Bad Contracts Put Two Players at Career Crossroads: Fan’s Take

As a fan with dual baseball loyalties to the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals, I approach the 2012 season with a modest level of hope. Both teams possess talent which should keep them in playoff contention most of the season. As I look over both teams' rosters, one point that stands out to me is that Boston and Washington both recently exercised a similar lack of foresight in their signing of a key free agent; Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, respectively.

While fiscal decisions can prove to be poor ones in hindsight, both players are in the early stages of their contract and when signed; I am left scratching my head as to whether either player was worth the investment. The two outfielders were coming off solid careers with their previous clubs (Tampa Bay, Philadelphia) and their suitors were competing in a high priced game of chance. The Nationals inked Werth to a seven year, $126 million contract; only to be outdone by Boston's seven year $142 million contract given to Crawford.

As I think more about whether either player will ever live up to the lofty expectations their new teams have of them; I find myself thinking back to other prized free agents who also underachieved after receiving such a large contract for their time. Below are some, but clearly not all examples.

Current players:

Vernon Wells: $24.2 million per season

To put this contract into proper context, Wells's annual salary is equal to what Albert Pujols signed this past offseason. The former Toronto Blue Jays centerfielder was coming off a five year span that resulted in a .288 average and 139 home runs. The per annum value inked between Wells and the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 is the second highest in baseball; all for a player who has since hit .252 over the past three seasons.

In 2011, the Blue Jays shipped Wells to the Los Angeles Angels, where he hit a measly .218 for the season. With a contract that expired in 2015, the Angels are hopeful that the outfielder will regain some of the form that led to his contract in the first place.

Alfonso Soriano: $17 million per season

After three very productive full seasons with the New York Yankees; this saw Soriano average 38 home runs, 38 stolen bases, and a .284 average. From there, the second baseman was part of the blockbuster trade with the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. In Texas, Soriano continued his solid production in both Texas for two seasons and then Washington; where the now outfielder produced a 40-40 season. The feat was even more impressive considering he batted in the cavernous RFK Stadium.

After signing his eight year, $136 million contract with the Cubs, Soriano has failed to live up to his high billing; appearing in an average of just 129 games, batting .266 and 32 home runs. The most noticeable change in Soriano's game is the loss of the speed that once made him a consistent base stealing threat. Where once 30 stolen bases were the norm, Soriano has only surpassed 15 steals twice in his five years in the Windy City.

Carlos Beltran: $16.4 million per season

Beltran's 2004 postseason significantly impacted his already high regard among MLB general mangers as he entered free agency; slugging eight home runs in 12 postseason games. The New York Mets; always in heavy competition for the New York baseball fan's affection, signed Beltran to a seven year, $115 million contract.

Hopes were high that Beltran would be a key component in several playoff berths; but the Mets only made the postseason once in his seven years in the Big Apple. Injuries hampered Beltran's performance; limiting the outfielder to an average of just 119 games in seven seasons with the Mets; with large portions of the 2009 and 2010 seasons lost altogether.

With the prior contract now expired, Beltran shopped his services in the winter of 2011; ultimately signing with the St. Louis Cardinals for two years at an average of $13 million. With his injury history and declining production, fans could also question the rationale in offering another big money contract; albeit for only two seasons.

A.J. Burnett: $16.4 million per season

The New York Yankees made a significant investment in former Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett; signing the lanky right hander to a $82 million contract in the winter of 2008.

During his early years, Burnett was considered a promising pitcher who just happened to perform for a losing team in a small market. During the world championship season of 2003, Burnett only pitched in four games for Florida. In fact; of the seven seasons he played in the Sunshine State, Burnett only put together four full seasons; compiling a 49-50 record along the way.

The Toronto Blue Jays were the first team to go after Burnett in free agency, signing him to a five year, $55 contract in the winter of 2005. Burnett had two mediocre seasons before putting forth his best year of his career; winning 18 games and leading the league in strikeouts during his 34 starts.

Chief division foe New York saw up close and personal just what talent existed in the right hander; so after opting out of his contract early, Burnett signed an even more lucrative contract with the Yankees; getting five years and $82 million from the pinstripes.

The Yankees never got their desired return in the first three years of their investment; as Burnett struggled with consistency and saw his ERA rise to above five in each of his final two seasons in the Bronx before being shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates this past offseason. Part of the trade out of town also included the Yankees assuming a sizeable portion of the remaining contract; meaning New York is still paying for this poor decision.

Barry Zito: $17.1 million per season

Perhaps the poster child for over the current day overpaid player is left-handed starting pitcher Barry Zito; who changed addresses from Oakland to San Francisco at the tune of $137 million over eight seasons. At the time, Zito was considered to be an established top of the rotation starter; where he would win 102 games and record a reasonable 3.55 earned run average in his six and one-half season with Oakland.

After arriving in San Francisco, Zito lost significant speed on his fastball and has since struggled to maintain relative health and consistency; let alone excellence. The lefty has had a losing season in each of his five seasons thus far; recording a 43-61 record and a 4.55 earned run average. The higher ERA in the National League further emphasizes the lack of production received in exchange for $17 million.

With the fan base against him and his body betraying him, Zito has little time and opportunity left to demonstrate the talent that once made him the most desired pitcher on the open market.

Jason Bay: $15.2 million per season

Another player who greatly benefited from a career season just prior to free agency is outfielder Jason Bay; who hit a career best 36 home runs in 2009 for Boston. Prior to arriving in Boston, Bay was a consistent power threat in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup; averaging 28 home runs in his prior four full seasons.

Since signing his five year $75 million contract, Bay has had two injury-riddled seasons; managing a meager 18 home runs in 2010 and 2011. Some of the power production can also be attributed to the deep power alleys of the Mets' Citi Field, but shoulder and knee injury concerns have zapped what was once a potent bat.

The 2012 season could be viewed as a crossroads one for Bay as well.


The list of players with overpriced contracts does not just end there. Going back in time, names like Mo Vaughn and Kevin Brown come to mind; as do other current players like Adam Dunn, John Lackey, Jason Giambi and many others who could be cited.

The simple fact is baseball is entertainment; and fans flock to stadiums around the country to watch the best players perform. The escalating salaries are now a reality in sports; but the excessive values in exchange for diminishing value is where I and many fans like take exception.

In 2012, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth are at the crossroad of their respective careers. If either can regain the form that made them worthy of such lucrative contracts, fans may be more forgiving of one bad year. But 2012 has now become a make or break time for each; so that either or both of them can avoid being forever grouped with the many undeserving contracts in baseball history.

Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos) for over 30 years. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.

Sources: Player Profile - Carl Crawford Player Profile - Jayson Werth Player Profile - Vernon Wells Player Profile - Alfonso Soriano Player Profile - Carlos Beltran Player Profile - A.J. Burnett Player Profile - Barry Zito Player Profile - Jason Bay

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Updated Friday, Apr 6, 2012