*Dunn — and I don’t know if this was done on purpose, but I suspect it was — did not get the necessary 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. You know how many he got? Right: 496. That way he won’t show up when you look up qualifying players.

This isn’t unprecedented — well, the batting average actually is unprecedented, at least in modern times — but the collapse of a power hitter in his early 30s is hardly new. Richie Sexson just stopped hitting. Gorman Thomas just stopped hitting. Carlos Pena just stopped hitting. And so on. All signs point to Dunn being unplayable from here on out. And that’s probably where the smart money goes, but I just have this feeling that he will rebound a bit. I think the last couple of years, he has lost his once-impeccable plate discipline, he’s swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, which is spurring pitchers to simply not throw him strikes. I suspect Dunn will work hard this off-season watching video, working on his swing, and, well, maybe I just feel for the guy but I think he makes a moderate comeback in 2012.

Which is to say I think he will hit at least .200, if given the chance.

9. Jayson Werth, 6-years, $112 million.
— A terrible contract, of course, but I have it this low because, well, I’m not sure what the Nationals really could have expected when they signed Werth in the first place. He was a perfectly good player in Philadelphia who had a very good 2010 season, mainly because he killed it at home. In a new park, with new surroundings, his slugging percentage dropped almost 150 points. I suspect he will bounce back and have two or three serviceable to good years for the Nationals before he’s done. Then again he might not — the similar batters through age 32 (Jeff Hammonds, Trot Nixon) do not tell a happy tale.

This was one of those contracts that was terrible when it was signed … and only figures to look worse every year.

10. Mark Teixeira, five years, $112.5 million
— A lot of Yankees fans were focusing on the decline of A-Rod because, well, that’s an easy one to wrap the mind around. But, honestly, I’d be nervous about Teixeira. Sure, it was only five games, but he really looked old during the playoff series with Detroit. He will turn 32 years old in April, he’s got five years left on his contract, and he too seems to be in clear and present decline. The last two years, Teixeira has hit .239/.326/.452 on the road. Overall, he’s hit .252 the last two years, and his .487 slugging percentage is about 50 points off his career numbers, and ranks eighth among first baseman.

He’s still a good player. Hey, he hit 39 homers in 2011. He’s a fine fielder. If he stays right here, plays like this, it will be disappointing but not unmanageable for the Yankees. But, yeah, there’s a reason they call it regression. in an era where many of the best teams load up with a truly great hitter at first base — Detroit with Miggy; St. Louis (for now) with Pujols; Milwaukee (for now) with Fielder; Boston with Gonzalez and so on — the Yankees have Teixeira for a long time. It’s become a familiar Yankees story: They’ll be hoping for someone to fight off the years. Five more of those years.

And that brings me to my final point. I wonder if we will ever see a real restructuring of baseball contracts. That is to say, I wonder if teams will start trying to pay players huge YEARLY sums, but cut down on the number of years. I’m sure there are financial reasons that teams don’t want to do this — that seems to be why so many contracts are backloaded — and I’m sure there are financial reasons players don’t want to do that. But it sure seems to me that purely as a baseball question, you would much rather give a guy a bigger and shorter contract than stretch it out over six or seven or eight years, where everyone finds themselves facing an awkward ending when the player isn’t worth the money anymore and the team has to figure out how to handle it, the player has to deal with the abuse and so on.

Honestly, in some cases, I’d rather give a guy four years at $100 million than six years at $100 million.

Of course, I suspect if you as an owner said you would never give anyone a deal longer than three or four years, you probably just wouldn’t be able to sign the biggest free agents, even if you offered them $30 or $35 million a year. (I’m sure Albert Pujols wouldn’t take a four-year, $140 million deal, even though that would make him, per year, the highest paid player ever).

But I think at some point that it could go in that direction. Every now and again you will have a long contract that works for everyone, like Derek Jeter’s ten-year deal. But there are a lot more deals like Vernon Wells … Mike Hampton … A-Rod … Jason Giambi … Ken Griffey Jr. … on and on … deals that that bring with them a whole lot of misery. Todd Helton just finished a long deal in Colorado, and Todd Helton stopped being a great player quite a long time ago.

In the end, it evens out I suppose. The system works so that players get paid later in their career for what they did earlier in the career (and often for a different team). But it creates painful situations for the teams and players, and no win-situations for managers and teammates. I do think it would be better for everyone if the big money contracts were shortened and pumped up per year. Then again, I failed out of accounting.

64 Responses to The Worst Contracts In Baseball

  1. Chad says:

    Circle me 2012 New York Yankees.

