Just to get the semantics out of the way: No baseball player is truly underpaid when compared to nurses, teachers and others who better our lives for peanuts.
So, please, take the following compilations – Major League Baseball's All-Overpaid and All-Underpaid teams – in the proper context of evaluating players against the market and their peers.
There is a slight change, too, from last year's All-Underpaid team: It seems rather unfair to list young players whose salaries are automatically low because they have yet to hit arbitration. It's obvious that Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and shortstop J.J. Hardy, first and second in the National League in home runs, are bargains at $415,000 and $400,000, respectively.
Yet they don't represent the best contracts out there because Milwaukee, in essence, didn't have to negotiate them. The following deals, on the other hand, took hours upon hours to conceive.
Time well spent in the case of the eight players, one designated hitter and nine pitchers on the All-Underpaid team, who make a combined $47.65 million.
Too much money spent – $178.17 million, to be exact – on the following 18 players.
C: Jason Kendall, Oakland, $13.43 million – Might as well start with the worst contract in all of baseball. How Kendall parlayed 55 home runs and decent peripherals into a six-year, $60 million deal from Pittsburgh before the 2002 season is mystifying. Even though the Pirates are paying $5.5 million of Kendall's salary, Oakland is shoveling nearly $8 million toward a .182 hitter with two extra-base hits (both doubles) in 165 at-bats.
1B: Carlos Delgado, New York Mets, $14.5 million – Yes, he's heating up. Two home runs Saturday and Tuesday give him seven this season. And yet even with Delgado's surge, his slugging percentage is under .400 and his on-base percentage hovering around .300. This could just as easily have been Seattle's Richie Sexson, who is hitting .199, getting on base less than 30 percent of the time and making $15.5 million.
2B: Craig Biggio, Houston, $5.15 million – His march to 3,000 hits has turned into a waterless crawl across the Gobi. Biggio is hitting .207 in May, including one hit in his last 16 at-bats. In the Baseball Prospectus metric Fielding Runs Above Average, which measures players defensively against their peers, Biggio is minus-5, among the worst at his position in the game. Biggio was a great player. Biggio will be a Hall of Famer. Right now, Biggio isn't worth much at all.
SS: Julio Lugo, Boston, $8.25 million – To bat No. 1 in the powerful Red Sox lineup – the one that ranks third in the major leagues in scoring – and have only 26 runs through 48 games is embarrassing. Lugo can run (15 stolen bases) and field (though not as well as the man he replaced, Alex Gonzalez), but his inability to get on base has prevented the Red Sox from dominating even more than they already have.
3B: Scott Rolen, St. Louis, $12.31 million – Take away Rolen's 5-for-6 game April 22 and he's hitting .207 with one home run and 16 RBIs. A horrible skid at the end of April bled into May, and Rolen really hasn't recovered, as his .665 OPS (on-base-plus slugging) ranks 152nd of 179 players that qualify.
OF: Garret Anderson, Los Angeles Angels, $11.6 million – Years of wear and tear have rendered Anderson punchless. Never one to draw a walk, Anderson has done just that this year: taken a single walk among 95 at-bats, as large a sign as any of his strain to hit. He hasn't done that, either, with only one home run. The saddest part: All of his at-bats this year have come from the Angels' cleanup spot.
OF: Bobby Abreu, New York Yankees, $15 million – Finally, the Abreu envisioned by Tampa Bay when it traded him for Kevin Stocker shows up. In nearly 200 at-bats, Abreu has eight extra-base hits. After eight consecutive seasons drawing 100-plus walks, he'll be lucky if he gets to 75 this year. To put it succinctly: Abreu's Value Over Replacement Player is minus-4.2, which means that a complete scrub would have been of more value to the Yankees thus far.
OF: J.D. Drew, Boston, $14.4 million – And to think, the Red Sox are on the hook for four more years of this. Drew's batting average has vacillated between awful and abysmal, he left any semblance of power back in Los Angeles and, if not for the Red Sox's dominance, he'd be hearing boos all the way from Maine.
DH: Shea Hillenbrand, Los Angeles Angels, $6 million – Complete and utter dead weight, Hillenbrand hasn't hit, is embarrassing in the field and seems contractually obligated not to take a walk. There are higher-paid designated hitters performing poorly, but no one is as bad as Hillenbrand.
