December 04, 2009
Baseball knows how to do the disastrous contract better than any other sport. There is an overflowing graveyard of doozies, terrain teeming with wasted dollars and disappointments. And nothing empowered the inborn idiocy of bad baseball executives quite like the doubling of baseball's revenues this decade.
To determine whose contract was the worst this decade, we weighed a number of factors. Performance. Cost. Length. What was more egregious — a humongous deal with underperforming or a big deal with historically bad numbers? A long, payroll-crippling contract or a short, Odom-Kardashian marriage sort? For all of the above, simply look below.
So with the most sincere apologies to Kei Igawa(notes), Juan Pierre(notes), Richie Sexson(notes), Alfonso Soriano(notes) and especially Denny Neagle — who coupled his bad contract with a DUI arrest, another for soliciting a prostitute and ultimately a buyout — we present the 10 worst contracts of the 2000s. Just in time for next week's winter meetings!
* * *
A contract with the stench of formaldehyde-soaked cow patties, yes, but, oh, the memories that Carla provided. The Carl Pavano Memorial MRI Tube. The American Idle nickname. The car accident in which he broke two ribs and didn't bother telling the Yankees.
The marriage was a mess from the start. Pavano fired his agent, Scott Shapiro, because he didn't get $40 million on the nose, and he ended up throwing 145 2/3 innings of 5.00 earned-run average baseball over his four years in New York. Ed Whitson was a mess. Kenny Rogers(notes) fizzled like Alka Seltzer. And yet no one — no one — compares to Pavano when it comes to a combination of stealing money and melting under the spotlight. The only man more hated in New York is Bernie Madoff.
By the way, teams are fighting to sign Pavano this offseason after he finished last year with a 5.10 ERA. Gotta love baseball.
* * *
So, which is worse: Getting slugged in the face repeatedly or having to walk around with the shame of the black eye that accompanies it? The punches keep coming for another two years on this Silva whopper, and the broken capillaries aren't clearing up any time, either.
In his first season with Seattle, Silva threw 153 1/3 innings and finished with a 6.46 ERA. The next year, he managed 30 1/3 innings with an 8.60 ERA before getting shut down with shoulder surgery. Most of the Bill Bavasi Blue Light Disasters — Sexson, Miguel Batista(notes), Kenji Johjima(notes) — are off Seattle's books. And yet Silva is the gift that will keep on giving in Seattle for two more seasons.
* * *
This is one of those contracts that gets bumped up because of bonus points earned by outside circumstances. Sure, Matthews would be a candidate for the list based on performance alone. He's an awful center fielder with an inconceivably bad -37.8 UZR/150 last year. The player behind him on the list? Adam Dunn(notes). The one ahead of him? Gary Sheffield(notes). Yeah, that bad. Matthews also hits like his dad. No, not when he was a solid corner outfielder in the '70s and '80s. Like Gary Matthews Sr., 59, would today.
Bonus point No. 1: Matthews actually thinks he's good.
Bonus point No. 2: The Angels, like so many others, were seduced by one catch. This can't be proven unequivocally, of course, but surely the Angels knew that Matthews' productive 2006 was due to a spike in batting average on balls in play (.349, almost 50 points higher than his career average) and that his overall defense showed massive regression that year. Still, The Catch — awesome three years later — was one of the season's defining moments and left everyone with a lasting image of Matthews that was completely misleading.
Bonus point No. 3: He got popped with an HGH rap three months after he signed with the Angels. He still hasn't explained it.
* * *
This is something of a preemptive strike. In the first two years of his deal, Wells has earned $19 million. The first season he played passably, posting a 122 OPS+ (22 percent better than the league average) that was offset by his brutal center field play. In 2009, Wells turned into a disaster of a hitter (.311 on-base percentage), did his best to mimic Matthews' revolting center field play and inched his way toward taking the lead in the Nauseating $126 Million Contract Sweepstakes.
Though he isn't quite there — the winner is next on our hit list — Wells is on his way. He turns 31 this week. His skills have eroded with striking speed. His contract is unmovable. The Blue Jays might have re-signed Roy Halladay(notes) without Wells' deal on the books. Turns out J.P. Ricciardi's biggest mistake as Toronto GM wasn't holding onto Halladay at the last trading deadline — though that does remain unfailingly stupid.
Oh, and by the way, even if the Blue Jays do find a GM at the winter meetings craving a drink, get him totally loaded and convince him that taking on the last five years and $107 million of Wells' contract is a dandy idea indeed, it still might not happen. Wells has a full no-trade clause, too.
* * *
Not sure what to say, other than the Giants gave a No. 4- or 5-quality starter $18 million a year and will continue paying him beaucoup bucks through 2013. It was stupid then. It's really stupid now. And that is that.
The esteemed David Brown disagrees. He believes Zito shouldn't be on this list. So, this being his usual forum and all, he was invited to make a guest submission stumping for that vain, fame-seeking, sings-worse-than-Marky Mark-in-Boogie Nights lefthander.
Take it away, DB:
Barry Zito, despite making $126 million, does not belong on this list.
Sure, the Giants overpaid for him before the 2007 season. But overpaying for something is better than overpaying for nothing. Any production is lot better than none. The other guys on this list either have absolutely stunk or they were never healthy enough to get on the field.
Zito has given them value. He's given them something. He's pitched better than perception — which, granted, is dreadful. He actually was an OK third or fourth starter in '07 and '09, and in the second half of his abysmal '08. He's made 98 starts the past three seasons. He's stayed on the field and out of trouble.
