2013 Anti-Trade Value: The Five Worst Contracts

Last week, I went through the 50 best assets in baseball, as rated by overall trade value based on their performance, age, and contract status. Today, we finish up the Trade Value series with the five players farthest from making the list. This is the Anti-Trade Value list; the guys who would be nearly impossible to trade because of their outsized contracts and undersized performances.

The take home notion: Beware the aging slugger.

#5 Prince Fielder (1B)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
29 434 11.5 % 17.3 % .269 .362 .453 .354 122 -6.6 -2.5 0.9

Under Team Control Through 2020: $24M per year

Maybe it’s just a slump.  Good players have mediocre stretches, and even in Fielder’s down season, he’s still posting a 122 wRC+.  Perhaps he finishes strong and provides a few more elite offensive seasons for the Tigers.

That’s a lot of ifs and maybes for $168 million over the next seven years.  Fielder wasn’t highly prized by many teams as a free agent because of the costs associated with a supersized DH-in-the-making and the historically poor aging curves of position players carrying that much weight.  The first year of his deal turned out just fine for Detroit, but if 2013 is the start of a trend, this deal could get ugly in a hurry.

Fielder is among the worst defenders and worst baserunners in the sport.  He’s only good if he’s mashing, and right now, he’s not mashing.  One dimension players making $24 million per year have to be among the game’s best hitters to have value, and while Fielder might get back to that level, a team would have to have a tremendous amount of confidence in a rebound in order to take him off the Tigers hands.

He certainly isn’t untradeable, especially given the lack of bats on the market right now.  I’d imagine Detroit could even get another team to pick up most of the rest of his deal.  Even coming off a mediocre season, I could see Fielder getting $120 million over seven years from a team desperate for a cleanup hitter.  But that is still well shy of what Detroit is paying him, and the Tigers would have to kick in a lot of cash in order to move his contract.

Estimated Cost to Trade: $48 million

#4 Josh Hamilton (OF)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
32 387 6.7 % 25.3 % .223 .279 .409 .297 89 0.7 1.6 0.6

Under Team Control Through 2017: $15M, $23M, $30M, $30M

It was less than a year ago that Hamilton incited a bidding war.  In addition to the Angels, the Mariners reportedly offered Hamilton $100 million over four years, with a couple of team options that could push it to $150 million over six years.  So, maybe $103 million over four years with no team options now shouldn’t be completely immovable.

Except Hamilton has been worse than anyone could have possibly imagined.  There were warning signs, sure, but a .223/.279/.409 line that translates into an 89 wRC+? As bad as Hamilton’s plate discipline is, this is still way below any reasonable forecast coming into the season.  But it’s the kind of performance that justifies why the Rangers just showed little interest in retaining him, and the kind of performance that suggests that the end might be closer than we might have thought.

Hamilton, right now, projects as about an average player when he’s healthy, which is not something you can really count on with him.  This is the kind of season that would relegate him to a one year “pillow contract”, as he’s lost his only real valuable skill at age-32.  If he had this kind of season a year ago, maybe he ends up taking the qualifying offer and playing for $13 million to try and bounce back.

For a guaranteed four more years, I can’t see any team being willing to go over $40 million, leaving $63 million in dead money.  It’s not just how the mighty have fallen, but how quickly the mighty have fallen, that is the big surprise here.

Estimated Cost to Trade: $63 million

#3 Ryan Howard (1B)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
33 317 7.3 % 30.0 % .266 .319 .465 .332 110 -1.2 -3.0 0.4

Under Team Control Through 2017: $25M, $25M, $25M, $10M buyout

You’ve probably read enough about the Ryan Howard contract by now. It’s been a running joke for years, and is probably going to go down as one of the least productive contracts in sports history. While other deals have turned bad after getting signed, this is maybe the last contract to be an obvious disaster from the minute of conception, and given the increasing education of baseball executives, it might be the last of its breed.

The good news is that the end is in sight. While it’s an utter waste of almost the entire $85 million, it will only limit the Phillies for three more seasons, plus the buyout cost in 2017. Howard is unlikely to provide much value during the remaining years on the deal, but those years are ticking away, and he won’t hamstring the franchise for that much longer.

Estimated Cost to Trade: $70 million

#2 Alex Rodriguez (3B/SS)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
37 11163 10.9 % 18.2 % .300 .384 .560 .401 144 17.3 36.1 111.3

Under Team Control Through 2017: $25M, $21M, $20M, $20M

The salary is detrimental, but the circus that surrounds him is a pretty big deterrent to other teams as well. Rodriguez’s combination of health issues and never ending link to PEDs make him just about untradeable even before you factor in the huge salary. Put those things together and there’s probably not a player in the game that would generate less interest in the trade market.

