The New York Yankees and Miami Marlins cut ties on two huge contracts this past week, abruptly and unceremoniously ending the respective tenures of Jacoby Ellsbury and Wei-Yin Chen one year early.
Ellsbury will earn over $26 million to not play for the Yankees next season. Only two years removed from an MVP runner-up finish with the division-rival Boston Red Sox, the outfielder signed a seven-year, $153-million deal with New York prior to the 2014 season. Over 520 games with the Bronx Bombers, he accrued just 8.1 WAR.
Chen, meanwhile, wound up making a mere 53 starts after inking a five-year, $80-million pact with Miami prior to 2016. The Marlins will pay the left-hander $22 million to not play for them in 2020.
With those disastrous deals in mind, let’s take a look at each MLB team’s worst contract:
Arizona Diamondbacks: Yasmany Tomas
Total: 6 years, $68.5M
Remaining: 1 year, $17M
Before the 2015 season, the Diamondbacks opted to invest in a young Cuban outfielder one year removed from posting back-to-back .900 OPS seasons in the Cuban National Series. Considered one of the best prospects in baseball at the time, Tomas hasn’t managed to translate his talents stateside since. He’s barely been able to make it out of the minor leagues and even needed to repeat Fall League as a 26-year-old. In 309 MLB games, Tomas owns a .266/.306/.459 slash line with 48 homers.
Atlanta Braves: Ender Inciarte
Total: 5 years, $30.53M
Remaining: 3 years, $17.42M
As far as bad contracts go, this one’s a peach. At worst, Inciarte is a plus defender when healthy, and a pretty average hitter who isn’t a liability.
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis
Total: 7 years, $161M
Remaining: 3 years, $69M
This one makes the Hall of Fame of bad deals. In fact, it’s a first-ballot entry. Since signing this pact after leading the league in home runs, Davis has hit .198/.294/.385 over four seasons while playing first base or DH.
Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
Total: 6 years, $85M
Remaining: 2 years, $25M
With the Red Sox aggressively looking to get under the luxury tax, Pedroia’s is the deal they’d most likely want back. David Price and Chris Sale both possess albatross contracts, but they’ve still paid dividends toward the team’s recent success. Pedroia, on the other hand, has appeared in just nine games over the past two seasons, and there’s no guarantee the 35-year-old second baseman makes another big-league appearance.
Chicago Cubs: Jason Heyward
Total: 8 years, $184M
Remaining: 4 years, $86M
When the Cubs signed Heyward, he was a 25-year-old budding star who’d just earned his third Gold Glove and some down-ballot MVP votes. At worst, it was thought, Heyward’s glove would always make him a valuable player, and his above-average OPS over the four seasons prior to inking this contract was intriguing. Since then, Heyward has hit .252/.327/.383 in what should have been his prime years, and the Cubs are only halfway through the deal.
Chicago White Sox: Kelvin Herrera
Total: 2 years, $18M
Remaining: 1 year, $9.5M
The White Sox don’t really have a bad contract on the books, so this distinction goes to Herrera almost by default. The hard-throwing reliever authored a 6.14 ERA over 51 1/3 innings in his first season with the club, but closers are fickle; he could bounce back into a meaningful role next year.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
Total: 10 years, $225M
Remaining: 5 years, $107M
It might hurt to admit it, but the 2010 NL MVP isn’t aging as gracefully as expected. The deal was certainly worth it in the early going, with Votto posting a 1.006 OPS over the first three seasons of the contract. Now 36 years old, the first baseman seems to have lost his slugging ability, and he’s no longer elite at drawing walks, either.
Cleveland Indians: None
Congratulations to the famously frugal Indians, who don’t have a single bad contract on their books. The sole contender would be Carlos Santana’s deal, which they didn’t even sign. It only has one year remaining at just over $21 million guaranteed.
