Bad Contract White Elephant

For fans of the Phillies and Yankees, this is an exciting week. For fans of the game in general, this could be a lot of fun. But for a pretty significant group of fans, they really only care about their team, and anything that does not involve their team isn’t particularly interesting. For those people, the playoffs can’t end soon enough, so that their team can go about making trades and free agent signings and the like. Right now, they’ve got nothing.

So, I have a proposal. Since Fox wants to drag out the playoffs with interminable off-days that serve no purpose to the fans, let’s create something for the fans of the other 28 teams to enjoy during the end of October. And what do fans enjoy more than hot stove roster mongering? Thinking up ways to get rid of the one guy on the roster they hate more than anyone else.

The solution is obvious – the 28 teams that don’t qualify for the World Series send their General Manager to a large conference room, not unlike what the NFL uses for the draft. Each GM brings one contract, places it in a pile, and prepares for Bad Contract White Elephant.

You’ve all participated in some kind of White Elephant Christmas exchange, I’d imagine. This would be just like that, only the “gifts” would be albatross contracts. Alex Anthropolous would bring Vernon Wells‘ commitment. Brian Sabean would bring Barry Zito‘s deal. Jim Hendry would show up with the Alfonso Soriano contract. You get the idea.

Can you imagine how much fun it would be watching Billy Beane reach into a stack of contracts praying to come away with one of the more innocuous deals (Pat Burrell?), only to end up pulling a budget buster like Todd Helton, and then spending the next several hours trying to convince Josh Byrnes to steal Helton in order to not risk getting stuck with Wells, Soriano, or Zito?

Watching the strategy play out would be amazing. Does Dave Dombrowski dump the $10 million he owes Dontrelle Willis that will return him no value or the $18 million he owes Magglio Ordonez that will return him some value? If you have the opportunity to swap Jose Guillen for Carlos Lee, do you take on the extra money in order to get a player who can actually help your team, or do you reach into the stack and hope to come away with something better than either? What GM actually puts a good player in the pot just because he’s not particularly good at judging player value? (Okay, this would probably be Dayton Moore).

Seriously, who wouldn’t watch this? Bad Contract White Elephant would be a ratings bonanza. They could even set it up where all the ad revenue generated through the television rights would be applied directly to the bad contracts themselves, giving baseball a way to get revenue from guys who are generally despised by their fan base.

Make it happen, Bud – this could be the single greatest innovation of your reign as commissioner.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

81 Responses to “Bad Contract White Elephant”

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  1. Dave Cameron says:

    Might as well put this here before people take it too seriously – yes, this is tongue-in-cheek. I don’t actually think this should happen. But man, it would be fun.

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  2. Zach Sanders says:

    This would be an awesome mini-game in all of the baseball video games out there.

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  3. lookatthosetwins says:

    Man that would not be a fun day to be a Twins fan. The thought of swapping Micheal Cuddyer for Alfonso Soriano or Jose Guillen sickens me.

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      Now that i think about it… I wonder if the Twins would even put Cuddyer up? The only other real option is Nathan. And he did have a bad ALDS this year….

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      • Bryz says:

        But Nathan’s doesn’t count as a bad contract (teams would line up to get him and he’s being paid about market value), NOR should you base his overall performance off of 2 games.

        The Twins don’t really have any BAD contracts. Cuddyer probably comes close, but he also had a great year and won a Twins Comeback Player of the Year award. Unless Jesse Crain is non-tendered, he’ll probably make a couple million dollars as a low-impact reliever, but that doesn’t really count either.

        The Twins have a combination of being too smart and too cheap to really make a Zito/Soriano/Helton-esque signing. All the bad contracts they have tend to be from the 1-2 year contracts they hand out.

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  4. hairball says:

    The problem with the Giants is that, yeah, there’s Zito, but there’s also Renteria, Rowand, Bochy and Sabean. As a fan, every single one of those represents an albatross contract. Since you could only get rid of one, we would be left unfulfilled. Can we throw our owner in the bag? Come on Billy Beane, you know you want to work with Bill Neukom!! That would be rad!!

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    • Dave says:

      Having Sabean be the Giant’s bad contract would triple the ratings. Does Sabean try to deal himself away from the Rays after he’s been picked and saddle the Giants with Vernon Well’s contract as well? The possibilities for suicide in SF are endless.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        I’d take Vernon Wells’ contract just to be rid of Sabean. And I’d take Vernon Wells’ contract AND Alfonso Soriano’s contract to be rid of Bochy.

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  5. Joe D. says:

    Dave — I love it! This should be done this right here on Fangraphs somehow. All you’d need is 28 baseball fans and a couple of threads. Let’s see how it all plays out.

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  6. Jack says:

    This isn’t very good satire. Stick to what you do best fangraphs, good objective analysis.

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    • Dirk says:

      This isn’t satire. It’s an amusing thought experiment. Big difference.

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    • agassi says:

      beats Cistulli at least

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    • Matt L says:

      Hey everybody, Jack doesn’t like the article — he said so in his post.

      Apparently, Jack was so disappointed with his 60 second reading experience that he thought it would be appropriate to criticize Mr. Cameron’s cheeky article and tell him to “stick to the facts.”

      I agree. Don’t have any fun, Dave Cameron; next time you have a funny idea, or are looking to have a good time and kid around, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.

      I read Fangraphs so I can learn about Felix Hernandez’s first inning pitch selection, and what Adam Wainwright’s curveball smells like; I don’t want anyone trying to push their fun down my throat.

      All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

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      • Jack says:

        I read and enjoy most of Dave’s work. Andy S. pointed out the glaring flaw, where one team signs a player to an impossibly large that they don’t intend to pay and dump it on another team.

        Haha really funny that the Yankees got stuck with a 100 billion dollar contract that they can’t pay. The post has to be satire on Bud Selig’s MLB changes, because it would be insanity if it were anything else.

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      • Typical Idiot Fan says:

        “Pointing out that slavishly agreeing with everything Dave Cameron writes brings about the same value as disagreeing mindlessly with him? And that if Cameron feels like, he can address posts based on their merit?”

        I love it when comments work over multiple threads!

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      • Matt L says:

        Poking holes in someone’s — just dickin’ around, having some fun — harebrained scheme is ludicrous.

        Bad contract white elephant is not supposed to stand up to scrutiny.

        When someone like Andy S. says that the idea wouldn’t work “even in jest,” he is 100% wrong.

        The idea absolutely works in jest — that’s the only way it works. To not laugh at this idea because it isn’t practical is like not fantasizing about (insert beautiful woman of your choice here) because she is out of your league.

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    • Teej says:

      This isn’t a very good comment. Stick to words you know the definition of.

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  7. chuckb says:

    This is a pretty fun idea though, as a Cards’ fan, I’d probably rather have Kyle Lohse than risk getting stuck w/ Wells, Zito, or Soriano.

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  8. Bluecaboose says:

    Slightly annoyed that you’d toss Helton and his .416 OBP in a pile with Barry Zito and Vernon Wells. While 16.6 mil is quite a bit for Helton, he’s still a solid performer (and we have no other 1b to back him up in our farm system so yeah.)

    I guess theres no elephant in the room contract for the Rockies. Most of our terrible players are coming off the books, and those that aren’t are still relatively cheap. I should feel blessed for being a fan of a team with relatively few albatrosses round our necks.

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  9. Faux Mark Shapiro says:

    Anyone interested in Travis Hafner? .386 wOBA! Come on

    Also, you can make a decent case that the Twins should put up arb-eligible Delmon Young, no?

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  10. Trenchtown says:

    Can you add owners and managers? The Reds could dump Baker on a division rival

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    • odbsol says:

      He’s making the rounds in the NL Central after starting off with the Cubs. I don’t think I could live through another round of Dusty.

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  11. B says:

    No!!! I can’t even imagine the fear I’d feel knowing Brian Sabean was going into a situation like that. Somehow Barry Zito would turn into Vernon Wells, AND we’d make a trade to reacquire Zito…

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  12. Llewdor says:

    You’d have to make participation voluntary. Teams that don’t have any really bad contracts (like the Twins or Rockies) would want to stay out of the game.

    But Toronto would happily trade the Vernon Wells contract for that of any other player, so they’d be in. The Giants would probably be in. Seattle might try to get away from Carlos Silva.

    This could be hilarious. You Fangraphs guy should each take a team and play out a fantasy version of this.

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    • Trenchtown says:

      No because in the end no one would want to do it except the worst team. The Blue Jays would want to do it, no one would want to volunteer to be in that pool because there is no chance that the are going to be in a better position, only a worse one.

      One thing it would do in the long term is to encourage teams to take more risks signing players. They know if it is bad at worse they can always put it in the grab-bag. Teams like the Marlins who would probably put Wes Helms at 950K would start taking more risks. It would have to be mandatory to work

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    • PhD Brian says:

      Lets have a bad contract mock draft. LOL. Every team probably has at least one guy who qualifies. But the Royals would have to have the most guys. Guillen, Jacobs, Teahan, Kyle Davis, Bentacourt, Farnsworth…..

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  13. Andy S. says:

    Unfortunately, it’d never work, even in jest. I’d sign Eckstein to a backloaded $100 billion dollar contract, and then…

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    • Sweet lou says:

      But why? If every team did that, then you’d just end up with an equally bad contract back in return. If you can sign Eckstein to a $100 million contract, then the other teams can do the same thing. To purposely overpay a player would just come back to bite you.

      Also, you can institute a rule that requires teams to hang on to the player for at least a year after they are signed. Or if you wanted to make sure that GMs didn’t backload contracts with the intention of pawning it of on another team, you could require teams to keep a player until 50% of their contract has been paid.

      I’d also like to see revenue sharing money be distributed in part based on the contract a team ends up with from the grab bag. If the Pirates end up with Vernon Wells’ contract, they get more revenue sharing money than they would have otherwise. If the Red Sox or Yankees end up with Wells, they pay less in revenue sharing.

      Finally, all teams must participate and can chose any contract they have on their books.

      Man, I’m psyched. When does this happen?

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      • Trenchtown says:

        I could see scenarios where teams do this. It’s game theory. If one team does it they can put him in the bucket and hope he gets dumped on a division rival. But the more teams that do it the higher risk of getting dumped on

        One thing you would definitely start seeing is backloaded contracts. It would be like the NFL where a player can reasonably expect to be cut four years into a six year contract. But instead of being cut, the player expects to be put in the bucket after the cheap years.

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  14. Ian says:

    Anything that lets the Brewers get rid of Jeff Suppan is a good thing. Maybe if you mention that to Selig he’ll take up the cause. I bet he’s still got a soft spot for them.

    Okay but really this would be hilarious and I support it.

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  15. Eddie says:

    This article truly made me laugh.

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  16. Tyler says:

    SOMEBODY was on mlbtr this morning ;)

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  17. Eric says:

    Yea, this seems taken right from MLBTR.

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    • Trenchtown says:

      Read it again then. This is not taken right from MLBTR. On that site he just simply listed bad contracts that teams might end up swapping for each other. It says nothing about a hypothetical required blind pull swap. Even if Cameron did see the post and was inspired by it which is possible, it’s not like he copy and pasted it, he added additional value to it.

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  18. HAK says:

    This would be funny just to see if Kenny Williams would admit his mistake and throw Rios into the pot?

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  19. HAK says:

    Who would Jim Hendry choose, Soriano or Bradley?

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  20. Big Red Machine says:

    nice thoughts… :)

    i’ll second putting up dusty baker for the reds (though cordero probably would be nice too)

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  21. Barack says:

    How about Jeff Supan at $12 million next year? Any takers?

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  22. John C says:

    An interesting corrolary article from this:

    Find the “elephant” contract for each team here and rank them in order of….elephant-ness. Might be good to try and tack some “score” to each, perhaps an “overpayment” estimator (sum of expected WARs – salary?). I’d do it but uh…I have work to procrastinate.

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  23. JohnF says:

    I know the Yankees and Phillies are excluded, but just wanted to throw an idea out there.

    MLBTR, in their version, had Kei Igawa at $8M over 2 years. While any contract for him is a bad one, this is really not going to stop the Yankees from spending by itself.

    However, and I’m a Yankee fan, I think I’d view Burnett as one of the more undesirable contracts. Sure, he wasn’t far off what he was paid this year and if he were only signed for another 2 years, I wouldn’t discuss it. But he’s owed quite a bit of money over the next 4 years and I just can’t see him being effective/healthy enough to live up to his paid value.

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    • JohnF says:

      Just to follow-up: Burnett is paid $16.5M every year of the contract including this year. Fangraphs WAR valued him at $14M for this year, so not too far off.

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    • Marcus says:

      Remember, the Yankees don’t expect to get full value out of Burnett, and Cashman prbably knew full well that the contract would become a liability after a couple years. The Yanks can operate differently with their budget and write off the long-term losses to justify a short-term World Series run.

      What makes Cashman different than the GM’s in the article?
      1) He can afford to overpay long-term
      2) He is fully aware that he’s overpaying.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        Sabean knew he was overpaying for Zito, and he probably knew he was overpaying for Rowand (coming off a career year of 27 dingers in a hitter’s park to the homer-eating AT&T?). He said he knew he was overpaying for Zito; I couldn’t find the quote after a quick Google search but I’m sure he basically said that.

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  24. Stephen Brownell says:

    FINALLY! The Red Sox could get rid of JD Drew’s terrible contract at long last!


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  25. Nny says:

    Marlins put Jeffrey Loria in the pot

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    • Michael says:

      Was going to say something, but agreed, nny.

      That being said, if we can’t put our owner in, I think it would be Helms, sadly. But hey, we might get stuck with a better player at a decent rate in return, with our luck. I’d like our chances.

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  26. Mark Sobba says:

    It should be on TV with an audiance. Then cameras should be at each stadium so fans can come and scream and yell for their GM to keep or pass on their turn.

    I think this would be fun. On the other hand, how likely would it be that by the end of the day the Mariners get something worst then the Silva contract?

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    • TomG says:

      Love the game show format idea. Have it hosted by Gedde Watanabe. It’d be a ratings bonanza.