SP: Carl Pavano, New York Yankees, $10 million – Captain Carl earned stewardship of this illustrious bunch by winning a total of five games over the life of his four-year, $39.5 million deal. He'll soon undergo Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out until at least the middle of next season and allow him to attend his induction into the Bad Contract Hall of Fame, where he'll be joined by Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park.
SP: Barry Zito, San Francisco, $10 million – Next year it's $14.5 million. Then three years at $18.5 million. And then $19 million. And finally $20 million. We might as well save a seat, because 30 walks and 32 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings does not portend good things.
SP: Matt Clement, Boston, $9.5 million – Like Pavano, only he pitched for a year and a half. Most notable for having been tagged with the nickname "HazMatt." About as likely to wear a Red Sox uniform again as Ted Williams.
SP: Jeff Weaver, Seattle, $8.33 million – Welcome back! Weaver is the lone returnee from last year's team. Somehow he hoodwinked the Mariners into paying him the same salary the Angels wasted last year before Weaver somehow turned into a postseason savior for St. Louis. Well, the carriage is a pumpkin again, and Weaver is 0-6 with a 14.32 earned-run average and on the disabled list for the first time in his nine-year career.
SP: Mike Hampton, Atlanta, $14.5 million – Quite a year for Hampton. After missing 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, he hurt his oblique during spring training. Then, during a rehabilitation session, he tore the flexor tendon in his left elbow and will miss the rest of this year. Added bonus: His salary jumps to $15 million next year, and the Braves will have to spend another $6 million in '09 to buy him out of a $20 million option. Mr. Hampton, we'll keep your seat warm, too.
RP: Armando Benitez, Florida, $9.7 million – Benitez blew a game last week. He gave up two runs in a 5-3 loss. Afterward, he said: "I'm doing my job." Just to repeat, he makes $9.7 million.
RP: Danys Baez, Baltimore $5.67 million – Part of the Orioles' effort to rebuild their bullpen, Baez has been relegated to mop-up duty after giving up runs in six of his last seven outings. With an 0-4 record and 6.35 ERA, Baez looks more like a Baltimore reliever, circa '06.
RP: B.J. Ryan, Toronto, $7 million – Ryan was a bargain. Then he blew out his left elbow. Now he's not.
C: Mike Redmond, Minnesota, $950,000 – Filling in for the injured Joe Mauer, Redmond has hit well (a major-league-leading .412 with two strikes) and been excellent behind the plate (catching 47 percent of attempted stolen bases). When Mauer does return, Redmond will resume his part-time duties as catcher and DH, looking to hit over .300 for the third consecutive year and seventh time in 10 seasons.
1B: Carlos Peña, Tampa Bay, $800,000 – Few remember that Peña hit 27 home runs with Detroit in 2004. He lost his job midway through the next season to Chris Shelton and got only 33 at-bats last year with the Red Sox. An afterthought headed into the spring, Peña is tied for sixth in the American League with 10 home runs and is behind only Jack Cust and Alex Rodriguez in at-bats per home run.
2B: Placido Polanco, Detroit, $4.6 million – Among players with at least 175 plate appearances, Polanco's eight strikeouts are the fewest. The corollary is his alarmingly low walk rate, though when you're hitting .328, its consequences are not quite as drastic. Perhaps the most amazing number is Polanco's batting average when faced with an 0-2 count: .405.
SS: Jose Reyes, New York Mets, $2.88 million – OK, so maybe this is cheating a little. The Mets locked the 23-year-old Reyes up through all three of his arbitration years, plus his first free-agent season, at a closeout price of $23.25 million. (And they've got an $11 million option for 2011, too.) For that they get the most exciting player in the game, one who leads baseball with 28 stolen bases, has smacked 23 extra-base hits and sparkles in the field to boot.
3B: David Wright, New York Mets, $1.25 million – For these two deals alone Mets general manager Omar Minaya deserves a contract extension. Wright is actually still a pre-arbitration player, though he forfeited that for a six-year, $55 million that starts him off at a pittance this year. Following a miserable April, Wright has hammered eight home runs, slugged .615 and stolen seven bases in May. And he's just 24.
OF: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland, $916,667 – Same scenario for Sizemore, who snagged a six-year deal before he had two full years in the major leagues. Though his numbers tapered off in May, Sizemore still has a .400 on-base percentage, eight home runs and 16 stolen bases in Cleveland's leadoff spot. Eventually, he'll drop down to No. 3 in the lineup, and his RBIs will catch up to – if not exceed – his runs scored.
