The waiver wire is crackling and humming, making this an optimum time to identify the worst contracts in baseball, players nobody wants because at one time so many teams coveted them that they were vastly overpaid. Funny how a player can go from priceless to pariah, sometimes only months after signing.
Waivers remind us of the most ridiculous contracts because the murky process is a lot like big fish languidly swimming far beneath the surface of the ocean. Big fish that aren't good eating.
Players placed on waivers – which are supposed to be kept secret – often have bloated contracts no other team is willing to take on. Once a player is ignored by every team, known as passing through waivers, he can be dealt just like before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
Most waived players get a hard look by a few teams, and often when a player is claimed, his team allows the 48-hour waiver period to expire because there was never any intention of letting him go. Occasionally the offering team and claiming team can cut a deal – Cody Ross was acquired by the Giants this way in 2010 and became a World Series hero.
Once in a while a player with a huge contract is claimed, as the Dodgers did with Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee on Friday. The Dodgers had to be willing to take on the $110 million or so Lee is owed through 2016 if the Phillies consented. As it happened, the Phillies did no such thing, mostly because they simply can't reconcile that their much-hullaballood signing of Lee 18 months ago was irrational overspending.
Overspending, of course, occurs every year, and players with ridiculous price tags flow through waivers, drawing nothing more than laughs from general managers around baseball. Here are 11 players so wildly overpaid they can't be given away, worst first:
1. Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels; signed through 2014, owed $48 million: Trading for Wells before the 2011 season was unfathomably stupid. The Angels gave the Blue Jays Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and got back an $84 million albatross. Wells is one of the least-productive players in baseball, and rarely plays since Mike Trout was promoted to the big leagues. Wells' last base hit came in May and he's hit .219 with a .250 OBP as an Angel. He's useless.
2. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins; signed through 2018, owed $145 million: Everybody rejoiced when the parsimonious Twins sprung for an eight-year, $184 million deal for hometown favorite Mauer before the 2011 season. Wonderful has already been whittled to what-in-the-world? He plays catcher only half the time and doesn't hit with power. He'll remain a .320 hitter for a few years, but that's not enough for $23 million a year, more than 20 percent of the Twins' payroll.
3. Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals; signed through 2017, owed $105 million: The Nats admitted they overpaid for Werth when they handed him $127 million over seven years on the first day of the 2010 Winter Meetings. They wanted to show that they were serious about winning, and Werth was the first piece in what is now a strong team. But the contract will make him all but untradeable, especially since he's already 33 years old.
4. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox; signed through 2017, owed $109 million: He's the new Alfonso Soriano, and the Red Sox had better hope he's not the new Vernon Wells. Crawford's steep drop in production since signing a seven-year, $142 million deal before the 2011 season is one of baseball's biggest mysteries. He's gone from a perennial .300 hitter to a .250 hitter and the look on his face is one of bewilderment.
5. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees; signed through 2017, owed $123 million plus another $30 million for home-run milestones: A-Rod will be 42 when his contract expires, and he's already slipping. He's gone from a .300/30/100 slash line to something like .270/20/80 – in other words, he's become an average player with nowhere to go but down. With 644 career home runs, he'll reach some cool milestones, but he'll get paid extra for those.
6. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies; signed through 2016, owed $112 million: After years of being productive and underpaid, Howard signed a five-year, $125 million extension in 2010 but an injury kept him out of the lineup the first half of this season. The big man is back but at 32 it's difficult to imagine him having any more 40-home run seasons. He could end up as a DH for an AL team, but otherwise he'll be more difficult for the Phillies to deal than Cliff Lee.
7. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels; signed through 2021, owed $232 million: Yes, the ink is barely dry on this landmark 10-year, $240 million contract, and yes, Pujols is a bargain this year and next when the Angels are paying him a total of $28 million. But that just makes the back end of the deal more dangerous. Check back in 2017 when he's 37 years old and the Angels still owe him $140 million over the next five years. He'll likely be No. 1 on this list.
8. John Lackey, Boston Red Sox; signed through 2014, owed $35.5 million: Lackey is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and maybe he'll regain his effectiveness. After a decent 2010 season – his first after signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal – he was abysmal in 2011, posting a 6.41 ERA. He also was roundly criticized for his poor attitude. The Red Sox can only hope he gives them two – or three – serviceable post-surgery seasons. His injury might have triggered a clause in his contract that adds another year at league minimum salary.
9. Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs; signed through 2014, owed $42 million: Although he's having a reasonably productive season, the man they call "Sori" never came close to living up to the eight-year, $136 million deal the Cubs gave him in 2007. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti also bid for Soriano, and he says "the best deals are the ones you never do" every time he remembers it. Getting a prospect for him is all but impossible because every GM thinks better safe than Sori.
10. Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants; signed through 2013, owed $33 million: For six years the poster child for too much money and too little production, Zito's deal mercifully concludes after next season – although the Giants must buy out a 2014 option for $7 million. At 8-8 with a 4.27 ERA this is one of his best seasons with the Giants, and he could surpass his high of 11 wins. Zito is untradeable; he couldn't even make the World Series roster in 2010.
11. Jason Bay, New York Mets; signed through 2013, owed $24 million; Bay has been a huge disappointment. His power numbers are down in part because of vast Citi Field, but that's no excuse for a batting average and on-base percentage that have fallen through the floor. The only reason he isn't higher on this list is that his contract expires after next season and the Mets need pay only a $3 million buyout to rid themselves of Bay completely.
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