On performance alone, Rodriguez is one of the best players of all time. It’s too bad that such a career is going to end this way.

Estimated Cost to Trade: $86 million

#1 Albert Pujols (1B)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
33 419 9.3 % 12.4 % .252 .325 .434 .324 107 -1.0 -3.1 0.5

Under Team Control Through 2021: $23M, $24M, $25M, $26M, $27M, $28M, $29M, $30M

If you’re wondering, that’s $212 million over the next eight years. Not only did the Angels give Pujols a massive contract, but they backloaded it, so after the first two seasons finish, they’ll still have only paid him $28 million of the $240 million he was guaranteed. Basically, the Angels borrowed heavily from the future in order to finance their 2012 and 2013 playoff runs. Oops.

Unlike some of the other names on this list, Pujols would still be in demand if the Angels made him available. He was nearly a +4 WAR player last year, and while he’s regressing, he still projects as a pretty good player in the short term. But 8/212 is so far beyond what he would actually get as a free agent, the Angels would have to send along the biggest check in sports history to make Pujols’ decline years someone else’s problem.

Best case scenario, I think a team might talk themselves into Pujols as a $15 million per year player for the next four years. I could see him getting the Nick Swisher contract, basically. There’s enough reason to think he could still hit for a few more years, and provide enough short term value to make that kind of contract a viable risk for a contender. But that’s 4/60, leaving $152 million in dead money. Rodriguez and Howard combine for about $156 million in dead money. Basically, the Pujols contract is as toxic as the next two worst contracts in baseball put together.

It’s a good thing the Angels have Mike Trout.

Estimated Cost to Trade: $152 million

We hoped you liked reading 2013 Anti-Trade Value: The Five Worst Contracts by Dave Cameron!

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tehzachatak
Member
tehzachatak

how the mighty have fallen…

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

Or in Howard’s case: how the middling have fallen.

guayzimi
Guest
guayzimi

[chortle]. How very BFIB of you…

I’m with you on Pujols-ARod 1-2. But for 3-4-5 I think you have to go Matt Kemp (6.5 years and $138 million), Joey Votto (11/233), and Verlander (6.5/170). Yes they’re productive, but we’re talking 2-3 times as much money as Howard is owed.

JH
Guest
JH

2-3 times the money for 4-5 times the production. You do the math.

BeantownPhilliesFan
Guest
BeantownPhilliesFan

In Amaro’s eyes: Production = RBIs

guayzimi
Guest
guayzimi

Howard could be a two win player if used correctly (strict platoon plus DH and PH at bats). Votto and Verlander are prime candidates for age-related ineffectiveness. Maybe I’m undervaluing how the trade market views present day wins, but I’d take the mini-disaster in the hand over the mega-disaster lurking in the bush.

The Party Bird
Guest
The Party Bird

Howard’s contract is just a mini-disaster to you? I guess in the context of the entire world, it shouldn’t even register as a disaster at all. But in the baseball world, the best thing you can say about the contract is “well, at least it’s not eighty SIX million we owe him.” It’s a catastrophe.

Verlander is having a serious down season and has produced seven times the WAR that Howard has this year. And Howard is outperforming his 2012 season.

JH
Guest
JH

You’re undervaluing both present day wins and the value of having a star player (which Votto certainly is, Kemp likely is when healthy, and even with his decline, Verlander’s still a star, albeit no longer looking like the best pitcher alive). Remember, it’s becoming more and more difficult to sign pre-decline players to mega contracts. Votto’s trade value is still very high (likely just outside the HM level), Verlander wouldn’t be difficult to move, and neither would Kemp once he shows 1-2 months of health and production.

Maybe, as you say, Howard could push 2 wins if used exclusively against righties, but a) that’s still not all that great for a guy making his salary, and there’s an opportunity cost involved locking a guy into a power position for his decline years, and b) that also requires using bench bat for a 1B who’s only used against lefties. The ability to play every day has its own value.

Put another way: even if all 3 teams weren’t in win-now mode, do you really think the Reds, Tigers, and Dodgers would take the opportunity to trade Votto, Verlander, or Kemp straight up for Howard, with both teams to absorb 100% of their new acquisitions’ salaries? Yeah, me either.

Contracts are important, but the first question is still “is this guy a good player?”