  2. Thile says:

    I think Verlander has been a good pitcher who had a great season; yet to see if he’ll be great but seems like that with his body of work so far (1 great year, 1 really good year (09), 3 good years (06, 07, 10). Wonder how pitcher decline works? Seems like he should be able to pitch a lot longer w/o decline unlike hitters?

  3. Nick says:

    Dude, I am the biggest Cubs fan in the world, and they have an awful payroll. They are in the top five in spending, but the bottom five in the win/loss column.

  4. Nick says:

    Dude, I am the biggest Cubs fan in the world, and they have an awful payroll. They are in the top five in spending, but the bottom five in the win/loss column.

  5. Clashfan says:

    @Thile, I think we might have to look at type of pitcher when we talk about decline, rather than just ‘pitcher’. Do crafty lefties have a similar curve compared to right-handed fireballers? This is similar to how we think of hitters declining. Ryan Howard’s decline curve will differ from Derek Jeter’s, because they are different kinds of hitter.

    I don’t know, but someone here might. Joe has Brilliant Readers, after all.

  6. Dave says:

    I agree, Joe. It’s the ridiculous contract lengths rather than the dollar amounts that are the problem.

    With Teixeira and Rodriguez, you begin to see the problem the Yankees are going to have. It’s not that they can’t afford to pay these guys; it’s that they’re stuck with them on the roster for the duration of those contracts. Throw in eternal Yankee Derek Jeter, and you have 3/4 of an infield that is going to be looking pretty bad before long.

    And of course, none of those guys are bad players. I’d give any of them a one- or two-year contract. But can you see Hank Steinbrenner eating one of these long-term deals if the player stops producing? I can’t.

    Which seems to me like an argument for not restructuring CC’s contract.

    The Cubs took a lot of heat for signing Carlos Pena to a $10 million deal last winter, but a.) He actually ended up having a pretty good year, despite the low batting average (because he knows how to draw a walk), and b.) it was only a one-year deal. Regardless of what you think of Pena, it wasn’t his fault the Cubs were terrible this year, and his contract didn’t tie up money or roster space past 2010. They will probably try to re-sign him, but that’s another matter.

  7. tucker says:

    It would be interesting to look at the best long term contracts currently in the game or ever. Well actually the currently in the game list starts with Longoria so far ahead it isn’t even funny. But I think for the all time list the only pitchers on it might be Pedro and Mike Mussina.

  8. Josh says:

    Carl Crawford has the best chance to improve (other than Tulo and Braun). I don’t see how it ranks this high. Bill James projected him at .311/.360/.472 this year, instead of the .255/.289/.405 that he actually hit. Is there not reason to believe he can meet those 2011 projections next year?

  9. @Josh: Carl Crawford was always a player whose game was oriented around one outstanding tool — that tool was speed, which is something that doesn’t tend to last past 30. Add in his hamstring issues this year and the shelf life of your average speedster who spent his early years playing on artificial turf and it’s hard to see him ever being worth $15 million a season.

  10. JH says:

    GMs give those backloaded contracts you mentioned because that way, they can sign more players to backloaded contracts in an effort to win now, and if that doesn’t work, it’s their successors who are left handcuffed and holding the bag.

  11. Marco says:

    But the truth is, if you look at those 10 most expensive contracts, well, would you want ANY of them?

    Yes, the Cliff Lee one.

  12. P.Dishy says:

    Echoing tucker…I’d love to see the results of a study that looked at the surplus value of contracts as a function of contract length (controlling for arb-year issues of course). With the exception of Longoria, the only ones we tend to hear about are the ones that fail. Are long-term contracts more likely to fail than short term ones (as measured by surplus per season), or are they just more fun to write about?

  13. P.Dishy says:

    And I answered my own question. Someone did study it:

    The meat is on p33. Basically, 1yr contracts are almost always beneficial to the team, and multiyear contracts are almost always beneficial to the player. I haven’t read it carefully to see what is and is not controlled for.

  14. Dinky says:

    Circle me, Lyman Bostock.

    typo: “The thing about sports it that” s/b “is that”

    The thing is with long term deals, for many years players were underpaid (by free market standards) so paying Dave Winfield $1,000,000/year for ten years worked out because by the end of the contract, Winfield caliber players were earning much more than $1M/year. Even if their skills diminished, the rise in salaries compensated at the back end. But salaries have plateaued and until the economy improves a lot, it seems very unlikely to see ARod’s total package exceeded (if not his per year total). I mean, who has demonstrated a comparable level of talent while being young enough to offer a degree of protection against decrepitude? So I don’t think we’ll see increases over ARod in the near future, even with fewer years attached.

