The Worst Contract in Baseball

I was having a debate a few days ago across twitter with some folks and figured it worth bringing up here. Evan Longoria is likely the best contract in baseball. It’s just obscene, in a good way, for the Rays. But who is the worst? Not talking about ever, or worst at the time, just worst as it stands right now in January of 2010. Which player would you least like on your team going forward, or who do you think would be the most difficult to trade?

I would have nominated Carlos Silva, but apparently he wasn’t that difficult to trade, thank you Cubs, and it would have been more of a biased suggestion than a real one. It’s an awful contract, but it does only have two years left on it. No, I think in the debate for worst contract left in baseball, it comes down to three contenders.

Barry Zito has four guaranteed years left on his contract with a total payout of $76 million and then either an $18 million club option or a $7 million buyout for a minimum for $83 million left to be paid. He also comes with a full no-trade clause. Zito, as mentioned yesterday, has produced 5.3 WAR so far for San Francisco. At least he is sort of trending upwards?

Going back to the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano has five years, a full no-trade clause and $90 million left on his deal. He started off promising with a 5.6 win season in 2007 but fell to 3.1 wins in 2008 and then a horrendous -0.7 last year. The defense has taken about a 15-run hit each consecutive year and the offense has been trending downward as well.

Vernon Wells also has the benefit of a full no-trade clause and due to his protracted signing bonus, is actually owed a whopping $107 million over the remaining five years of his contract. Since his 5.8 win 2006 season, after which his extension was signed, Wells has been worth 0.9, 1.3 and -0.1 wins. His offense has always been sporadic, but his fielding has really taken a hit lately, being well below average the last two seasons.

So, weighing those, who is worst, Zito, Wells or Soriano? Or is there someone else that you think is even more of a dead weight?

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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MPC
Guest
MPC

Oliver Perez…?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.

A guy with only two years left can’t really get into this stratosphere, can he?

Evan_S
Member
Evan_S

Well here’s where these three differ from Perez, when Wells, Zito and Soriano were given their contracts, they were coming off of really good, even great years, or in the case of Zito, had a reputation of greatness. Oliver Perez got his 3 year, $12 million per year contract coming after a year where he had a 4.22 ERA, (I’m using old school stats cause Omar Minaya doesn’t know what FIP or tRA is) had only 10 wins and led the league in walks. His contract may not be worse, but it is far stupider when put into context.

Sky Kalkman
Member

Barry Zito did not have a reputation of greatness. He had some good years, but his ERA was much better than his skills suggested in the year or two before signing with the Giants.

Steve
Guest
Steve

I get what you are saying, but if a pitcher had a better ERA than his underlying skills, couldn’t he still have an excellent reputation?

The guy did win a Cy Young. I would imagine that many, many people still thought of Zito as an excellent pitcher when he signed that contract.

Many of us knew better, but I don’t think that disproves the point.

JoeR43
Member
JoeR43

But Sky, Zito won a Cy Young. He had 3 AS games under his belt, too. I know it was far from unanimous, but there was still a large collection of people (I know many Red Sox fans around here are included) that perceived Zito as an ace thanks to “23 WINZ!!11ONE!!ONE!!!!11!!”. I don’t think there was mass awareness of the contract insanity outside of the SABRmetric world.

It’s kind of ironic how people make a big stink about hitter strikeouts, but pitcher strikeouts seem to get unnoticed until you sign a 5 K/9 guy for $12 mil a year.

B N
Guest
B N

I was definitely not online with SABR stats particularly when Zito was signed, but I was certain he got a crazy contract. Personally, I tend to feel that if you watch enough baseball consistently you can get a decent feel for pitchers that are truly dominant. (Twins-edition Santana, Sabathia, Health Harden, Boston Pedro, etc). Those kind of guys also usually have some outlandish peripherals, particularly in WHIP. Zito was clearly not one of those guys, but he got a contract like one of those guys (except longer).

I don’t quite get the opinion that somehow people didn’t get that Zito was a horrible contract just because they weren’t looking at the stats on his pitch movement. Any fool off the street could see that he was walking a lot of guys and giving up a fair share of hits.

Also, I totally take issue with Red Sox fans being portrayed as liking Zito :). I recall him primarily as the guy we crushed to advance in the playoffs in 2003. That sure wouldn’t inspire confidence in me for signing him, especially since he only got worse from there.

Joe R
Guest
Joe R

To be fair to us, most of us were the first ones screaming about the insanity of Zito winning the 2002 Cy Young over Pedro Martinez.

For obvious biased reasons, but still.

I am interested as to why bp’s WARP methodology has Zito and Martinez kind of close, but Fangraphs has Martinez crushing him. Fangraphs weighs peripherals higher?

vivaelpujols
Guest

Zito has always had a far lower ERA than FIP.

JayCee
Guest
JayCee

I agree- while one can note only 2 years remaining, the fact he wouldn’t even get in shape to pitch in MLB the past year, or go to the minors when asked, has to still sting enough to warrant a mention.