The second worst contract in baseball history

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An Informed Opinion of Yu Darvish

Albert Pujols signed the second worst contract in baseball history last week, and he did it all without meeting with a team he thought was based in Los Angeles.

OK. OK. Perhaps I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but bear with me. Right now, Alex Rodriguez‘s 10-year, $275-million contract, signed when he was heading into his age 32 season, is generally considered to be one of the worst in baseball history. Four years into the deal, A-Rod has struggled to stay healthy, averaging just 124 games per season, while hitting .284/.375/.521. It’s an impressive slash line, but that is a far cry from the .306/.389/.578 line he put up beforehand.

To make matters worse, as we know, A-Rod’s world was rocked by scandal a few months after signing the deal when revelation of past steroid use became public. All of a sudden, the historic milestone clauses that could push A-Rod’s contract value over the $300 million mark became onerous. A-Rod gets paid no matter what, but a tainted home run race won’t draw as much money to the Yanks’ coffers as it otherwise would have.

A-Rod, who turned 36 this past July, is under contract for six more years and will earn another $143 million from the Yanks. It’s highly doubtful he’ll be worth it even if he can stay healthy enough to regain some semblance of his All Star production levels. Now, the Yanks could do worse than have A-Rod under contract for a while, but they were bidding against themselves in the winter of 2007 when A-Rod opted out. He walked away richer, and even before the ink dried on that contract, we knew a contract covering A-Rod’s age 32-41 seasons would not look pretty.

Enter the Angels. Or the Marlins. Or even the Cardinals. Albert Pujols is a great baseball player. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer with a career 1.037 OPS, 445 home runs, three MVP awards and two World Series rings. He’s also going to be 32 when the 2012 season opens and just signed a contract for $254 million covering his age 32-41 seasons. With an injury-plagued past, he’s coming off a year in which he hit only .299/.366/.541. For him, that’s a down year, and at his age, it’s not unreasonable to expect a slow and steady decline.

Of course, just like A-Rod in decline is still a very good player, so too is Albert Pujols. He makes the offensively-challenged Angels instantly better in the short term. In the long term, I’m glad the Yanks haven’t just forked over $254 million in guaranteed dollars to a first baseman. At least A-Rod played a premium position.

So all of these dollars got me thinking: If A-Rod’s deal is generally considered one of the worst in baseball, can’t we call Pujols’ contract the second worst? He’s a bit better offensively than A-Rod was at the same point in his career, but he plays an easier position. He’s signed for the same time period and is likely getting paid by the Angels for what he’s already done in his career — for another team, to boot — than what he will do going forward.

But who cares? I’m looking forward to seeing the Angels sink $25 million in 37-year-old Albert Pujols in a few years. There’s a larger concern though. Baseball’s system is now set up to reward the past. With new CBA, draft pick compensation is going to be tightly controlled, and the international free agency system will be limited as well. Free agency, then, will reign supreme, and teams will have to overpay for top talent. The Yanks are seeing that now as pitchers who aren’t rotation aces are getting paid as such, and teams are demanding the stars and the moon in trades for younger arms.

So the Yanks will spend cautiously and, some might say, wisely as free agent dollars explode. That’s the system the owners and players association have crafted to protect, on the one hand, current MLBPA members and, on the other, smaller market teams. At least the Yanks aren’t alone in signing a great player to an absurd contract though. For the next ten years, they have company.

It's official, Freddy Garcia's back
An Informed Opinion of Yu Darvish
  • Foghorn Leghorn

    I hope Arod pulls a McGwire and faxes in his resignation for the final years of this deal. For the love of God, he’s made enough money.

    • Plank

      I hope the Steinbrenners fax in their resignations. For the love of God, they’ve made enough money.

    • Bryan

      Thanks Ben for affirming my theories from a couple of months ago.

  • Thomas Cassidy

    Pujols will be done in four years. He gets worse every year for what, four years now?

    Not to mention they just started HGH testing.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Pujols will be around for 10 more years. He won’t walk away from a cent of that contract.

      • Thomas Cassidy

        Of course. But he’s going to be done producing in four. He won’t even hit 700 home runs like everyone thinks. He’ll average 22 a year.

        • FIPster Doofus

          I misinterpreted your prior comment. Sorry about that.

  • Matt DiBari

    If Pujols helps the Angels win three world titles in the next five years, does it really matter?

    Sometimes sacrificing the present for the future is just as bad as sacrificing the future for the present.

    The real issue is if he’s older than advertised.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Over/under on Angels’ World Series titles over the next five years: 1.5.

      I probably take the under.

      • FIPster Doofus

        They won’t win any.

        • Matt DiBari

          I don’t know if they will either, but I can’t really fault a team for taking the plunge. The risk is high, but so is the reward.

      • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

        Over/under on Angels’ World Series titles playoff appearances over the next five years: 1.5.

        I probably take the under.

        • Brian S.

          I disagree

      • Jesse

        Under, but I do see them winning one.