  15. joko says:

    If I were a GM, for any big long-term contract, I’d put in opt out clause for the player after 3 years. That way you’re more likely to get value out of the early years of the contract and then after 3 years maybe the player chooses to opt out to go chase another long-term contract and you don’t have to suffer through the regression years of the player in the last years of a big contract. I actually think it’s a good thing for the Yankees if CC opts out and they don’t have to suffer from the latter years of his current contract where there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be getting a good return on their investment.

  16. KHAZAD says:

    Long term guaranteed contracts are unique to baseball, and one of the things that skew the game towards big market teams. Without them, it would be much easier for a smaller market team to jump up it’s payroll to make a run by increasing their payroll in the short term.

    It would be nice if agents went towards larger but shorter contracts, but that will not happen anytime soon. If the player gets a long term deal early, the team wants to get his entire prime. If it happens late, both the player and agent want the security of a longer term deal, knowing the possibility of injury and decline. The top tier players get long term deals, leaving the small markets to overbid on shorter term deals for middle tier guys.

    It will never happen, but getting rid of long term guarantees would be extremely beneficial for baseball. I would say that a contract should be vested one year ahead of time. (meaning if a player plays on opening day 2012, his 2013 year is fully vested on that day, even if he has a career ending injury or stops performing. If a team chose to release the player after the 2012 season, he would be paid in full for 2013 AND be a free agent, with the team receiving no compensation for his loss and the player getting 100% of the money he is able to sign with a new team for as well.

    P.S. I know it is a shorter contract, but Joe’s love for Derek Jeter would not allow him to mention that Derek will get either $36 million for the next two years or $41 million for the next 3.

  17. Frank says:

    @Dave – To further your point, the Teixeira contract keeps the Yankees from going after better first basement this year (Pujols, Fielder) and for many years to come. Same thing for A-rod and any other aging position player with a long-term contract. Not quite so much of an issue with pitchers whom you can at least bury in the 5th starter role (Zito).

  18. Kansas City says:

    Another great post. I can never figure out why presumably smart baseball executives pay so much money. I have just attributed it to market principles, but it really must be market plus some weakness in the class of persons making the decisions. There are insane big deals like Arod and also insane smaller deals like the Royals paying Guillen $36 million over three years. And the Red Sox, generally thought to be so smart, making a number of very unwise deals. Miller did outsmart the owners on the six year to free agency, because got exhorbitant arbiration salaries in years 4 through 6, and also a limited number of high level free agents each year. Below is a very interesting column on why teams do it, but it does not really provide a logical answer overall.

  19. mckingford says:

    Re: Dunn

    I think the obvious reason he will have to be better (or at least show better results) in 2012, is that he has so obviously lost any ability to hit lefties that there’s no way you can do anything but platoon him.

    For his career (including this disastrous year) he is a respectable 225/345/443 against lefties.

    In 94 ABs against lefty pitching this year he had 1 XBH. And 6 hits overall.


    That’s .064 BA and .074 SLG.

    If you give a random guy off the street 94 major league at bats, I’d guess that he’d have a decent bet, just through pure chance, of amassing more than 6 hits.

  20. Clashfan says:

    A couple of questions: Regarding speed, FoolsErrandBoy stated that speedsters lose the speed tool around age 30, and their value drops precipitously at that time. Are Lou Brock, Tim Raines, and the immortal Rickey Henderson outliers?

    Also, what if the arb clock was four years and not six? Initially, this seems like it would hurt the teams and help the players, but what if a consequence of such a change was that these long-term contracts covered more of a player’s prime years and less of the decline phase? Wouldn’t that help teams in the long term?

    Possibly I misunderstand arbitration and free agency rules and my question is nonsensical. If so, I apologize.

  21. @Khazad…long term, guaranteed contracts are most definitely NOT unique to baseball. There is a work stoppage going on in one of the other major professional sports leagues in this country in which such contracts are one of the biggest issues. I’m looking at you, Gilbert Arenas.

  22. Gary says:

    @mckingford – a random guy off the street, given 94 major league at bats, would go 0-for-94, quite probably with 94 strikeouts.

  23. mckingford
    Gary beat me to it – – – but here goes
    a random guy off the street – a left handed batter, batting against major league left handed pitchers would not hit 6 balls into fair territory. . .
    If only the average nfl fan could stand in on ONE fast ball and ONE curve by the likes of Verlander or Sabbathia – they’d be amazed that MLB players don’t fill their pants. . . AMAZED
    so many more would watch the game if they had an inkling of how hard it is. . .