Colorado Rockies: Ian Desmond
Total: 5 years, $70M
Remaining: 2 years, $25M
The Rockies handed Desmond a deal that seemed like a head-scratcher from the get-go, and it hasn’t gotten any better with age. He’s had negative value in each of his first three seasons in Colorado, totaling minus-1.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Even more confounding, the Rockies continue to deploy Desmond – a natural shortstop – in the outfield.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
Total: 8 years, $240M
Remaining: 4 years, $124M
Miggy was incredibly elite as recently as 2016, but the decline has come hard and fast. In 38 games in 2017, Cabrera seemed to get his mojo back, hitting .299/.395/.448. But over a full 2019 season, the two-time MVP was a below-average hitter, a defensive liability, and slugged under .400.
Houston Astros: Zack Greinke
Total: 6 years, $206.5M
Remaining: 2 years, $70M
The Astros made the right decision to bolster their rotation ahead of the 2019 postseason, but Greinke’s deal is an onerous one. On the bright side, the Diamondbacks are paying just over $10 million of it in each of the next two seasons.
Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy
Total: 5 years, $65M
Remaining: 2 years, $30.75M
Duffy was coming off his best MLB season when he signed this deal and had also helped the club win the World Series, so investing in the lefty wasn’t necessarily a bad move by the Royals. The upside hasn’t really been there in the past two seasons, though, as Duffy’s been roughly league average over 285 2/3 innings.
Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols
Total: 10 years, $240M
Remaining: 2 years, $59M
Pujols is a first-ballot lock for the Hall of Fame and will go down as one of the best hitters in the history of the sport. But this decade-long contract started to look sketchy just two seasons in, and it’s been downright horrendous over the past three years. The 39-year-old DH has hit .243/.293/.407 over his last 397 games.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A.J. Pollock
Total: 4 years, $55M
Remaining: 3 years, $51M
The Dodgers aggressively back-loaded Pollock’s deal, which wasn’t a bad idea in theory. But now the payment starts to come due. Pollock appeared in 86 games this past year, posting an underwhelming .266/.327/.468 slash line despite a disproportionate number of plate appearances versus left-handed pitching, against which he was supposed to excel.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
Total: 5 years, $105M
Remaining: 1 year, $21M
Braun was coming off the turmoil of a PED suspension, but he’d returned to All-Star form before the Brewers handed him a five-year extension. Since then, he’s been an above-average hitter – but neither the slugger nor the OBP machine he once was.
Minnesota Twins: Marwin Gonzalez
Total: 2 years, $21M
Remaining: 1 year, $9M
Like Cleveland, the Twins have been extremely responsible spenders in recent years. But Gonzalez’s deal hasn’t looked especially good. It’s likely the utility man still ends up being worth the total cost of the contract, but don’t forget he was a 4-win player by FanGraphs WAR in 2017.
New York Mets: Yoenis Cespedes
Total: 4 years, $110M
Remaining: 1 year, $29.5M
When healthy, Cespedes has been one of the most exciting players in the majors. The Mets saw that first-hand for a year and a half before handing him a four-year extension. Since signing that nine-figure deal, though, the outfielder has made 119 appearances for New York. He didn’t play at all last year and may not in 2020 either.
Oakland Athletics: Khris Davis
Total: 2 years, $33.5M
Remaining: 2 years, $33.5M
Davis signed this deal prior to 2019 and it doesn’t kick in until this season. Oakland so rarely pays players, and there’s definitely a chance the star slugger lives up to the contract. But he’s coming off what was easily his worst season in the majors after slugging .387 with 23 homers over 133 games.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jake Arrieta
Total: 3 years, $75M
Remaining: 1 year, $20M
No one was expecting the 2015 Cy Young winner when the Phillies signed Arrieta after teams had already reported for spring training. But an Arrieta somewhere between the serviceable 2017 edition and the 2016 All-Star seemed plausible. Instead, he’s been closer to 2012 Orioles Arrieta, posting a 4.23 ERA and 4.53 FIP over 308 1/3 innings. He might not even be healthy for 2020 after a bone spur in his elbow derailed his 2019 campaign.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco
Total: 5 years, $35M
Remaining: 3 years, $23.2M
The Pirates opted to extend Polanco through his arbitration years, tacking on an additional year as well as a pair of team options. Normally, that’s a pretty shrewd investment strategy. But the outfielder has failed to approach his lofty ceiling and appeared in a mere 42 games last year, hitting .242/.301/.425 with six homers.