        • Tom Zig

          Weaver, Haren, Wilson, Santana is a pretty good 1-4. That’s a hell of a lot better of a rotation than what the 2009 Yankees had.

          They don’t have the offense to win any slug fests, but they can sure outpitch many other teams 1-4.

          • Ted Nelson

            They certainly can win… But the Phillies also had a great rotation, added Pence to Howard and lost. Red Sox had a great roster and missed the playoffs altogether.

            I think the Angels are contenders, but no more so than a handful of other teams at this point.

          • jsbrendog

            they’re trying to shop santana. what is scary is they could easily trade trumbo and someone to cubs for garza.

            • Ted Nelson

              Maybe if someone is Mike Trout. You really think Epstein wants Trumbo more than Garza? Trumbo is a league average hitter at the most demanding offensive position in the game.

      • CANO FAN #1


      • MannyGeee

        Still a pretty meh team offensively behind Pujols you know.

        I take the under too. I think they are at best a push for their own division

  • jim p

    So this all means the farm system becomes the prime focus. It means keeping promising arms and bats (especially arms) to fill the Major League roster, and to do trades. Once in a blue moon you pay top dollar for a genuine top player. But preferably not.

    • whozat

      But they simultaneously made it harder to get high end talent into your farm system. The only way to get better players in the draft is to be worse at baseball so you get a higher draft position.

      I guess it comes down to who can figure out how to increase the probability of success for the players they get on the farm. It’s not going to be about stockpiling talent, it’ll be about developing the talent you get — and keeping guys healthy, and preventing them from flaming out.

      • Ted Nelson

        It’s still a lot about finding talent. Finding better values. Finding hidden talent other teams are undervaluing. That was already part of Opp’s MO.

        They didn’t make it harder for every team to get amateurs. They made it easier for the bad teams. It was already easier for the bad teams anyway. Just a matter of degree. This is part of the trade off for being allowed to run an anti-competitive business. If they changed the business model of MLB, they wouldn’t have to work to make the game more competitive. Creative distraction would make the teams that survived better run. Instead they protect their 30 little monopolies.

        • Ted Nelson

          *creative destruction

  • CP

    a tainted home run race won’t draw as much money to the Yanks’ coffers as it otherwise would have.

    The taint of steroids didn’t seem to have much impact when Bonds was breaking the record, and that was more or less current allegations. With ARod, the test will be about 13 or so years past and made public 7 or so years ago when he’s approaching the record.

  • Ted Nelson

    The causal relationship you set up between the new CBA and free agent salaries seems extremely weak. Non-Aces have gotten Ace contracts in free agency for years. If you don’t believe AJ, Lowe, or Lackey… ask Neagle. Wilson and Buehrle’s deals actually seem pretty reasonable. EJax hasn’t gotten paid yet.

    Amateurs acquires under this CBA are a goo 5 or 6 years away. Are teams really going to think “man we couldn’t sign that 16 year old for $500k… let’s sign that 32 year old for $50 mill unstead

  • CJ

    ARod and Pujols were signed as baseball players plus a brand premium. Moreno made his money in marketing and investments, angels now have a tv network in the LA market while the dodgers ownership is in a messy transition. Angels and the yanks are aware that triple slashes will decline as they approach 40. It is a business deal as much as baseball. For the next 5 years the angels are a direct threat to the Yankees making the postseason. If prince goes to Texas or toronto the yanks will struggle.

    • Karl Krawfid

      Must be forgetting the extra wild card.

      Baseball is becoming football my friend.

  • a.hinds

    its a horrible on the field deal but is it going to make the angels money or cost the angels money. if it makes them money thats the most important thing.

    • Rich in NJ

      When owners substitute their judgment for that of their baseball people, bad things often happen.

      That said, I suspect, as you alluded to, that it’s possible that A-Rod’s contract could turn out to be more cost-effective than, for example, Burnett’s (or similarly, Pujols’ contract more cost-effective than Vernon Wells’), if you were able to factor in the increased revenue that accrues to the Yankees’ from ticket sales, higher ratings on YES, merchandise sales, etc. that flow from A-Rod’s presence, in addition to the disparate, respective on the field production.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yeah, I think at this extreme end of the spectrum it’s a little different.

        Also an argument he can be a relative bargain the first 4 or 5 year if he averages 7-10 WAR, making up for being overpaid in the later stages. It hasn’t necessarily worked out with A-Rod, but he’s still giving you 4 fWAR at least (playing a much more premium position helps him vs. Pujols too), while guys like Burnett, Bay, Werth are giving you like 1 or 2 fWAR or whatever.

        You could just sign no big FA and might be better off, but this doesn’t look that crazy to me next to Bay, Werth, Crawford, Dunn, Reyes, etc. For whatever reason it seems to be the market price. At least 3 teams were reportedly in that neighborhood and maybe some other big spenders would have been too if their rosters looked different.

  • Juke Early

    The worst part of Pujols contract is the Yankees will never figure out how to contain his bat — just like other ancient jags who plague them i.e. Doofus Ortiz & Vlad the Compiler.

