T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com had a story about Josh Hamilton and the pain that he’s still feeling in the knee that he had surgery on after this past season.
In the article, Hamilton reveals that he’s had fifteen surgeries over the course of his major league career. Fifteen! That’s crazy to think about, especially considering that he’s only 34 years old. So it got me thinking. Hamilton’s got two years left on his contract at $30 million for each season. Totally cringeworthy, but is it the worst contract in baseball right now? Let’s take a look.
Josh Hamilton – 2 years, $60 million remaining: It’s a shame that his body hasn’t been able to hold up over the years, because that 2010 MVP season from Hamilton was one of the greatest single seasons that I’ve ever seen. Hamilton hit .359 with a 1.044 OPS just two years after he had everybody’s jaws on the floor in the Home Run Derby, launching 28 homers in the first round, when nobody else hit more than eight. But ever since he signed that 5-year, $125 million with the Angels. Hamilton had a .912 OPS in his first go-around with Texas. Since then? He’s a .255 hitter with a .740 OPS. For the sake of comparison, Marlon Byrd hit .247 with a .743 OPS in 2015. It’s not a terrible season, but there was a time when comparing Hamilton to Marlon Byrd would’ve gotten you slapped.
CC Sabathia – 2 years, $50 million remaining (2017 is vesting option with $5 million buyout, and “salary guaranteed if Sabathia 1) does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, 2) does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or 3) does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury”: In December of 2008, the Yankees signed Sabathia to a 7-year, $161 million deal. Yankee fans will be the first to tell you that this deal was just fine, because Sabathia was ready to opt out after the 2011 season. They should’ve let him. The Yankees got three seasons out of the big lefty where he averaged 20 wins and a 3.18 ERA with a World Series title in his first year in pinstripes. It’s the 5-year, $122 million extension where they dropped the ball. Since he signed the extension, Sabathia is barely over .500 at 38-33, and his ERA ballooned to 4.35. Oh, and he ended up in rehab for alcohol. I don’t think it would surprise many people if they paid him the $5 million to just go away after this year.
Jacoby Ellsbury – 5 years, $105.7 million remaining with $21 million club option in 2021: Full disclosure, yes, I’m a Red Sox fan. And yes, I laughed when I did the math on how much the Yankees still owe Ellsbury. Listen, I don’t dislike Ellsbury. He’s actually a really nice guy. I met him a few times when he was with Boston, and he was one of the only players back then who actually remembered my name (Humble brag, yeah, yeah go fuck yourself. Just giving you perspective into what kind of guy he is). All that aside, we might have to stop the search for worst contract in baseball right here. My god, is this terrible. But all this is, really, is a reflection of how good Scott Boras is at his job. Boras got the Yankees to pay Ellsbury an average annual value that was solely based on his 2011 season in which he hit .321 with a .928 OPS and led the league in total bases. In his two seasons in New York, Ellsbury has hit .265 with a .710 OPS and is his old, usual self, ending up on the disabled list yet again with a sprained right knee last year.
Robinson Cano – 8 years, $192 million remaining: In his last four seasons with the Yankees, Cano placed no lower than sixth in the American League MVP voting. In his first season with the Seattle Mariners, he placed fifth. And then last year happened. In his sophomore season with Seattle, Cano hit .287 with a .779 OPS, and it took a big second half to get those numbers up. As late as July 2, Cano was hitting a very un-Cano-like .244 with a .644 OPS. Cano’s OPS has declined over each of the last three years, and he’s now headed into his age-33 season. It also doesn’t help that he signed up for a decade in a home ballpark that snuffs out power numbers, when he came from a home ballpark that enhances them. If he stays in Seattle, this could go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history.
Albert Pujols – 6 years, $165 million remaining: Hitting 40 home runs today is like hitting 55 home runs during the Steroid Era. It happens every year, but only a small percentage of guys reach that mark. In 2015, Pujols was one of nine players to hit at least 40 home runs, but it was probably the quietest 40 home run season of his career. While it was a nice renaissance season for Pujols power-wise, his OPS was only .787. Russell Martin had a .787 OPS last year, and he only hit 23 homers. It’s great that Pujols found his power stroke again, but a .244 batting average and .307 on-base percentage isn’t what the Angels are paying $25 million for. Over his last three years, Pujols has an OPS of .783, he’s heading into age-36 season, and is still owed $165 million over 6 years. Yikes.
Alex Rodriguez – 2 years, $40 million remaining: The Yankees have a thing for giving contracts to players that they should’ve just let opt out and be someone else’s problem. Is A-Rod a huge financial burden to the Yankees? Absolutely not. It’s not so much the money as it is that he’s just there, and they don’t want him to be. A-Rod enjoyed a solid comeback season in 2015, after being suspended for the entire 2014 season, hitting 33 home runs, driving in 86 runs, with an .842 OPS. He only played four games at third base, primarily serving as the team’s DH. It remains to be seen if A-Rod will finish strong or crawl to the finish line. Depends on how good his PEDs are, I guess.
Rick Porcello – 4 years, $82.5 million remaining: Last year, every time Porcello got shelled, the magic number that everyone threw out there was $82.5 million. Well, surprise! They still owe him that much money, because it was an extension that didn’t kick in until this year. In 2015, Porcello tied his career-worst ERA (4.92), and threw his fewest innings since 2010. He also allowed the most home runs he’s ever served up in a single season. Now, there’s two ways to look at this. Can Porcello still have success in Boston? Sure he can. But will he ever live up to this deal? No chance. Porcello just isn’t a $20 million a year kind of pitcher, but he can still be a big reason why the Red Sox make the postseason.
Joe Mauer – 3 years, $69 million remaining: Just last week, Mauer revealed that he still experiences blurred vision as a result of his concussion from 2013. In the 8 seasons from 2006 to 2013, Mauer was a .327 hitter with an .883 OPS. He was a six-time All-Star, a three-time batting champion, and the 2009 American League MVP. Over the last two years, since his concussion, Mauer has hit .270 with a .725 OPS. It’s really one of the sadder stories in baseball, considering he was on a Hall of Fame pace before his concussion, which has seemingly derailed his elite production as a hitter. Mauer signed his 8-year, $184 million extension with the Twins in the spring that followed his 2009 MVP season. It’s going to be hard for Mauer to live up to his salary in those last three years, which is no fault of his own.
If you’re a GM, which one of these contracts would you least want to take on in full? Since that’s the way the question is being phrased, a GM is going to want to avoid contract length, so that narrows it down to Cano, Pujols and Ellsbury. Cano has the most years left and total dollars owed, but he also has the best chance out of the trio to actually live up to his salary in the next few years, especially if he’s ever traded to a team with a more favorable home ballpark. Ellsbury, likely, will never be worth north of $21 million again, but he can still help you win in other ways. I’ve gotta go with Pujols here. He’s the oldest of the three, he’s owed the most money from an average annual value standpoint ($27.5 million) and he’s been on a steady decline for three years. Albert Pujols has the worst contract in baseball.
(All contract information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts)