The Bad Contract Swap Meet

While trade season primarily involves contenders raiding also-rans for useful players, we always hope for that trade that makes us go: what? When the Red Sox traded Manny to the Dodgers in 2008: What? (Which was preceded, of course, but a much louder what when it was reported they traded him to Florida.) We don’t see those very often, because they often involve high-profile players with big contracts, which complicates matters. Chances are we won’t see any jaw-dropping moves this off-season, but that doesn’t preclude us from writing about possibilities.

Today we’ll hold a bad contract swap meet. There aren’t too many huge, horrible contracts out there — that is, contracts that a team would dump if possible and not really miss the player’s production. The entrants, with the year their contracts expire and the money they’re owed beyond 2011 (assuming options declined):

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey (2014, $47.85m)
New York Mets: Jason Bay (2013, $39.26m)
San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito (2013, $46m)
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano (2014, $57m)

There are many differences among these players, but perhaps the biggest obstacles are the differences in their contracts. We’ll assume that Bay’s and Zito’s options will be declined, meaning they’re both signed through 2013. Lackey and Soriano are signed through 2014. Zito also is owed a bit more money than the other three. That’s why originally I had this as Lackey-for-Soriano and Zito-for-Bay, but it doesn’t necessarily have to work out that way. We can assume cash, or another player, changes hands when the money and years don’t match up. But that probably precludes a Bay-Soriano swap.

Take a moment, if you will, to rearrange these players onto different teams. Let’s see if ours, and our rationales, match up.

Jason Bay: Red Sox

This one stood out as fairly obvious if unlikely. Lackey and Zito match up well in terms of dollars, and the Red Sox could get out of the commitment a year earlier with Zito. But a fly ball lefty at Fenway Park does not bode well. There was also a report that the Red Sox can’t add short-term payroll, which basically kills any chances there. We move on, then, to Bay.

The Red Sox acquired Bay in the aforementioned Manny Ramirez deal, and Bay lit up the scoreboard upon arrival. From August, 2008, through 2008 he hit .274/.380/.534 for the Sox, ranking behind only Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew in batting runs during that span. He dropped off immediately after leaving, which raises the question of whether he might re-find himself back in familiar digs. The Sox could certainly use an outfielder to complement Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, and a right-handed hitter could help balance their lineup.

This deal would save the Red Sox one year and $8.59 million, which is something to keep in mind as we continue flipping players.

Barry Zito: Mets

While it’s tough to justify the Mets taking on more salary when trading Bay, they’re not taking on additional years of a contract. The surplus cash from the Red Sox alone would cover the entire difference between Bay and Zito.

The Mets would have use for any of the players involved, and might find Soriano particularly useful, since they’re giving up an outfielder and don’t have many replacement options. But this isn’t just about the Mets. They could certainly put Zito to work the the rotation, and his fly ball heavy ways might play to City Field’s spacious dimensions. He’d also fit into the rotation next year, and would be an even better fit if the Mets could somehow trade Johan Santana. (Though the idea of trading Santana while trading for Zito is somewhat, if not completely, silly.) It’s not ideal, but neither is Bay at this point.

Not factoring in the Red Sox money, the Mets would lose $6.74 million in the deal, though they’d drop Zito at the same time they’d drop Bay.

Alfonso Soriano: Giants

The first question to ask here is why the Giants would want another outfielder. They already have a surplus, with Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ross. But that has been a disappointing unit at the plate, providing just 3.8 batting runs above average among them. It’s not Mariners outfield bad, but it’s still in the bottom half of the league.

To date Soriano has provided 6.0 batting runs above average, mostly due to the home run ball. AT&T Park would hurt him compared to Wrigley, but he’d be better off than a lefty in the same park. And, again, the idea is that some of these guys might improve with a change of scenery. The Giants would have to trim from their crowded outfield, but that might not be that big a problem. Both Burrell and Ross become free agents after this year, meaning Soriano has a clear spot in 2012. Plus, I doubt that they’ll let Aaron Rowand hold them back from doing anything at this point.

The Giants lose 11 million in this deal, and gain one more year of contract time, since Soriano is signed through 2014.

John Lackey: Cubs

This one is more by process of elimination than by need. The Cubs don’t necessarily need another right-handed starter, never mind another high-priced right-handed starter. But it’s not as though they’re signing Lackey as a free agent. They’re shedding Soriano’s contract at the same time, which helps.

I honestly don’t have much to say in favor of Lackey to the cubs, other than a move to the NL might help turnaround his disappointing performances from the past season and a half. The Cubs could definitely use some rotation help in general, too, since they’re trotting out Doug Davis every five days. That would also set them up in 2012 with a rotation of Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Lackey, and a smattering of fifth starter options (Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, etc.). If they can shed Dempster or Zambrano, all the better.

The Cubs save no years, but they do save $9.15 million in the deal.

Clearly, if they wanted the money to even out they could just divvy up the surplus and excess to cover the differences for each team. They could also do it somewhat on merit, with the Mets getting money to cover Bay (since he’s owed the least) and the Giants getting some to cover the difference between Zito and Soriano, but the Cubs holding onto some, since their end seems the toughest to justify.

There are plenty of other ways to do this, including the more realistic two two-team trades. Of course, since any trades involving these four are unlikely to occur, I went with the more amusing four-team trade. It seems to me that comments section were made for situations like this. (Wink wink, nudge nudge)

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

44 Responses to “The Bad Contract Swap Meet”

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  1. Person says:

    I take it you did not consider players in the first year of their contracts? Dunn, Uggla, Werth, and Crawford have all been notoriously bad so far. But it’s only 1/2 a year so it would make sense for you not to consider them here.

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    • gehmane12 says:

      Crawford hasn’t been “notoriously” bad – he just had a bad stretch to start the year followed by an injury (that is hardly career threatening). While he hasn’t been worth the $ they doled out for him so far, he’s not worth dumping and could easily have a strong second half that would more or less erase all the doubts he’s raised over the past two months.

      More importantly, as you note, none of these guys are far enough into their contracts for us to write them off completely. It’s entirely possible that any of those four could have a strong back half to their season and give us cause for cautious optimism next year… whereas Zito, Lackey, Bay, and Soriano have been underperforming so much and for long enough that there’s little to no hope that they will ever earn anywhere near what they’re being paid.

      I was surprised by one omission though… where’s the love for Carlos Zambrano? His contract isn’t quite as bad as Soriano’s, but I feel like, with another year under contract plus an option for 2013, he’s someone who should at least be considered for some sort of fantasy dump-trade scenario like this…

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      • Person says:

        Well, Crawford is still at 0.0 WAR with a .290 wOBA, but I don’t know how much better that is than his low point.

        Other than your minor disagreement, I have nothing on which to disagree with you.

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    • crackisforlovers says:

      I’m not sure you know exactly what “notoriously” means.

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  2. John says:

    What about Vernon Wells and Alex Rios? Shouldn’t they feel the “love?”

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  3. James says:

    I think the Giants say no first…

    Not having Soriano and saving money should be plenty justification for the Cubs. I think it’s one of the easier ones to justify. They don’t need a high priced right handed started, but they also don’t need an older and higher priced washed up left fielder (I can’t imagine his defense in 2014). If I were them I’d do it in a heartbeat if that was the only option to move Soriano, as I think Lackey will eventually return to form.

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  4. Jacob says:

    chone figgins. the M’s hate him, and need a LF…

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      This makes sense, though I can’t imagine the universe where they don’t DH him instead of let him play LF. Still, they need a DH too.

