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Scott M. Campbell

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Princely Gluttony: The 10 Worst Contracts in Baseball

Posted: 01/30/2012 10:14 am

After three clubs committed over $575 million to secure the services of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish, baseball's latest spending bonanza appears complete. You know, unless the Yankees unexpectedly decide to tear up Robinson Cano's contract and reward the infielder with his desired blockbuster deal to prevent him from hitting free agency after the 2013 season.

With baseball's gluttonous underbelly fresh in our minds, it's time to survey the excess. Here are the 10 worst contracts in the game, with remaining years and value noted:

10. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox: six years, $127.1 million

Crawford's stinker of a Boston debut doesn't make this a horrendous deal at this point. But if Crawford, who has a seven-year, $142 million contract, doesn't rebound decisively, he could quickly land much higher on this list. The Red Sox expected him to impact the game with his bat, glove and legs, but instead he struggled mightily in all phases in 2011. At 30, Crawford would seem to have roughly three more years in his physical prime. But as neither an elite hitter nor slugger, he should never have been a $20 million per year player in the first place.

9. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs: three years, $54 million

The Cubs seem about ready to cut their losses with a player whose defensive liabilities make him a payroll albatross. After Chicago swallowed a reported $15 million to trade Carlos Zambrano to Miami, indications are the club is willing to eat at least half of the $54 million still owed Soriano to move him. At the outset, it was foolhardy for a NL team to sign him to an eight-year deal through age 38. Should he land with an AL team, Soriano would still have some value as a DH. But at $18 million per year over the next three years, he is jockeying with Vernon Wells, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, etc. for position atop the list of the most overpaid hitters.

8. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: 10 years, $240 million

Pujols may go down as the greatest right-handed hitter ever, but that still doesn't mean this contract won't end up looking dreadful halfway through. Sure, he's enjoyed machine-like consistency through age 31, but it's irresponsible to project his career averages of 42 home runs and 126 RBIs for more than four more years. It's certainly possible the Angels' signature signing will end up a worse deal than A-Rod's (second) blockbuster. Pujols' back-loaded contract will top out at $30 million in the final year, when he is 41.

7. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers: nine years, $214 million

Fielder's $23.78 million annual average isn't the problem; it's the nine years. Granted, he has been nothing but durable, missing one game total in the last three years. But heavyset sluggers are rarely better than average players beyond their early 30s. And the Tigers will be paying Fielder $24 million when he's 36. Will he even be worth close to that at 34? Even if Fielder helps lead Detroit to a World Series title in his prime, this deal still seems ticketed to be the latest cautionary tale for reckless spending.

6. John Lackey, Boston Red Sox: three years, $47.85 million

Two years into this five-year deal, it looks like a Zito-esque nightmare. Lackey's 2011 meltdown (6.41 ERA, 1.62 WHIP) and his reputation as a poor teammate already spelled disaster. Now he'll miss the entire 2012 season after Tommy John surgery. Boston's hope is Lackey's extended absence will give him ample time to get his head straight and start anew next spring. But if last year was a harbinger, the Red Sox are staring at one of the worst contracts in club history.

5. Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants: two years, $46 million

Like Vernon Wells, the quirky southpaw has been on this list for the life of his seven-year, $126 million contract. Zito was hurt for the first time in 2011, and he finished with just nine starts and a 5.87 ERA. The Giants hope he rights himself enough to be their No. 5 starter this year, but the club has essentially written him off. Can Zito manage a 170-inning season with an ERA of 4.40? Or will this be the year San Francisco cuts him outright?

4. Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels: three years, $73.9 million

Is there any question that Wells is the most overpaid position player in terms of annual salary? Set to earn $24.64 million over each of the next three years, the outfielder already appears to be in a steep decline. In his first year with the Angels, Wells had a .248 OBP in 2011. Los Angeles is crossing its fingers he rebounds as he has after past off years. But at 33, it would be shocking if Wells ever again approaches his 162-game averages of 174 hits or 93 RBIs.

3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: six years, $143 million

A-Rod's 10-year, $275 million megadeal will surely stand as Exhibit A about why paying anyone big money past his mid-30s is a colossal blunder. Rodriguez, 36, has missed an average of 38 games over the first four years of the deal, his OPS has taken a noticeable drop for five straight years, and he hasn't finished better than 15th in the AL MVP voting since 2009. There's no way for the Yankees to get out from under a contract that will pay A-Rod $21 million during the season he turns 42. And then there's the $30 million in home run bonuses he stands to earn. The Yankees print money, but yikes!

2. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies: five years, $125 million

The slugger's power numbers have taken a noticeable plunge over the last two years, and that's an ominous sign with the five-year, $125 million extension he signed early in the 2010 season now set to kick in. Howard's struggles against lefties and defensive limitations have already made him a liability at times. But now that Howard, 32, is giving the Phillies less bang for the buck, literally, the back end of this deal looks downright ugly.

1. Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals: six years, $115.4 million

Signing a 31-year-old with just one standout year under his belt to a seven-year, $126 million deal seemed ludicrous at the time. Werth's contract looks that much worse after he debuted in Washington in 2011 with a 58-RBI season during which he slugged a meager .389. The Nationals will be paying Werth $21.57 million in 2017 when he is 38. Enough said.

 
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