JN
Guest
JN

Kemp hasn’t been bad for long enough to call him done. Verlander and Votto are still very very good, so I don’t know why they would be on here.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

They definitely have the potential to be bad to very bad by the end of the contracts, but the contracts are in such an early stage that we just don’t have a great feel for when their decline stages will begin in earnest, or how fast those declines would be. Neither will be worth what they’re getting paid on the tail end of the deals (I feel quite confident) but both should produce some surplus value in the early years that may offset that somewhat.

jmac
Guest
jmac

I wouldn’t call Verlander’s 2013 season “very, very good”- statistically, Chris Tillman has had a nearly identical season. I might have Verlander at #6 on this list because there is still a chance he justifies most of the money.

Votto is a beast, I’m not sure he wouldnt get something in the neighborhood of 11/233 if he hit the open market today. Kemp’s been hurt this year and isnt too old.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar

I don’t see how Votto’s name could even come up in this discussion. He possibly deserves to be on the Top 50, clearly not the bottom 5.
Somebody around here is cuckoo.
P.S. I’m not a Reds fan.

guayzimi
Guest
guayzimi

@Baltar He’s a 30 year old first baseman who missed 50 games last year with a knee injury and has $233 million coming. That is huge risk.

djw
Guest
djw

“the potential to be bad”

Yes, but actual, definite badness is worse than potential badness. This isn’t a complicated concept.

za
Guest
za

Joey Votto is the 3rd best 1B in baseball and Verlander is the 13th best pitcher in baseball right now. Matt Kemp has been injured but his contract isn’t even the worst on his own team (Greinke, Crawford, and Ethier all might be worse), since he’s still a dynamic and useful player.

Basically, you’re saying you would rather have Ryan Howard on your team right now instead of Joey Votto and Josh Hamilton on your team instead of Justin Verlander. Maybe you just don’t get it?

Alexander Nevermind
Guest
Alexander Nevermind

How is Joey Votto the third-best 1B? Because that is where he currently stands in 2013 fWAR? That’s a terrible method for ranking true talent levels.

abreutime
Guest
abreutime

He’s might be the best 1B, if you go by rest of season projections. What’s your awesome method?

buddaley
Guest
buddaley

At age 30, Pujols was a 7 WAR player according to Fangraphs. The next year he fell off to 5.4 and then was signed to the big contract.

Votto, 30 in Sept., currently has a 3.9 WAR after 3 years in which his WAR went from 6.8-6.4-5.6. He never had as high a peak, nor as long & consistent a peak as Pujols did and it appears he will end up with about the same WAR as last year. I think there should be some concern that the $150 million he is due for his age 34-40 years plus at least $7 million more to buy out his age 41 season will be a millstone for the Reds.

Similarly, Verlander is owed $160 million for his age 31-36 seasons. There is a lot of mileage on that arm. I am sure there are teams that would trade for Votto or Verlander were they available, but I hope it isn’t my team.

Alexander Nevermind
Guest
Alexander Nevermind

My awesome method? Taking previous data into account. For example I could weight 2011 performance by 0.5, 2012 by 0.75, and 2013 by 1.0. Why would you ever limit yourself to less than 100 games worth of information? Votto is the best 1B in baseball (until Miggy gets moved off 3B).

To buddaley: your sample size is 1. Joey Votto is not Albert Pujols. And it seems rather safe to assume that Joey Votto is a true talent 6-win player right now. Start reducing his value by 0.5-wins per season, then multiple for the adjusted cost of a win for inflation each year, and you have a handy back-of-napkin calculation for Votto’s worth during the length of his contract. Looking exclusively at the final years of the deal fails to take the excess value of the early years into account.

Baseball Bob
Guest
Baseball Bob

The calculation used in this article as cost to trade is this: if this player were a free agent, how much money would he get for how long? Then subtract what he is actually owed, and you get his [negative] trade value.

So what would Verlander get on the open market? What would Kemp get? What would Votto get?

If you think Howard should be number 3, then you think that all of these guys would get a contract within $70M of what they are still owed. That means Votto needs to get at least $164M, Kemp $69M, Verlander $101M. I think a rational argument could be made that Votto might not get quite that much, and thus becomes third. Kemp and Verlander get that EASILY even with their declines. And by the end of the year, Votto might be back to that level.

I suspect that the author is at least defensibly right, then, in that Howard is SURE not to be worth any more than he projects, while the three you mention MIGHT be (and two of them still are, in my opinion)