Jayson Werth ranks as the #1 worst recent contract for a position player
"I thought you said we didn't have any high-priced talent."
"Forgot about Dorn 'cause he's only high-priced."
Twenty-two years after fictitious Indians manager Lou Brown turned the hard-hitting, glove-impaired infielder (sounds like #3 on my list below) into a playoff contributor, teams throughout Major League Baseball are stuck trying to make the best of bad situations (i.e. contracts). If the NBA labor dispute has taught us anything, it's that owners are sick of paying exorbitant, long-term salaries to players who don't deserve them (e.g. Eddy Curry, Jerome James, and just about everybody who played for the 2007-08 New York Knicks). Owners in MLB, however, have not been shy to open up their bank accounts to players who have not exactly rewarded their bosses' faith. Today, we take a look at the 5 worst contracts being paid to MLB position-players.
1) Alex Rios, White Sox CF
Salary: 2011- $12 mil, 2012- $12 mil, 2013- $12.5 mil, 2014- 12.5 mil,*2015- $13.5 mil
Toronto originally gave Rios this 7-year, $69.8 million contract before the 2008 season, and was content to allow the White Sox to pluck him off the waiver wire in 2009 in return for not having to sign his checks anymore. Despite rebounding from a shaky 2009 season with a solid 2010, Rios appears to have reverted to his underachieving ways. His 2011 numbers (.215 Avg, .580 OPS, 6 SBs) represent a huge drop-off from
2010 (.284 Avg, .791 OPS, 34 SBs), and Chicago will likely try to trade the talented outfielder if the opportunity should arise (they would probably have to eat a significant amount of money or take on a similarly bad contract). They might even be willing to allow the same type of waiver-wire departure that allowed them to acquire Rios from the Blue Jays in the first place. His salary for 2015 is a club option, one that will almost certainly be declined considering Rios will be 34 by then. Rios' 2010 season (along with a solid 3-year span from 2006-2008) indicates that he is capable of fulfilling the promise that Toronto saw in him, but his inconsistency makes his contract a tough one to swallow.
2) Chone Figgins, Mariners 3B
Salary: 2011- $9 mil, 2012- $9 mil, 2013- $8 mil, 2014- $9 mil vesting option
Figgins is currently mired in a 1-for-23 slump that accurately reflects his performance in the 2nd year of the 4-year, $36 million contract he signed with Seattle following the 2009 season. Figgins' pedestrian 2010 numbers (.259 Avg, .646 OPS, 64 runs scored) have taken a nosedive in 2011. The diminutive utility player is hitting .185 with an embarrassing .476 OPS which, at its current pace, would be the lowest OPS recorded by a third baseman since 1920. Figgins' inability to get on base (.230 on-base percentage) has negated his most valuable attribute: speed. Despite his ineffective 2010 season, Figgins was still able to contribute 42 steals. This year, he's on pace for only 17.
If a "Least Valuable Player" award existed, Figgins would be the runaway leader. The 2014 option vests if Figgins makes 600 plate appearances during the 2013 season, a scenario that is becoming more and more unlikely as the outs (and boos) pile up.
3) Dan Uggla- Braves 2B
Salary: 2011- $9 mil, 2012- $13 mil, 2013- $13 mil, 2014- $13 mil, 2015- $13 mil
The Braves traded for Uggla (and gave him a 5-year, $62 million extension) with the hope that he would eliminate the lack of power in the middle of their lineup, and he's actually done that, belting 14 homeruns. What Atlanta did not envision is that Uggla would be hitting .183 (it was .173 before a recent 4-for-5 streak) with a .612 OPS and just 32 RBI through 88 games. His glove has been better than expected, but it is still below average for a position that usually requires a solid defender. Thus, Atlanta needs Uggla to produce at the plate in order to get their money's worth. Uggla's bat has come alive of late, as he's hit 6 of his 14 homeruns in the Braves' last 22 games. However, the length of his contract makes it one of the league's worst. Uggla will be 35 in the final year of the deal, and it's unknown if he will be able to remain productive at such an advanced age in the post-PED/amphetamine era.
4) Derek Jeter- Yankees SS
Salary: 2011- $15 mil, 2012- $16 mil, 2013- $17 mil, 2014- $8 mil player option
Yankees GM Brian Cashman can't really be blamed for this deal, as the relationship between Jeter and the Yankee fanbase left Cashman with virtually no choice but to overpay Jeter with a career-appreciation contract. Unfortunately, the fact remains that Jeter's days as a premier player are over, and his production has been in a steady decline since the beginning of the 2010 season. His outstanding 2009 seems much longer ago than it really was, as his OPS has fallen from .871 in that season to .710 in 2010, and more than halfway through 2011 it sits at a paltry .650. Jeter is on pace for his lowest single-season totals in homeruns, runs scored, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. To boot, his diminished mobility has hampered his ability to play shortstop, and there have been rumors of an eventual move to the outfield. It might be considered sacrilegious to criticize Mr. November, but at this point in his career, he is a below-average player who will be paid like a superstar for the next three and a half years. Luckily for the Yankees, they are one of the few teams who can afford a few bloated contracts (see: A.J. Burnett and Rafael Soriano)
5) Jayson Werth- Nationals RF
Salary: 2011- $10 mil, 2012- $13 mil, 2013- $16 mil, 2014- $20 mil, 2015- $21 mil
2016- $21 mil, 2017- $21 mil
I saved the worst for last. It's hard to imagine what Washington was thinking when they gave the 32-year-old Werth a 7-year, $126 million contract after the 2010 season. Werth put up great numbers with the Phillies over the past 4 seasons, but those stats were augmented by the fact that he was hitting behind Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in arguably the best hitters park in the big leagues. The results with his new, inferior Nationals teammates have been predictably disappointing. Werth, who is hitting .221 in 2011, is on pace for just 55 RBI, and his OPS is .694, down from .921 in 2010. Werth will make a combined $63 million from age 36-38. At that point, his $21 million annual salary would be better-spent building a supporting cast around Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman rather than going to waste on a past-his-prime outfielder. The Nationals were never going to be contenders in 2011 or 2012, which makes the Werth signing ill-advised both short-term and long.
Rob Smith is a contributing writer for the Business of Sports Network. He can be reached on Twitter @RobSmithUSF or on his personal blog, http://smithersports.blogspot.com/