Bargains and busts

In the spirit of Roger Clemens signing his one-year, $22 million deal, it seemed timely to put together teams of overpaid and underpaid players for 2006.

While Clemens doesn't appear on either of these lists – his $12-plus million prorated amount seems appropriate for his stature, ability to draw fans and performance last season, plus we're basing the ratings on performance thus far – some interesting names do.

All totaled, the overpaid team of nine position players, a designated hitter and nine pitchers will make $179.6 million this season. The underpaid team will make $36.5 million – and that includes one (deserved) $14 million contract.


C: Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox, $10 million – Such a proclamation might have been heresy in past years, and the Red Sox won't try to jettison their captain anytime soon. Still, he's got an on base-plus-slugging percentage of .548 at Fenway Park, has thrown out less than a third of attempted basestealers and, worst of all, is 1-for-18 against the Yankees this season.

1B: Richie Sexson, Seattle Mariners, $13 million – The folks at Baseball Prospectus compute a metric called Value Over Replacement Player. In essence, it measures how many runs a player contributes more than a replacement-level player at his position. Sexson's VORP is minus-9.5, meaning a replacement player is worth almost 10 runs more than Sexson. The Mariners' new slogan: $50 million contracts for replacement players!

2B: Marcus Giles, Atlanta Braves, $3.85 million – Tough call between Giles and Cleveland's Ronnie Belliard ($4 million). Neither can crack an OPS of .700. Belliard stays off the team with better range in the field.

SS: Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers, $8.72 million – He's turning into a butcher (11 errors), hitting feebly (slugging percentage: .335) and can't steal bases like he used to. Doesn't sound like an ideal leadoff hitter. The worst part is, another $31.28 million remains on the final two years of his contract. Maybe he should be the one switching positions when Cesar Izturis returns.

3B: Adrian Beltre, Seattle, $12.9 million – Did the Mariners' ground crew sprinkle talent-loss dust down the baselines? Beltre's .594 OPS is the sixth-worst among everyday players and last, by a long shot, in his third-base brethren. Hey, at least he has nine stolen bases!

OF: Jim Edmonds, St. Louis Cardinals, $12.07 million – What Albert Pujols has done this season looks even more amazing considering Edmonds has been protecting him. Edmonds' decline has steepened the last two years – 42 homers to 29 last year to only five thus far – and he's hitting the overpaid exacta of an aging player in the final year of a long-term deal with heaps of money shoved toward the end.

OF: Johnny Damon, New York Yankees, $13 million – To steal Damon from Boston, the Yankees knew they needed to pay above market value. Compounding that is Damon's gradual regression. He's striking out at a significantly higher clip (his career average is one every 8.7 at-bats, and this year he's once every 6.1). His OPS and runs are down from the last two years. His next good throw will come in an over-40 softball league. Might as well go after Gary Matthews Jr. and get the same for $11 million less.

OF: Juan Pierre, Chicago Cubs, $5.75 million – Could the immortal Enzo Hernandez be in danger? In 1971, Hernandez had 12 RBIs in 549 at-bats. Pierre has four in 209 at-bats. Difference is, Hernandez was a 22-year-old rookie, and Pierre, in his seventh season, is 28. The saddest part: Someone is going to pay Pierre a lot more than $5.75 million per season on the free-agent market this offseason.

DH: Mike Sweeney, Kansas City Royals, $11 million – More often than not, it seems, Sweeney is on the disabled list. This time his back is flaring up. And maybe that's good for the Royals. Even though Sweeney eats up nearly one-quarter of their payroll, he had only two home runs and six RBIs in his 68 at-bats before the inevitable injury. The Sweeney albatross runs through 2007.

SP: Andy Pettitte, Houston Astros, $16.43 million – After a tremendous 2005 – for stretches, Pettitte was the National League's best pitcher – he has turned into a sieve for runs. Pettitte has allowed 35 extra-base hits – tied with Brad Radke and Jon Garland for the most in baseball.