You could argue that his paycheck hamstrings the Giants from making other moves that might help them contend. But these hypothetical moves might not help. You can only hold so much against Zito.
* * *
The untold story of how the Dodgers coerced Jones into playing in Los Angeles can finally be told. The Dodgers determined Jones' salary in a unique fashion unlikely to ever be attempted again. Jones proposed Los Angeles pay him $1 for each bon-bon he consumed. The Dodgers figured that Jones would tire of bon-bons and they'd have a center fielder at a remarkable discount. They were wrong. The 36.2 million bon-bons consumed in a little more than a year is baseball's newest untouchable record. Sorry, Joe D.
And Jones, along with his .158./256/.249 line, goes down as the most heinous position-player signing of the decade.
* * *
There is life after a crippling contract. Park, if you can believe it, is something of a commodity this offseason after finishing his second consecutive season as a bona fide relief force. He strikes out hitters. He doesn't walk many. He can pitch long or short. He is, at 36, as valuable as he has been in a decade.
But that doesn't excuse what happened from 2002-06. The Rangers didn't just flush money down the toilet with Park. The money actually clogged the toilet, overflowed it and backed the rest of the sewage system into the organization. He somehow went 33-33 despite a 5.56 ERA. It wasn't just Texas' stadium, either. His ERA+, adjusted for ballpark and league, was 82 — nearly 20 percent worse than the league average. In 563 innings, Park allowed 935 baserunners. It is safe to say, then, Park was the worst .500 pitcher ever.
* * *
Schmidt earned the following with the Dodgers:
• $15.7 million per win
• $4.7 million per start
• $1.57 million per strikeout
• $1.08 million per inning
• $60,179.26 per pitch
• $1 per disappointment
The only reason this isn't No. 1 is because Ned Colletti had the, uh, "foresight" to sign Schmidt for only three years.
* * *
Ridiculous contracts in baseball date to the early days of free agency, when Cleveland signed Wayne Garland to a 10-year, $2.3 million deal. The lesson learned has always been the same: Unless you are talking about one of the 10 best players in baseball, do not bother going beyond six years. And even then, buyer beware.
Hampton wasn't exactly the worst candidate. His previous six years, he put up an ERA 25 percent better than league average and was 33 games over .500. He wasn't the best option, either, especially in Denver, where pitchers used to go to die.
From the start, when Hampton claimed the schools were a big part of his decision — not the ridiculous cash the Rockies guaranteed — the partnership was sketchy. Then Hampton started pitching. After throwing 8 1/3 shutout innings in his first start, he got bombed. Then again. And again. And by the end of his first season, he had allowed six or more earned runs in 11 of his 32 starts.
An even worse season in 2002 left Colorado no choice but to eat tens of millions of dollars as they sent him to Florida, which then traded Hampton to Atlanta, where he was serviceable enough in 2003 and 2004. The Braves started paying his full salary in 2006, when he missed the whole season, and he was out all of 2007, too. By the end of 2008, the Braves had paid Hampton more than $45 million over the previous three seasons to pitch 13 games. Compounded with his time in Colorado, Hampton had the honor of financially pillaging two franchises.
In 2009, as a free agent for the first time since he signed the deal, Hampton went to Houston. He ended the season on the disabled list after undergoing surgery on a torn left rotator cuff. He'll miss all of 2010.
* * *
1. Darren Dreifort, Los Angeles Dodgers — 5 years, $55 million
Dreifort is a combination of every malady above. An unnecessarily long and expensive contract. Horrid underachievement. Awful performance. He outschmidts Schmidt in cost per win ($6.1 million), outhamptons Hampton in injuries (two missed years, two partial years and a relief season) and outdoes everybody in baseball over the last decade.
It wasn't merely his five-tool ineptitude that sealed the title. No, the Dodgers — easily the most generous gifter of garbage contracts — somehow thought it was a good idea to give an $11 million-a-year deal to a 29-year-old who had a surgically repaired elbow and was coming off a season in which he allowed 31 home runs and walked 87 hitters. It was Dreifort's best season as a starter, by the way, and his ERA was 4.16. In Dodger Stadium. To know that of the three things a pitcher truly, indubitably controls — home runs, walks and strikeouts — Dreifort was terrible in two categories should have told the Dodgers: run. Run! RUN!!!
They didn't. They saw the Rockies' offer of six years and $60 million (!) and upped the per-annum value. At the time, this wasn't seen as a huge blunder, either. Dodgers GM Kevin Malone told Sports Illustrated: "You could say that Darren's contract shows that pitching in baseball is at the point where you don't need to show consistent performance to get a big, long-term payout. That's not healthy. But you could also say the contract shows we're an organization willing to take a chance to give our fans a winner. That's healthy. If Darren does what we believe he can do — give us 220 innings, start 32 or 33 games, win half of them — we're looking at a bargain."
Dreifort did throw 200-plus innings — over the life of the contract. Exactly 205 2/3. And he almost started 30-something games. Hey, 26 is close. And ... well, that's why Malone, at last check, was selling cars.
Dreifort retired after his contract expired and, even out of baseball, can't shake the injuries. His body betrayed him, making Dreifort's 95-mph fastball and power sinker and slider afterthoughts. His career is defined not by what he did but what he didn't — and by a simple legal document with the number $55,000,000 and his signature at the bottom.