  24. Greg Hao says:

    Great points here in Posnanski’s post and the comments here but I have a quibble with Barry Zito and Scott Boras.

    I’m not trying to defend Scott Boras here, but as Jered Weaver has reminded everybody, agents work for players, not the other way around. Weaver probably could have gotten more money on the open market next year if he filed for free agency but he chose to sign a slightly undervalued deal to stay with the Angels and Scott Boras didn’t burst into flames. If a Boras client told him, “I value where I live and play more than maximising my dollars earned,” I highly doubt Boras would say no. So, let’s not place all the blame of Zito and ARod’s albatross contracts on Boras.

  25. jim says:

    Posts like this sort of annoy me. Let’s look at contract #1: Joe Mauer. If the Twins don’t resign Mauer and he goes to, say, the Yankees, Joe would write 20,000 words bemoaning the fact that small market teams can no longer compete with the Yankees. Joe would write 20,000 words bemoaning the fact that the Pohlad’s don’t care about the Twin Cities. Joe would write 20,000 words about how Mauer crushed the hopes and dreams of a metro area and free agency has destroyed the sanctity of blah blah blah.

    Blah blah blah.

    Blah blah blah (repeat 20,000 times).

    So the Twins re-signed Mauer and gave him the deal everybody said the Twins had to give him. (“[The Twins] also have perhaps the single most valuable property in baseball in Joe Mauer, and they re-signed him.” Joe Posnanski’s blog, September 17, 2010) And he has a bad year. And now everybody says it’s the worst contract in baseball, and we don’t like Mauer anymore, and it’s bone-headed moves like this that prevent small market teams from competing with the Yankees and blah blah blah (repeat 20,000 times).

    It’s got to be a pretty reassuring to know ahead of time that you can mock the outcome whatever the outcome may be. It’s got to be reassuring, but it is not terribly insightful.

  26. steak says:

    The time value of money is why you don’t pay 4 years at $100 million versus 6 years at $100 million. Millions of dollars invested over the short-term, even at small percent returns, is worth it. Want proof, check out Bobby Bonilla’s contract:

  27. Mark says:

    Pitchers with high K rates tend to last the longest so I would wager that Verlander, barring injury, will have a long career.

    What effect would it have on the market if every player in the majors became a free agent every year (one year contracts only)? Would that not flood the market, depressing salaries?

  28. I miss AJ says:


    Comments like this sort of annoy me. One reads a headline and skims the first couple of paragraphs, then jumps to comment about how bad the entire piece is.

    Nowhere does Joe say that the Mauer contract is one of the worst in baseball. It ranks #1 in Joe’s list ONLY of current contracts with the most money still owed. Joe lays out a couple of concerns that, as a Twins fan and season ticket holder, I completely agree with — part of what made Mauer so valuable was the offensive production he offered AS A CATCHER. With a healthy 2009-like Mauer, the Twins lineup can withstand a Punto here, a Tolbert there. With Mauer instead playing a high-offense position like 1B, 3B, or OF, that production advantage — and Mauer’s value — drops significantly.

    Joe DOES NOT say the Mauer contract is one of the worst in baseball. Joe DOES NOT say he doesn’t like Mauer anymore: ” I love Mauer as a player. Love him…” Nowhere does Joe say the Mauer contract was a boneheaded move.

    Please do not confuse Joe Posnanski with the boneheads in the Twin Cities sports media.

  29. cd1515 says:

    according to Cot’s, Helton still has 3 yrs left

  30. jim says:

    @I Miss AJ,

    I understand your points. My bigger point is that there is little chance Minnesota can win in this situation. Either they lose Mauer, and everybody blames management for being cheap and not showing a commitment to winning and Mauer for being greedy and caring only about his contract and not about winning. Or they sign Mauer. If they sign Mauer and the Twins don’t win, everybody thinks management is incompetent and doesn’t care about winning and Mauer only cares about his contract and not about winning.

    There will be a similar dilemma with Pujols. STL will either let him go, in which case the management and Pujols will both be crushed. Or they’ll sign him. And if his performance decreases (and eventually it will decrease), both will be crushed because it was obvious he’s too old, we’ve always suspected he’s older than he says, you should never give out long term contracts, etc etc.

    On a much smaller scale, the same thing happened in KC with Mike Sweeney. If you let him go, you’re not showing a commitment to win and you look incompetent. If you sign him long term and he gets injured, you’ve locked yourself into a bad contract and you look incompetent.

