Bad contracts can sneak up on a team. One day a team has a star player locked up for the next 10 years, the next day it’s the iceberg to the team’s Titanic.
Normally, these good-at-first-glance deals happen via the open bidding process that is free agency.
This is the time when multimillionaire owners start bidding against each other for players’ future services. Unfortunately the players are usually already 30 years old and nearing the end of their prime.
But the temptation to get a few more years of prime production outweigh the major risk involved with paying someone hundreds of millions of dollars for past results.
With that in mind, here are the worst 10 contracts in baseball today:
10. José Reyes, Colorado Rockies: 2 years, $48 million left
Like most players whose offensive and defensive production is mainly derived from their speed, Reyes has not aged well. The 32-year-old may need to shift away from shortstop. Meanwhile, the days of his leading the league in steals and/or triples are long gone.
9. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies: 1 year, $35 million left
This one was probably the most puzzling extension ever signed. In 2010, Howard had two years left before he could hit free agency, but the Phillies couldn’t wait to lock up their overweight first baseman—whose production was already in decline—so they signed him to a five-year, $125 million extension. Big mistake. Through four years of that deal—which started with a torn Achilles injury—the 36-year-old has hit a total of 71 home runs while striking out 522 times and hitting just .232. Oh, and he’s a liability in the field.
8. Shin Soo-Choo, Texas Rangers: 5 years, $102 million left
Choo rebounded in 2015 from a horrible 2014 season by hitting .276/.375/.463 (average/on-base/slugging) with 22 home runs in 149 games. Even so, at 33 the prospect of him continually repeating those numbers is remote, and there’s still a lot of time and money left on this deal.
7. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers: 2 years, $56 million left
The Angels are actually on the hook for most of this deal ($52 million), in what will go down as one of the worst free agent deals ever at five years and $125 million. Hamilton, 34, hit just .253/.291/.441 (average/on-base/slugging) last year with 8 home runs in 50 games for Texas. That was after he hit .255/.316/.426 in two seasons with Los Angeles.
6. Robinson Canó, Seattle Mariners: 8 years, $192 million left
Canó rebounded from a terrible first half of 2015 to hit .331/.387/.540 after the All-Star break. He plays a premium position (second base) and plays it well—right now, anyway. Canó is 33, though, and is not likely to keep this up for the length of the deal. Eventually he’s going to have to be moved away from second, and his value will free-fall while his yearly salary of $24 million stays the same.
5. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: 8 years, $248 million left
Cabrera will go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time, but this contract has him getting paid more than $30 million a season through age 40—and he only played in 119 games last year due to injuries. Yes, he’s currently the best hitter in the game, but so was A-Rod when he re-signed with the Yankees for $252 million over 10 years back in 2007. Only Barry Bonds was still in his prime at such an advanced age (40) as what this contract pays him through, and there were many questions about how he achieved that.
4. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers: 5 years, $120 million
The Rangers are only on the hook for $90 of the $120 million owed to the soon-to-be 32-year-old Fielder, but overweight DHs don’t tend to age well. Remember Ryan Howard anyone? That said, Fielder would be higher up on this list if he hadn’t had a bounce-back season last year when he hit 23 home runs to go along with a .305 average.
3. Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox: 4 years, $75 million left
Sandoval—fresh off signing a $95 million deal with Boston last season—proceeded to hit a career-worst .245 last season with a .366 slugging percentage, also a career low. Although he’s a relatively young 29 years old, he’s instilling little confidence that he’s going to rebound given his overweight body. Meanwhile, his defense at third base has seen better days.
2. Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres: 4 years, $86 million left
Even though the Dodgers are paying the Padres $14 million of the remaining $86 million over the next four years for taking on Kemp, this is still looking like a real bad deal for San Diego. Kemp was worth just 0.6 WAR (wins above replacement) in 154 games last season, and at age 31 that’s not likely going to get better now.
1. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: 6 years, $165 million left
It’s sad to see Pujols here. He’s certainly not one of the worst players in the game, but unless he’s putting up the numbers he did in St. Louis during 2001–11 when he won three MVPs, he’s not worth this money, and Pujols had approached that previous production in Los Angeles. Pujols did hit 40 home runs last year, but his .244 average was a far cry from his .328 career average as a Cardinal, and at age 36 it’s not likely to improve.