San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer
Total: 8 years, $144M
Remaining: 6 years, $102M
Hosmer’s deal with the Padres has one saving grace: It’s pretty heavily front-loaded. That means the final three years are worth a total of $39 million, rather than $54 million had the money been distributed evenly over the duration of the contract. That doesn’t change the fact Hosmer has been worth minus-0.5 WAR since joining San Diego, according to FanGraphs.
San Francisco Giants: Johnny Cueto
Total: 6 years, $130M
Remaining: 2 years, $48.66M
The Giants have a couple of bad-looking deals on the books, but Cueto’s seems to be the worst. The right-hander more than lived up to his contract in the first year, posting a remarkable 2.79 ERA and 2.95 FIP over 219 2/3 innings. Since then, however, Cueto’s managed a mere 216 1/3 innings and authored a 4.24 ERA. As he enters his age-34 season, it seems unlikely the Giants pick up that $22-million team option in 2022.
Seattle Mariners: Yusei Kikuchi
Total: 4 years, $56M
Remaining: 3 years, $46.5M
Kikuchi’s deal is a bit complicated, with team options until 2025. If the left-hander exercises his player option, the soonest the Mariners can get out of this contract is after the 2022 season. Following his dismal rookie campaign stateside, during which Kikuchi posted a 5.46 ERA and 5.71 FIP over 161 2/3 starts, Seattle might be counting the days.
St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler
Total: 5 years, $82.5M
Remaining: 2 years, $33M
Matt Carpenter’s two-year, $39-million extension might wind up being more the onerous commitment over the next two years, but Fowler has been the bigger disappointment. The outfielder returned to league-average hitting rates during a nice bounceback season in 2019, but anything would have been an improvement on a 2018 campaign that saw him hit .180/.278/.298 with minus-1.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier
Total: 6 years, $53M
Remaining: 3 years, $36M
The Rays have been ruthlessly efficient, routinely extending their players through arbitration years and into free agency before offloading them on some other team before they go sour. But Tampa Bay may have missed its shot with Kiermaier. The three-time Gold Glover was coming into his own as a hitter in 2017, but injuries have derailed that progress and he’s hit .223/.280/.386 over the past two seasons.
Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
Total: 6 years, $49.5M
Remaining: 3 years, $37M
Odor’s extension was always a bit puzzling; his feast-or-famine plate approach yielded a 33-homer player who was otherwise league average by every single measure. Pitchers will now expand the zone on him more often, knowing he’ll strike himself out. Improved defense has helped, but that didn’t seem to be a sustained change in 2019.
Toronto Blue Jays: Randal Grichuk
Total: 5 years, $52M
Remaining: 4 years, $44M
Since the installation of a new front-office regime, the Blue Jays have aggressively shed any and all salary commitments while handing out one extension: Grichuk’s. In his first year of that deal, the outfielder hit .232/.280/.457 and looked like a replacement player in pretty much every facet of the game.
Washington Nationals: The buyouts
The World Series champions don’t really have a bad deal on the books. What they do have, though, are five players not on the roster, players they’re paying a grand total of $5.25 million to not play for them next year: Ryan Zimmerman ($2 million), Matt Adams ($1 million), Trevor Rosenthal ($1 million), Yan Gomes ($1 million), and Tony Sipp ($250,000). It’s not the worst situation in the majors, but it’s also not smart business, and the financial penalty nearly totals Kurt Suzuki’s 2020 salary.