With the introduction of Sabermetrics and advanced analytics into baseball, no major sport has fallen under a numerical microscope like MLB. Every fan can dissect the statistics of their favorite players down to a science, going so far as to see how many dollars per every hit a guy makes in a given year.
By now most baseball fans have heard about former New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla. Bonilla, who retired before the 2000 season, is infamous for agreeing to receive $1.19 million every year from the Mets until 2035 in a buyout. He will be 72 years old when that contract expires.
Bizarre buyouts aside, nothing compares to the monstrous contracts players are signing nowadays. With that being said, let’s take a look at the worst player contracts for the 2016 season.
1. David Price, P, Boston Red Sox
Terms: 7 years, $217 million (2016-22)
Setting a new precedent for pitchers, Boston opened up the vault this winter and gave $217 million to the most coveted arm on the free agent market. Price is a 30-year-old, left-handed starter who has consistently been near the top of the American League in terms of pitches thrown over the last five seasons. He received the largest average yearly salary in baseball history, and he only plays every fifth game. To put it another way: Price started 32 regular season games in 2015. If he starts the same amount of games in 2016 he will make just under $1 million per start (based on $31 million/year average).
Price must deliver huge results to avoid being labeled a dud. Many pundits would disagree with this assessment, while they rip on the Yankees for CC Sabathia’s monstrous contract. Well, Price needs to deliver a World Series ring and 40 wins in his first two seasons just to match CC.
2. Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels
Terms: 10 years, $240 million (2012-21)
There are certainly scenarios in which a player’s value is more than what he contributes on the field. Pujols is chasing baseball history in a handful of categories, and also is known to be a great presence in the locker room. Regardless, his contract with the Angels is out of control. The surefire future Hall of Famer has not been “The Machine” he was when in St. Louis, as his production over the past four seasons in L.A. has steadily declined in basically every major statistical category, with last year’s 40 home runs being the exception.
The 36-year-old slugger is under contract until 2021 with his annual base salary topping out at $30 million. The Angels currently have arguably the best player in the game in Mike Trout. Yet it’s Pujols who is getting paid like it, and will continue to do so until he’s 41.
3. Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Terms: 7 years, $142 million (2011-17)
Crawford had a phenomenal start to his MLB career, with batting averages consistently above .300 to go along with 50-plus stolen bases each season. To say he has lost a step is an understatement. After a complete flop in Boston in which his WAR didn’t exceed 0.5 in two seasons, it makes no sense why the Dodgers picked up the remainder of his massive contract. Last season, Crawford was nothing more than a utility player, appearing in only 69 games. He made just shy of $300,000 per game last year, and was actually a detriment to the Dodgers, posting a -0.1 WAR.
There are just two years remaining on Crawford’s deal, and he should get a shot at some redemption as a recent injury to Andre Ethier (fractured tibia, out 12-14 weeks) opens up the possibility of more playing time to start the season.
4. Joe Mauer: 1B/DH, Minnesota Twins
Terms: 8 years, $184 million (2011-18)
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft, Mauer didn’t disappoint his hometown fans after making his major league debut in 2004. The AL batting champion in 2006, Mauer finished in the top 10 in MVP voting from 2008-10, winning the award in ’09. His production and consistency resulted in him signing the largest contract ever for a catcher. Unfortunately, troubles soon followed.
Mauer underwent knee surgery after the 2010 season, and suffered a variety of complications, including bilateral leg weakness. When Mauer finally returned to action in June 2011 he made his first career start at first base. Limited to just 82 games under his new $23 million annual salary, Mauer suffered through the worst season of his career. He bounced back in 2012 and ’13, making the All-Star team both times, but a new issue arose: concussions. Those and the wear and tear associated with being a catcher resulted in the Twins announcing after the 2013 season that Mauer would move to first base permanently.
A career .313 hitter, Mauer has seen his batting average tumble from an AL-leading .365 in 2009 (one of three batting titles he has won) to a career-low .265 last season. The power has declined as well, from a career-best 28 home runs in his 2009 MVP campaign to 47 total over the last six seasons combined. Mauer earned his contract prior to the string of injuries and bad breaks, but like every other professional sport, fans are more concerned with “what have you done for me lately?”