OF: Matt Holliday, Colorado, $4.4 million – There might not be a better pure hitter than the 27-year-old Holliday, who leads the major leagues with 71 hits and is third in the National League with a .341 batting average. He's third in RBIs, fourth in slugging percentage, fourth in OPS and seemingly impervious to the humidor.
OF: Aaron Rowand, Philadelphia, $4.35 million – Healthy again, Rowand is nearly duplicating the numbers of his career year in 2004. Already, in half as many plate appearances, Rowand has matched his 18 walks from last season. And with his .325 batting average and superlative defense in center field, he's making himself plenty of money as free agency looms following this year.
DH: Sammy Sosa, Texas, $500,000 – Uncle. There's been so much noise from people looking for Sammy to get some credit that it sounds more like Sousa than Sosa. He may be fake. He may be disingenuous. But the man is a bargain. Even if his on-base percentage stinks, Sosa's run production – 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 39 RBIs – makes up for it.
SP: Jake Peavy, San Diego, $4.75 million – Peavy would be a bargain at three times his salary. His 1.47 ERA is a quarter-run better than the next-best starter, his 85 strikeouts are third in the major leagues and his opponents' OPS is an unfathomable .476.
SP: Chris Young, San Diego, $750,000 – Perhaps the best trade of the decade brought Young, outfielder Terrmel Sledge and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez – who would have been just as good a choice as Carlos Peña – to the Padres for Akinori Otsuka and Adam Eaton. The 6-foot-10 Young, who spent his college career playing basketball at Princeton, is only getting better: Opponents are hitting just .214 against him.
SP: Tim Hudson and John Smoltz, Atlanta, $8.5 million and $8 million – Take your pick. Hudson's ERA is 2.79, Smoltz's 2.83. Hudson has allowed 84 baserunners in 77 1/3 innings. Smoltz, at 40, is averaging nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings. Both are cut-rate for established All-Stars.
SP: John Lackey, Los Angeles Angels, $5.3 million – The big kid who won Game 7 of the World Series at 23 years old has grown into the Angels' 28-year-old ace. He leads the AL with eight wins, ranks third with a 2.36 ERA and strikes out three batters for every one he walks.
SP: Dan Haren, Oakland, $2.25 million – The best pitcher in the AL this season, and it's not even close. His 1.70 ERA is a half-run better than the next best, teammate Chad Gaudin, who would have been the next starter on this team with a $400,000 salary. Haren has allowed just 49 hits in 74 1/3 innings, and his 10 quality starts (out of 11 total) are tied with Peavy and Smoltz for the most in baseball.
RP: Takashi Saito, Los Angeles Dodgers, $1 million – Welcome back! Unlike with Weaver, it's a privilege to join this team for the second consecutive season. After making $500,000 last season, striking out 107 in 78 1/3 innings and taking over the Dodgers' closer job, Saito has been even better this year: 22 innings, two walks, 26 strikeouts, a 1.64 ERA and 15 for 15 in save opportunities.
RP: Al Reyes, Tampa Bay, $750,000 – A scrap-heap pickup – he was signed to a minor-league deal the same day as Gary Glover and Jason Grabowski – Reyes won a job in the Devil Rays' bullpen and quickly proved himself their most competent reliever. Now, with bullpen help needed all over the game, Tampa Bay will have a nice trading chip come July, so long as Reyes can continue keeping hitters to a .141 batting average and striking out more than one an inning.
RP: J.J. Putz, Seattle, $2.7 million – So much for those possible arm troubles during spring training. Putz has allowed just 14 baserunners in 21 2/3 innings, struck out 20 and hasn't blown a save in 12 chances, the punctuation mark on a bullpen that features the underrated George Sherrill, Eric O'Flaherty and rookie Brandon Morrow.
RP: Ryan Franklin, St. Louis, $1 million – Franklin's career had spiraled after a positive steroid test when something happened on the way to the gutter. He has walked two batters in 19 2/3 innings, limited hitters to a .186 batting average, posted a 0.92 ERA and become so indispensable as a setup man that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa declined to move Franklin – for almost his entire career a starter – into the rotation despite an open spot.