  • Curtis

    Arod’s contract >>>> Ryan Howard’s contract

    • gc

      Good point.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    In hindsight if we had let Arod go in 07 and got Miguel Cabrera things would have changed for the Yankees. We may have never acquired Teix and the whole complexion of the team would have been different. Who knows if we would have won the 09 WS?. Pujols’ contract may look bad but I am sure the FO of the Angels knows that. They already draw over 3M a year so it is about trying to win in the next 3-4 years. This does not mean that they will win because there are at least 5 teams that are just as good or better in the AL. My bet is that they get into the postseason the next 2-3 years but do not win a WS.

  • Jim

    Jayson Werth will be 36,37 and 38 during these years to finish his deal.

    15:$21M, 16:$21M, 17:$21M

    His slash line THIS year was .232/.330/.389

    Jason Werth’s contract is worse than A-Rod’s and Pujols’s.

    • jjyank

      I think I might agree. Just looking at the contract alone, A-Rod’s is probably the worst. But when you consider the other half of that, the player, I’m not so sure. He’s getting old, sure, but I believe that A-Rod is capable of having a few more good seasons. Maybe not what he was doing years ago, but I don’t think he’ll completely flop from here on out. I’d rather pay more for a good player than pay a little less for one that puts up the numbers that Jayson Werth or Ryan Howard did last year.

      • MannyGeee

        Correct, A-Rod (and Pujols as well) is going to still be ‘good’ but getting paid like he’s great.

        Werth (and Crawford, by the way) is getting paid like they’re ‘very good’ and was anything but last season… and has 6 years to go.

        • jjyank

          I agree. My point is that I’d rather have a “good” player getting paid like a “great” one rather than a “bad” player being paid like “good” player. Werth, Crawford, and Howard are not necessarily “bad” players, but they all had seasons I would consider worse than A-Rod’s. Howard is not exactly old yet, and he at least plays a position that ages well. Crawford had an awful year and plays a game that does not age well (speed and defense). It might be too early to tell, but taking this into consideration, I would rather have A-Rod’s contract than Werth or Crawford (and maybe Howard too).


    “To make matters worse, as we know, A-Rod’s world was rocked by scandal a few months after signing the deal when revelation of past steroid use became public.”

    Incorrect. He signed the contract Fall ’07. The steroid revelations came in Spring ’09.

    • jjyank

      The point still stands. A-Rod was only 1 season into his contract when the steroid thing came up.

  • Mantle28

    I guess this is on topic, if baseball were to have an amnesty clause where each team could get rid of one player without paying the contract, like basketball has, who would you do it to?

    I can’t see my self getting rid of Arod. I guess Burnett would be my choice.

    • Bubba

      In basketball. You still have to pay the contract. It just doesn’t count for cap or tax purposes.

      • MannyGeee

        which would make Burnett the likely choice. Again, Alex will never play ‘$30M Baseball’ again. But he still is a very nice player when healthy. Burnett has not played ‘$16.5M Baseball’ yet and its not likely he will.

  • ChooChoo

    Certainly miniscule in comparison, but the Pedro Feliciano contract from last year is likely to produce not even one pitch thrown for millions of dollars. A total toilet flush

    • Monteroisdinero

      But there was a ST appearance! I was there. Priceless.

    • Ted Nelson

      That would be true of any player who got hurt for the length of their contract.

  • UncleArgyle

    Um how about Carl Crawford? In the first year of a 7/142 contract he literally cost the Red Sox a trip to the post season because of his poor play. Now THATS a bad contract.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

      I do think he’ll bounce back somewhat though not to his production of two years ago. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if he more or less repeats what he did last year, at which point his deal will almost definitely be the worst in the game. Sort of a bake of bt him and Werth.

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

        *bake off

    • josh

      Agree this is the worst contract – they paid top dollar for a guy whose career OPS is .773 (was slightly higher prior to last year) and whose game is built on speed (which will undoubtedly decline as he ages after spending 9 years on turf) and defense (negated by playing 1/2 his games in Fenway). Just awful – as smart as Theo is believed to be, he put up some colossally bad contracts in his time in Boston.

  • Chris

    The new CBA only helps the big market teams. Its a total over reaction by MLB and small market owners. The last thing small teams wanted was the Yankees spending wisely. Now they aren’t just throwing their money around at the top of the MLB scale, now they are going to look at the minors more than ever before. I always believed that the small market teams had an advantage over the Yankees in terms of scouting and player development simply because those spots on the roster aren’t open for players in NY so why spend tons on development? Sure a guy like Cano or Wang might come through but teams like Tampa Bay do it almost all from within. Now that the Yanks have to focus more on the minors, AND the price of free agents is going up and up because of the new CBA…wow, things just got a whole lot harder for the Pirates of the world…

    • Ted Nelson

      How does the new CBA push up the price of free agents?

  • Willy

    The contract really isn’t that bad, you have to remember this:

    If MLB continues to grow at its 2003-2010 rate (~7%), its revenue will have doubled by the time Pujols’s contract ends.

    (From J.C. Bradbury’s Twitter)