    A similar dilemma exists with all contracts. It’s an easy game to play because there’s a readymade narrative for whatever the outcome turns out to be. It’s a journalistic trick masked as insight. (Or maybe it’s Duchampian, in which case I’ll be the first to admit that I was punked.)

  31. NMark W says:

    Boy, when I read the terms of some of these contracts I almost begin to feel sorry for the mostly large market teams that feel they can afford to negotiate these deals. Do some or most small market GMs breathe a sigh of relief when their best players reach the time in their career when they need to move on to a large market and cash in big-time financially while usually getting old at the same time?

  32. Vidor says:

    Regarding Adam Dunn, I remember some speculation at this blog that Dunn might amass the worst ever batting average by a qualifier. If you look at the MLB rules there is an exception for people who fall just short of 502 PA. If you can add X amounts of PAs to a player’s line, and assume them all to be hitless, and that player still wins the batting title, then they’re awarded the batting title. IOW, if you have 496 PA, and you’re hitting .391 or something, adding an 0-6 leaves you with (almost certainly) still the best batting average in your league. So you officially win the batting title.

    Anyway, go the other direction. Award Dunn six more plate appearances and six more base hits, 6-6. His average increases to–.171. Still eight points shy of Rob Deer. So I say Dunn still qualifies for the worst batting average ever.

  33. Yoomanchu says:

    Being that there is a NBA lockout, and that we just witnessed the NFL lockout, I’m wondering what system out there is the fairest.
    I suppose in baseball and basketball, we have the most examples of wildly overpaying in length and amount. NFL contracts always amuse me when there is the adding of the “xx amount is guaranteed” to the end of a contract. How would the Derek Fisher and the NBA like it if their players could be released at the drop of a hat like in the NFL? And they’re still griping about not having a hard cap of any sort, or quibbling about a luxury tax?
    As much as parity is obvious in the NFL, it very much is present in MLB, though it doesn’t seem as obvious. Joe’s earlier observing about the top 9 payrolls in MLB are out of the playoffs is rather interesting.
    The NBA ought to look at which league is making the most money and model themselves after that. As much as in the NFL lockout I sided with the players because I think that the owners are the greedy ones; I side with Stern and the owners in the NBA when I hear how they won’t come down to a 50/50 split, and they insist on 53%.
    To all readers out there, what is the best league in regards to how the players get paid? If you could design a hybrid revenue/contract structure, how would you mold it?

  34. KHAZAD says:

    @ TheAngryYoungMan

    Even in the NBA guaranteed contracts are objects of negotiation. There are only two types of contracts which must be guaranteed. A rookie scale deal must be guaranteed for all seasons signed for lack of skill or non insured injury or illness for 80%. Any sign and trade must guarantee the first season for lack of skill. All players on rosters as of January 10 are guaranteed to be paid for the rest of the season.

    All other guarantees in contracts are objects of negotiation between the player and team. You can choose to guarantee the entire contract,just the first year, the first two years etc. You can guarantee a percentage of each year, and a different percentage each year. (But the percentage cannot go up with time, only remain the same or go down) You can also specifically guarantee any or all of the following 5 reasons for the contract to end: Lack of skill,death,mental disability,basketball related injury, or any non basketball related injury or illness.

    If that was confusing, you know why the NBA needs a completely new agreement. This is among the simpler rules related to NBA contracts. I think the US tax code is simpler than NBA collective bargaining rules.

    In baseball, however, all contracts are completely guaranteed. It is, as I stated, a unique situation.

  35. TC says:

    Frankly,I don`t give a rat`s backside how good these players are,they`re not worth the money they are getting just for playing a GAME! Ryan Howard? Big freakin` deal he hits home runs,he strikes out way more than he is worth!

  36. blovy8 says:

    I honestly don’t think it’s a big deal having Rowand as your fifth outfielder or Zito as the mop up man, if you are still putting talent on the field and have the proper balance. Admittedly, SF got lucky, but I think a team willing to spend enough to compete has to be prepared to have at least one bad contract, if not two looming. The market is such that a club has to overpay more for a good free agent now, since teams are getting smarter about contract extensions for their young players, it drives up the age and risk of the available pool of talent. You either you have a player a bit older or a guy with injury issues, or if they’re just in a spot they don’t like, it takes more years for a younger free agent – either way a team accepts their decline along with the tail end of the peak. Pujols is not going to be worth the salary everyone knows he will get, but it’s really the price of competing, unless you get very lucky with half a dozen prospects peaking at the same time like Tampa. Is Carlos Guillen worth 12 million a year for Detroit? They got out from under Ordonez’s contract, but that looked pretty bad for a while there. Detroit is paying Inge 5.5 million to be less than a replacement player. Is a ballooning, drunken Miguel Cabrera going to be a good player three years from now with 44 million left on his contract? Certainly, they need him badly right now.