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    • Random Guy says:

      Figgins is only owed $17m for the remaining two seasons on his contract, plus whatever prorated portion of this season’s salary there might be. That’s bad, but it would be incredibly stupid of them to double down on the mistake by trading for any of the players named in this article. In 2013, they’ll be happier paying Figgins $9m not to play than paying Jason Bay $16m plus a $3m buyout to be a 1 WAR player (or worse, in a stadium that’s notorious for chewing up righty sluggers and spitting them out).

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  5. prospectslol says:

    wait what, saving money + getting rid of a 3WAR player for the worst SP contract in baseball is a no brainer?

    This makes no sense for the cubs.. Soriano is at least productive and Lackey is far from that. Cubs have 28M on the books after next year, 18M to Soriano and 10M to Marmol with only Garza, Soto, plus Wells in arbitration to worry about. Saving 9M in 2014 shouldn’t be the main reason to make a deal.

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  6. Anyone who mistakes Skippy Soriano as a left fielder is delusional.

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  7. DNL says:

    Why would the Mets possibly do this? They *could* but Zito in the rotation, but they already have five starters who are at least as good and have longer-term value. (And Johan Santana.) Paying another $6MM for the right to have Dillon Gee go to AAA and have Lucas Duda put up Jason Bay-type numbers this year doesn’t seem so good to me.

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  8. Nate says:

    …It’s not Mariners outfield bad, but it’s still in the bottom half of the league.

    So maybe the Mariners should trade for Soriano? giving up… I dunno, Chone?

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  9. ihatefiggy says:

    Figgins for Zambrano which lets the Cubs get Lackey and lets the Mariners trade Bedard for a bat.

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  10. javacola says:


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    • hk says:

      Ibanez is in the final year of his contract, due roughly $6M through the remainder of this year. Why would the Phillies trade that contract for any of those listed?

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  11. Eminor3rd says:

    Soriano to the Mariners for Figgins makes too much sense for both teams. Soriano finally gets to be a DH and gives the Mariners some much-needed pop, and the Cubs find an immediate spot for Colvin to play and shed enough payroll to make them favorites for Fielder.

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    • ChrisD says:

      Except SafeCo kills righty power hitters and Soriano is owed 40 mil more than Figgins.

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    • Random Guy says:

      That would be awful for the Mariners. Figgins makes $9m per year. Bad, but manageable. There is no reason to throw good money after bad, which is what they would be doing by trading for any of the names in this article.

      Also, I don’t think the Cubs need to be making room for Tyler Colvin any time soon. The Mariners might as well make room for Michael Saunders (who has been terrible — but not as jaw-droppingly terrible as Colvin this year).

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  12. Derek says:

    The Red Sox have 2 outfield prospects that are both basically ready to start with Kalish and Reddick. They really don’t have too many starting pitching prospects ready to step up.

    Even though I really like Bay and disliked the Lacky signing from the beginning. I can’t see them trading away a position where we lack depth to a position where we have too many already.

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  13. Mike says:

    The Manny trade to LA wasn’t a salary dump, at that point in his career, Manny was still pretty close to worth his salary and was a free agent at the end of the year. It was to get him out of a club house where he was looked at as a cancer, or at least that’s what the Boston media reported.

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  14. Dave G says:

    Bay for Rios could make some sense. Both guys need a change of scenery.

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  15. JohnHavok says:

    The main thing stopping any of these guys from being moved? Their GM isn’t Alex Anthopoulos. Not only could he move these contracts, he’d get legit talent in return and have the other teams HAPPY that the trades occured. Jedi.

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  16. Antonio Bananas says:

    The NL Central has a ton of really good offenses. I don’t think the “NL switch” would help Lackey that much going to the NL. Going to the Giants would help keep Soriano from getting destroyed by facing the West because one of the best pitching teams would be the team he’s on. However, that division has much better pitching than the Central.

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  17. Fat Spiderman says:

    Just spitballing here, but might this be at least plausible?

    Giants get:
    Chone Figgins
    Jack Wilson

    Mariners get:
    Barry Zito
    Nate Schierholtz

    With maybe a prospect or two changing hands.