SP: Brad Radke, Minnesota Twins, $9 million – Everything is wrong with Radke. He has given up 94 hits in 61 2/3 innings. His ERA is over 7. The 1.005 OPS against him ranks last in baseball. And he has already walked 17 batters in the first two months of the season after walking 23 all last season.

SP: Randy Johnson, New York Yankees, $15.66 million – Home runs off Johnson were one time cause for celebration. Now they're no less common than a George Steinbrenner rant: The Big Ordinary has given up 11 this season. Johnson has yielded 12 stolen bases, too, more than anyone except Tim Wakefield, Freddy Garcia and Chris Young.

SP: Jeff Weaver, Los Angeles Angels, $8.33 million – So, is it a) insulting that your rotation spot is going to your younger brother because, well, he's your younger brother or b) acceptable because at least the money's staying in the family? Either way, with how Weaver has pitched this season (opponents hitting .306 against him), he'll probably cede his job to little bro Jered when Bartolo Colon soon returns from the DL.

SP: Chan Ho Park, San Diego Padres, $15.33 million – Park, the Patron Saint of the Overpaid, hasn't been terrible compared to past seasons. His ERA is 4.66. He threw a two-hit shutout against the Cubs. But he's still Chan Ho Park. And he's still paid more than $15 million. And he's merely keeping this seat warm for A.J. Burnett, who, at $2.2 million this season, didn't qualify but surely will soon.

RP: Jason Isringhausen, St. Louis, $8.75 million – Yes, he leads the National League in saves, so perhaps this is nitpicky. But Isringhausen has allowed 33 baserunners in just over 20 innings, including 18 walks. Here's nominating Isringhausen for the title of likeliest to teeter, load the bases with no outs and cause a stadium-wide coronary before working out of the jam. Eventually, that style comes back and bites.

RP: Francisco Cordero, Texas Rangers, $4.13 million – So far this season, Cordero has blown seven saves, lost his job as Rangers closer and imploded in his new setup rule. And still, somehow, he has the second-most wins among relievers with four. Baseball's funny like that.

RP: Eddie Guardado, Seattle, $6.25 million – So far this season, Guardado has given up Pablo Ozuna's first big-league home run after 333 at-bats and pitched with a torn rotator cuff. To add insult to injury, he lost the Mariners closer job to a Putz (J.J.). Baseball's really funny like that.

RP: Kyle Farnsworth, New York Yankees, $5.42 million – While he's striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings, Farnsworth is allowing 14.25 baserunners per nine. Understand why Yankees manager Joe Torre is working Scott Proctor to the point of exhaustion?


C: Ramon Hernandez, Baltimore Orioles, $4 million – Hernandez leads catchers with eight home runs, 39 RBIs and is the only one in the major leagues throwing out more than 50 percent of attempted basestealers (19 of 34). One major downside: Baltimore's ERA when he's catching is 5.73, though that's due mostly to the Orioles' porous pitching. Honorable mention to Joe Mauer, who, at $400,000, is hitting .359 and has caught 11 of 24 runners.

1B: Albert Pujols, St. Louis, $14 million – He'd be underpaid if he made $25 million. Though for a real bargain, the one-year, $6 million deal the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Nomar Garciaparra (hitting .360 with 36 RBIs in 136 at bats) keeps looking better.

2B: Jose Lopez, Seattle, $335,000 – While the little-known Lopez doesn't walk (seven compared to 220 at-bats) he does hit. His 42 RBIs are 11 more than the next-best second baseman, Philadelphia's Chase Utley. At $500,000, he's also affordable.

SS: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, $327,000 – At the beginning of spring training, the Marlins hoped Ramirez would distinguish himself enough to win the starting job. Now, he's fifth in baseball with 44 runs, seventh with 16 stolen bases and is batting over .300 and slugging over .450 – and Ramirez doesn't turn 23 until December.