  37. Gary says:

    I have never cared much about what players make as salaries because, well, IT’S NOT MY MONEY. The only way major league teams get my money is if I choose to give it to them in the form of attending a game. Take Mauer’s contract, for example. In all likelihood, the only way I’ll see the Twins is in Chicago, Detroit or Cleveland, the closest big league cities to me. So however much the Twins have jacked up ticket prices to pay for Mauer’s salary won’t affect me at all. Whether they signed him to seven years at $161 million or six years at $150 million, it doesn’t affect my income or lifestyle one iota. Now, if the decision for the Twins had been to sign Mauer for seven years at $161 million or six years at $150 million and pay ME the $11 million difference then, yeah, I’d be a little upset. But until a major league club factors me into the salary negotiations, the players’ salaries hold little interest to me.

  38. I miss AJ says:


    I agree that certain teams are behind the 8-ball with their stars, but none of that has much to do with Joe’s post.

    My point was largely just that the journalistic game you cite is the work of hacks (e.g., the boneheads in the Twin Cities sports media I mentioned at the end of last comment), not one played by Joe in his post.

  39. blovy8 says:

    These guys are paid like entertainers. Getting mad about Ryan Howard making a lot of money just to hit home runs off of righties in that bandbox ballpark, is like getting mad at Keanu Reeves for his salary in those Matrix movies. How does it really affect you? The Phillies can afford the mistake, hell, they can afford another mistake like that.

  40. brhalbleib says:

    I disagree with the Brilliant Reader who thinks the Cardinals are in a bind with regard to Pujols. Actually, looking at his career as a whole, the Carrdinals are the only team that can afford to pay him a big salary now. They got him for cheap for the first 10 years of his career and now they can justify overpaying him the next 10. Anyone else will simply overpay him in the future and not have the benefit of getting him cheap for 10 years.

    A couple of brilliant readers asked about the economics of one year contracts. Of course that would drive down salaries if every year the players had to renegotiate their salary. That exact point was raised by Charlie Finley 35 years ago, which apparently about gave Marvin Miller a heart attack (Miller realized true free agency would be beneficial to the owners in the long run and was afraid the other owners would listen to Finley). Luckily for the players (and Miller), the other owners though Finley a kook and didn’t listen (and probably they were so used to their slavery system that they couldn’t get their minds around one year contracts for everybody)

  41. Disco says:

    The one thing about A-Rod is that he still played fantastic defense this season, especially in the playoffs. His WAR/600PA was 5.9 as well.

    The regression will stuck, but for now, a healthy A-Rod is still a top 3b. Too bad he’s never healthy.

  42. Tampa Mike says:

    “It’s interesting how many Boras clients seem to be in miserable spots”

    I’ve thought that for a while. It’s especially bad for the kids just coming out of high school signing their first contracts. He loves to play games with teams to get more money with no consideration at all for the player. He played games for weeks with the Royals and Nebraska only to sign for about the same money the Royals initially offered, but Bubba missed out on tons of playing time vital for his development.

  43. Disco says:

    regression will suck***

  44. pgaskill says:

    I’ve always wondered if *inflation* isn’t the reason long-term contracts aren’t more scary to team owners. Offer somebody $25 million (or whatever) a year for 10 years (or whatever) knowing, or at least confidently predicting, that in 10 years, the $25 million payment for that year is only going to be worth 15 *true* million (or whatever). IOW, the future part of the salary isn’t going to keep up with inflation at all (= isn’t inflation-adjusted).

  45. jim says:

    @I miss AJ,

    Come, on. I think the comment that sums up the entire exercise is Joe’s comment about Ryan Howard: “And maybe [driving in 100 RBIs] will postpone the inevitable realization that Ryan Howard is become a less and less useful player all the time.” That’s not an indictment of Ryan Howard, that’s the definition of life: after a certain point, we’re all less and less useful over time.

    I guess what also bothers me about something like this is the vaguely ideological implication: bad contract = lots of years and lots of dollars left; i.e., it’s a bad contract if it’s bad for management.

    From a player’s perspective, wouldn’t the worse contract in baseball be one in which the player is locked in for many years at or near, say, the league minimum, when he is performing at a much higher level?