    The Mariners need a decent LF, which Schierholtz could fill. With Posey out, the Giants could give Sandoval the occasional start at catcher (granted, that might not be too likely, but it makes sense to me) with Figgins serving as a utility guy and playing 2B and 3B. Safeco is probably the best park for a flyball lefty to pitch in, and having Zito would allow the Mariners to trade Bedard without having to find another rotation arm. The Giants are currently running crap out at SS, and though his bat isn’t exactly great, Wilson is still a top of the line defensive SS, and would be an upgrade. Plus, he would get to play alongside Freddy Sanchez when the latter gets healthy. The Giants would send cash since Zito makes way more than Figgins does over the remainder of their contracts.


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  18. JerseyJ says:

    As a Mets fan, I wouldn’t deal Bay for any of these guys. Yes, he’s been pretty awful at the plate during his tenure thus far in Flushing, but it’s only been 625 PAs which is still a little less than a full season.

    There’s a precedent for Bay “losing it” for a full season in 2007 and then coming back to relevance in 2008 and 2009 where he accumulated 8.1 WAR. And anyone who watched the Mets last year can tell you, though a couple guys had decent years last year (Wright at least regained his power and Pagan put together a very solid season) the offense as a whole was still completely out of synch, and often injured.

    Obviously he’s a year or two on the wrong side of his prime now as opposed to coming off his down 2007, but I think of any of these guys listed, Bay has the best chance of turning a corner and proving he can still earn at least most of what’s left on his contract from here on out, not to mention the fact that he’s still the cheapest of the group.

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    • JerseyJ says:

      And yes, I was wearing my blue and orange glasses of hope when I made this post. Maybe if I type it it will become true…

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      • vivalajeter says:

        You typed it, and it looks like it’s coming true. Bay’s been on a tear lately. If he can put up another 2 WAR over the rest of the season – not a reach, with his history of hitting and his recent success – then he’ll be worth somewhere near his contract.

        Or he’ll keep it up for another few days, then fall on his face again. Who knows.

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  19. evo34 says:

    There’s a whole lot of presumption that Lackey has suddenly forgotten how to pitch….based on all of 60 bad innings. It would be different if he was suddenly throwing 88mph, but he’s not. I think the Red Sox have a touch more patience than the avg. commenter on this site.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I say he’s awful because of his contract. Last year he was below average, this year he’s downright terrible. I count last year and this year as both bad, not equally bad, but both bad. He’s 32, probably gonna keep getting worse (maybe not raw numbers-wise but stuff-wife) so yea, this is a bad contract. 15 million dollars for a guy who has 215 innings of below average play and 60 innings of awful play.

      It’s not like he’s 24, he’s 32. His ERA has gone up every year since his age 28 season, which is pretty typical. I don’t think he’ll be this bad for the rest of the contract, but I think he’ll be average to bad the whole time. Which makes it a bad contract.

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      • crackisforlovers says:

        He was “awful” when he was in the top 1/3 of pitchers in baseball in WAR? Interesting take. Was David Price also awful? Cole Hamels? Chris Carpenter?

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  20. GiantHusker says:

    Zito has a firm no-trade clause and won’t wave it (except possibly a trade to the A’s).
    Please exclude him from any trade discussions.

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  21. Arendell says:

    I would love to see a Lackey trade. Mostly to the Cubs for Carlos Z.. and his off the wall temper. Lackey’s wife is not an east coast person. SO change may be what is needed for both of them.
    Z. well the fans and the front office people will rest easier nightly.
    But what Boston needs most is a Right handed hitting right fielder. Like the young J. Sands (LAD) or K.Blanks (SDP).

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  22. jcarey says:

    You’ve got Lackey and Soriano switched in the individual sections…

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  23. gareth says:

    Bay – red sox
    Lackey – mets.

    other guys stay put.

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