3B: Miguel Cabrera, Florida, $472,000 – Leaned upon to contribute more with the dismantling of the Marlins, Cabrera has done so by doing less. He has been marvelously patient, carrying nearly a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio after striking out nearly twice as often last season. For some reason, he's seeing enough pitches to hit .354 and has driven in 43 of Marlins' 233 runs.

OF: Jason Bay, Pittsburgh Pirates, $1 million – A nine-homers-in-eight-game binge lifted Bay into top 10 in the NL in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. He already was there in walks and on-base percentage.

OF: Nick Swisher, Oakland Athletics, $335,000 – The prototypical "Moneyball" player, Swisher should walk about 100 times after 55 last year. He could hit 35 or 40 home runs after 21 last year. Now he needs to invigorate a struggling A's team, something he didn't do last year.

OF: Alex Rios, Toronto Blue Jays, $354,000 – Sometimes promise takes a few years to show itself. Last year, Rios was nothing more than a skinny kid learning to play. Now he leads the AL in hitting, ranks second in slugging and, with Vernon Wells ($4.47 million, .994 OPS), forms two-thirds of a dynamite – and cheap – outfield

DH: Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians, $2.7 million – For less than half the price of David Ortiz (a bargain, too, at $6.5 million), the Indians have gotten 14 home runs, one of baseball's most patient eyes and 30 RBI in 51 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Making him even more dangerous: He clobbers left-handed pitching.

SP: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks, $2.5 million – The best pitcher in baseball this season carries 25 consecutive shutout innings. Far from Orel Hershiser's record of 59 straight scoreless, sure, but nonetheless impressive because of its efficiency. Webb averages 3.38 pitches per plate appearance, a testament to his control, and his 4.2-to-1 groundball-to-flyball ratio is tops among starters.

SP: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, $980,000 – The rookie, making almost $1 million because he signed a major-league contract out of Old Dominion, throws 100 mph. He stays strong as the game goes on – hitters' OPS against Verlander on his 76th through 90th pitches is .361, and it's a not-too-bad .786 on pitches 91-105. The best part: at 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA, he's money on the road.

SP: Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, $371,700 – Kazmir is poison against left-handed hitters (.212 batting average) and does even more damage at Tropicana Field, where he's 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA and a 35-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Warning: When he gets to three-ball counts, he walks the hitter more than half the time.

SP: Chris Capuano, Milwaukee Brwers, $450,000 – Ignore his start Wednesday and instead look at Capuano's ability to last six strong innings. He's got 11 quality starts this season, second to Mike Mussina, whose numbers Capuano's parallel.

SP: Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds, $3 million – Signed for less than market value to stay in Boston, they trade him, he blows up. Top 10 in every category, including wins, ERA, Ks and IP. Epitome of a bargain.

RP: Takashi Saito, Los Angeles Dodgers, $500,000 – All of the standard numbers are excellent for the 36-year-old rookie from Japan: less than one baserunner per inning, more than one strikeout and an ERA at 2.42. None of them are a surprise with Saito's ability to close down hitters: When he's got two strikes, opponents are 5 for 54 (.092).

RP: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox, $335,400 – Papelbon has been the most unhittable pitcher in baseball this season, and that's no exaggeration. His .340 OPS against is the best for a pitcher with 10 or more appearances. He's 19 for 19 in saves. And he's allowed just one run in 27 innings.

RP: Tom Gordon, Philadelphia Phillies, $4.5 million – The fine wine of the underpaids. Gordon's peak could come this season, his 19th as a professional, even better than 1998, when he saved 46 for Boston. Gordon can relish his 15 saves and almost 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio knowing that he wasn't terribly sought-after this offseason.

RP: Todd Coffey, Cincinnati, $339,000 – Heir to Reds closing job, which he could take over any day now, Coffey employs a slider that flummoxes right-handed hitters. Need proof? In 30 innings this season, Coffey has allowed just one home run. And after striking out 26 in 58 innings last season, he's got 25 in 30 innings this year.