    Instead, the worst contract in baseball a player getting a very favorable deal, and this is articulated in almost moralistic terms.

    As in: Ryan Howard’s deal hasn’t even started yet is already “a looming disaster”

    As in: “I could be wrong” “but it looks all downhill from here” for A-Rod.

    As in: Mark Teixeira: he’s only 31, and I’m making this judgment on a 5 game sample size, but I’d be nervous about that guy.

    As in: the problem with Carl Crawford signing a big deal is that he’s “always been more EXCITING than GOOD.”

    As in: Barry Zito, doesn’t he know there’s more to life than money?

    To be clear, I’m not accusing Joe of being a capitalist sympathizer. I just find pieces like this to be much more cliche then you’re allowing.

  46. @Jim – you should maybe read Joe’s article, its a good one.

  47. Josh says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  48. Clashfan says:

    Jim, what about the idea that most teams have limited financial resources, and that the opportunity cost for these huge contracts harms the team in the long run? Derek Lowe has a huge contract with the Braves. The team would be better off using that money and roster spot in other ways, but the contract is untradeable. (Derek Lowe is not terrible, but he is overpaid.)

    The point is not that Ryan Howard’s contract is terrible for management–it’s terrible for the *team*. They overpaid for him, and now cannot use that money elsewhere. They are stuck with him for years. Many people (including Joe) said this when the contract was signed; it is not revisionist history to say so now.

  49. mckingford says:

    I see some people don’t get hyperbole.

    Let me put it another way – there is nobody in MLB in 2011 who got more than 7 ABs (there were a handful of pitchers who were hitless in 7 or less ABs) who put up worse numbers than Adam Dunn hitting lefties this year. We’re talking about pitchers, here.

  50. @Khazad…well now you’re saying something a bit different. Your original statement was that long term guaranteed contracts are unique to MLB. That remains untrue. The NBA most certainly has longterm guaranteed contracts. (For that matter, so does the NHL – Rick DiPietro is in the midst of a fully guaranteed 15-year contract – but the new salary structure in the NHL makes those contracts not especially comparable).

    In rebutting me, what you’re saying is that it’s unique to baseball that there are only guaranteed contracts, that there are no 5-year contracts where only 2 years are guaranteed, or where only X% is guaranteed. That is true. But it is not what you said originally.

  51. jim says:


    All teams have limited financial resources. The constraints are different from team to team, obviously, but they are all limited. The opportunity cost of the huge contracts is the system as it is currently set up. This is the point that Joe made which I agree with. The way the system is set up, teams get players for some set period of time (something like 3 years before arbitration and 6 years before free agency) and during those years they might be making far less than the market would otherwise provide. Therefore, the long term deal can be viewed as essentially recapturing some of that lost amount that the player might have received if he was able to seek a new contract after every year. This was the brilliance of the A’s for so long; they got players who were very productive and affordable young players, then at the 6 year mark (or whenever), some other team would come in and swoop up the players. The other team would have to “overpay” i.e., would have to pay the year 0-6 differential while the A’s alone captured the undervalued past performance. But, therefore, teams should theoretically be able to take the money they save from years 0-3 or 0-6 and “overpay” other players from year 3-6 or 6+. I believe this is what Joe meant when he said these contracts could “even out.”

  52. Jonathan says:

    Loved the DeNiro/Bullwinkle reference.

  53. Clashfan says:

    @Jim, but do you see my point that this is why such long-term contracts are called ‘bad’? It’s because they hurt the team. Not because they are bad for management, but because they make it difficult for the team to get better.

    Ryan Howard’s contract is terrible for everyone except Ryan Howard and the select few players who can leverage it to get huge contracts of their own.

  54. jim says:


    But if the contracts theoretically even out — because teams can take the money they save by getting to pay younger, more productive players less money than they otherwise would have to, and use it to pay older players whose productivity will naturally decline more money than than they should — then it doesn’t hurt the team; it evens out. The teams (or at least the league) are paying the same amount over the period, the distribution of payments is just different than it would have been. In effect, the Phillies get to subsidize the Ryan Howard contract by paying under market value for its younger players. That’s one of the reasons I think the term “bad” is cliche-ridden, if not ideologically driven. (i.e., leads to the conclusion that it would make it easier, and would be better for everyone, if we could simply pay everybody less.)

  55. Clashfan says:

    I’m not arguing the system in general. I’m saying that the Ryan Howard contract is bad for the Phillies. The team ought not to have signed it, and will live to regret it.