      I imagine it playing out something like this:

      Kuni: Ahhh, Carlos Lee. Mmmmm, very tasty. Okay, Dayton, listen carefully. You can hold on to your Carlos Lee or you can go for what’s in the box that Hiro-San is bringing down the aisle right now!!! What’s it gonna be?

      Dayton Moore: I’ll take the box. The box! [the audience applauds]

      Kuni: You took the box! Let’s see what’s in the box! Soriano! Alfonso Soriano! STUPID! You so STU-PIIIIIIIIIIID!

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  27. TheUnrepentantGunner says:

    i was trying to figure out how to do a loser league for next year. maybe limit it to nl/al only and only take projected starters and top 4 rotation guys and draft once with no roster adds.

    who would be in on such an idea id try to run something.

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  28. Mark Sobba says:

    What if a team doesn’t have a contract bad enough to risk being a part of this?

    So maybe they trade their gift spot to a team that wants to trade two bad contracts. We could see a team try to trade off 3 or 4 bad contracts in one go. Could be an amazing day for some teams.

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  29. Coby DuBose says:

    Eric Byrnes.

    That’s all.

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  30. Will says:

    Who wants Cristian Guzman for $8mil over a year?

    The Nats just might have the best financial situation going forward. What other teams have a real lack of white elephant contracts?

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  31. David says:

    This might be the first year that the Orioles don’t have a guy on this list. Last year, for instance, we were completely spoiled for choice – Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Ramon Hernandez, Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons’s shadow… I guess this time around it would probably be Ty Wigginton (who has, I think, 1 year / $3 mil left) just by default.

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  32. Matt says:

    I always that MLB should have a Chumpionship during these ridiculous off-days. The worst four teams in MLB should square off in a bracket and play 3-game series. It wouldn’t necessarily be great baseball, but it would be a lot of fun to watch and would help break up the tedium of game, rest, game, rest, rest, game that the playoffs have become.

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  33. Colin says:

    Probably the funniest thing I’ve read on here.

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  34. Patrick says:

    I love it. It’s a damn shame it’d never work for a lot of reasons, but it’s a really fun thing to toy around with.

    And my beloved Twins would just pray they got something they could afford in return for, well, probably Cuddyer. Who, again, hasn’t been particularly bad contract-wise. (Though by all accounts, he’s a disaster of a right fielder. :( )

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  35. fan says:


    A lot of people have linked Wells’ and Zito’s contract with Helton’s. Was that your intention? Helton was worth $16.2M this year (vs $16.9M).

    Or were you simply pointing out that the contract is very large/long and Billy Beane would be pretty unhappy with it?

    I think teams with a larger budget would be happy to pay Helton for his services.

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  36. Jason B says:

    A couple of features to add–

    Do a ping-pong ball style lottery (like the NBA draft) to determine draft order. I would be totally mesmerized watching the ping-pong balls with “Reds” and “Mariners” pop around in the cainster to see who comes rolling out.

    Then do it dirty Christmas style. The team that draws the second contract off of the pile can look and see who they got, and decide to keep it, or trade with the team that drew first (not knowing who they have). The team that picks third can keep their pick or trade with either of the first two teams who have already drawn. If you get a middle-of-the-road bad one (like Helton, a lot of dollars and years but a still productive, useful player), do you roll the dice and trade him in, or hang onto it?

    Plus, we get to see the initial reaction shot of whose contract they drew, but then there’s the strategy of how to react – act excited as a bluff, so that a later owner thinks you got one of the more painless contracts (like Wes Helms), only to see that you secretly had Vernon Wells all along? Act stone-faced the whole time, so that no one knows if you’ve got a good one or bad one?

    I would pay about $30 to watch this on pay-per-view.

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  37. glassSheets says:

    Scott Boras would negotiate 10 million dollar bonuses for being dumped into the elephant bucket. If Orlando Cabrera gets $ for being traded and can’t be offered arb if he’s a type A, why not get a “dumping bonus”

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  38. Eddy says:

    I would put “Big Papi” David Ortiz’s contract in there 2. he’s nothing like he was 4-5 years ago.

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  39. glassSheets says:

    Seattle and the Cubs are going to do this by themselves with Bradley for Silva.

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  40. zenbitz says:

    Here is the twist that makes this happen:

    30 GMs throw in “a” contract (any one, their choice – players only, since what GM is going to admit he’s the albatross?)

    Shuffle these into 30 “trades” (i.e, draw out pairs “Wells For Zito”).

    Here is the catch: The teams trade contracts BUT the team who would have to pay more FOR THE NEXT coming year has to get the difference in cash (that year only).

    So if Guzman (8M in 2010) matches with Rowand (12M in 2010), The Giants have to put up $4M or get the trade refused.

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