5. CC Sabathia, P, New York Yankees
Terms: 5 years, $122 million (2012-16/17)
One of baseball’s biggest and brightest stars through the first decade of the 21st century, Sabathia made headlines following a dominant second half for Milwaukee in 2008 (11-2). The power-pitching lefty signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with an AL East team around the age of 30, sound familiar? Sabathia helped lead the Yankees to a World Series title in 2009 and followed that up with a 21-win campaign. At the end of 2011, he re-upped with the Yankees, inking a five-year extension that included a vesting option for 2017.
The problem is that no matter how you assess starting pitchers, Sabathia has been among the AL’s worst the last three seasons. He will make $25 million this year and as long as he can stay healthy should have little trouble guaranteeing his $25 million vested option for 2017 (if not he gets a $5 million buyout). This despite diminishing returns that have seen him go 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP over the last two seasons combined. Was all of the success early on worth the very-pricey struggle since?
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Terms: 5 years, $95 million (2015-19)
Pablo Sandoval has a proven track record of success in the postseason, receiving World Series MVP Honors in 2012 en route to his second of three championships while he was with the Giants. His ability to elevate his game in October had to appeal greatly to the Boston front office, unfortunately the club didn’t even sniff the playoffs last season after signing him as a free agent. With his extremely poor physical shape a possible factor contributing to a back injury, Sandoval is no lock to be the Red Sox’ everyday third baseman thanks to a strong showing in spring training by Travis Shaw. In 2015 Sandoval posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs. Will he even play enough in 2016 to get the opportunity to bounce back?
7. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
Terms: 5 years, $125 million (2013-17)
This contract could easily rank No. 1 on this list. The Angels clearly are not the most frugal of franchises, especially considering Hamilton now plays for one of their division rivals. After two unproductive seasons with the Angels, ownership was not happy with the star outfielder. They were further angered and frustrated by Hamilton’s off-field issues and decided to cut ties with him at all costs. How unhappy were they? The Angels will pay Josh Hamilton $63 million of the nearly $70 million remaining (Hamilton restructured his contract as part of the trade) for his next three seasons playing for the Rangers. Forget poor production like some of the guys on this list, the Angels are paying Hamilton more than $20 million a year to compete against them on a consistent basis. Now that’s a bad deal.
8. Matt Kemp, OF, San Diego Padres
Terms: 8 years, $160 million (2012-19)
Like Hamilton, Kemp’s salary is being paid by two teams. Traded by the Dodgers to the Padres in December 2014, Los Angeles agreed to pay $32 million of the $107 million that was remaining on Kemp’s deal at the time. Starting this season and through 2019 the Dodgers are still on the hook for $14 million, with San Diego paying the remaining $72 million. When a team that’s as bad at spending on players as the Dodgers (see: Carl Crawford) works hard to get rid of a player, he must really stink. A physical after the trade revealed that 30-year-old Kemp has arthritis in both hips. He also has had surgeries on his shoulder and ankle in recent years, not great news considering Kemp received the largest deal in Padres history. After all of the money A.J. Preller spent in his first offseason as the Padres general manager, they still finished close to 15 games below .500. He better hope Kemp and company can right the ship.
9. Rick Porcello, P, Boston Red Sox
Terms: 4 years, $82.5 million (2016-19)
We return to the Red Sox rotation for another dicey contract shelled out during their 2015 offseason splurge. Porcello had a mediocre run in Detroit for six seasons, amassing an overall record of 76-63 and a 4.30 ERA. What enabled him to cash in big was his 2014 season, in which he set personal bests for wins, ERA and innings pitched. He also had three complete game shutouts in 2014, the only such occurrences of his career. Unfortunately for Boston, what appeared to be strong progression in a pitcher entering his prime was in reality a statistical anomaly. Porcello was 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA in his first season in Boston, and unless he can pull a complete 180 from his 2015 performance, this contract will be a major bust.
10. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals
Terms: 6 years, $100 million (2014-19)
We close out our list with one of several Nationals players who could have been featured. Zimmerman was arguably the first franchise player that the Nationals could claim as their own following their relocation from Montreal. The 31-year-old third baseman has been forced to convert to a first baseman as a result of several injuries and some throwing issues. Furthermore, those injuries have limited Zimmerman to just 156 games in the last two seasons combined. With young talent like reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper potentially signing the largest pact in MLB history, Zimmerman’s salary is a drain on the budget. He is owed $14 million each of the next three seasons, and $18 million in 2019 (with an $18 million club option or $2 million buyout in 2020). The Nationals certainly did not expect to miss the playoffs last season, and contracts like these are not aiding in their ability to fix personnel issues.