    I’m arguing *against* your statement above that “it’s a bad contract if it’s bad for management.” I’m saying that we’re not judging a contract if it’s a ‘win for management’ or a ‘win for the player’, we’re trying to figure out if the contract is good for the team.

    Let’s say a team signs Player A to a seven-year, big money deal. In years 1-2-3, he over-produces in regard to his contract. Years 5-6-7, he is overpaid. Over the entirety of the contract, he is marginally overpaid. Even though he spent three years being overpaid, the contract as a whole is a good one for the team. That is not the case for the Ryan Howard contract; it’s a dog from Year 1. It’s a bad contract.

  56. jim says:


    But if you’re not evaluating individual contracts within the confines of the broader system in general, the arguments aren’t very meaningful or insightful.

    I will concede that I’ve been making two different points: a) Journalists are in a position such that they can crush players/teams for whatever outcome happens; b) The way contracts are judged does not fully take the overall system into consideration (we have seen the Moneyballization of individual stats; perhaps the next frontier is the Moneyballization of finances)

    At this point we are merely arguing past each other, but it’s been fun having the conversation 😉

  57. Unknown says:

    Nice work, Joe. I would echo what you say about Boras. He get a % of the contracts so contracts need to be a big as possible, whether fit is good or not. You also forgot to mention the Players’ Union in all this. They discourage players taking big hometown discounts because they like the upward pressure on player contracts. You may not remember, but the Red Sox were trying to sign ARod before he went to the Yankees. They had a deal in place that would have re-structured Arod’s contract, something he agreed to, BUT…the union shot it down as a threat to the player price structure.

    PS Crawford could have taken 20 million less to go to the Angels. I think he would have been happier and more productive there.

  58. I think Pujols might take 5/175, though that’s still a dangerous contract for the team. Long contracts are based around inflation, even if Player X declines over whatever period the amount of money you’re paying him isn’t worth as much as it was 5 years ago. Granted: the economy went to shit and who knows what inflation will do in the future.

  59. smurfy says:

    Boy, Joe, I most enthusiastically agree with your premise. Arod brought the thought home for me, along with Pavano: who would want to be villified for years? Struggling to overcome injuries and age, just to be spat upon. Does not seem the best way to try to make a million bucks.

    Marco said…

    But the truth is, if you look at those 10 most expensive contracts, well, would you want ANY of them?

    Yes, the Cliff Lee one.
    October 11, 2011 2:58 PM

    – and Cliff chose the shortest offer, with near the highest aav. Admired that, and the apparent choice of quality baseball over the highest buck. Factors of liking the team and a high quality catcher.

    Sincerity, the root of wisdom.

  60. I can’t believe you don’t have Joe Mauer’s contract on the 10 worst list. As a Twins fan I have been frustrated for years at awaiting his “potential”. I did not like the contract when it was signed, but the Twins HAD to sign him or they would have been destroyed in the court of public opinion. I will admit, Mauer is a GREAT on base machine and hitter for average, but outside of 2009 his power numbers have been substandard for a player that gets SO much praise. His defense and game calling as a catcher are good, but have been over rated and have been declining. Also even BEFORE the contract was signed we KNEW he was injury prone, and that he would eventually have to move. The problem is he is not worth that money as a third basemen, first basemen, or corner outfielder. In many ways I feel Joe Mauer is the second coming of Tom Pagnozzi.

  61. Geomancy says:

    A couple of months ago, Tim Lincecum said he would prefer a 2-3 year deal with the Giants than a long-term deal. Many Bay Area commentators interpreted his remark as a rebuke to the Giants. Reading his whole comment, however, it’s clear that he simply doesn’t want the pressure that comes with a high-cost, long-term deal. The weight that Zito carries has obviously not been lost on Lincecum. Far from a rebuke to the Giants, I thought Lincecum’s comment revealed a 27 year old who, in this matter at least, had his head on straight.

  62. 83irishman says:

    Joe, you’re a Cleveland guy. Remember the Tribe’s first free agent contract? Wayne Garland . . . 10 years, $2.3 million, and he blew out his arm in something like year 2.

  63. sellrsgold says:

    Two months ago, Bernard Lincecum stated although prefer a 2-3 12 months cope with the Titans when compared to a long-term cope. A lot of Bay Area bloggers translated his statement being a rebuke to the Leaders. Reading through their whole opinion, nonetheless, it can be apparent which he basically does not want pressure to succeed that accompanies a high-cost, long-term deal.

  64. […] replacement level and been traded to the Angels, and his contract had become widely regarded as the worst in baseball. After playing the 2012 season with Los Angeles, Wells was traded to the Yankees in ’13 and […]

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