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Ranking Sports Worst

Ranking the 10 Worst MLB Contracts on the Books for Next Year

Ranking the 10 Worst MLB Contracts on the Books for Next Year
Zachary D. RymerNovember 25, 2023

Ranking the 10 Worst MLB Contracts on the Books for Next Year

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    Colorado Rockies' Kris Bryant reacts at first base umpire Quinn Wolcott after a called strike in the ninth inning of a baseball game against San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Logan Webb in San Francisco, Sunday, July 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

    AP Photo/Eric Risberg

    The list of the highest-paid players in Major League Baseball mostly reads like a Who’s Who of the game’s top superstars. There are relatively few duds among the bunch.

    But since “relatively few” is not “none,” it’s fair game to rank the 10 worst contracts in MLB heading into the 2024 season.

    To avoid dwelling on mid-sized ones, the idea was to focus on big fish who haven’t been living up to their deals and who face long odds in changing things for the better. For this, the following ground rules were applied:

    • Active Contracts Only: Because poor Chris Davis has been dunked on enough, don’t you think?
    • $15 Million Minimum Salary for 2024: Or, three times the average salary for 2023.
    • $70 Million Minimum in Remaining Dollars: This is admittedly an arbitrary number, but it was useful for filtering out bad deals that are almost over.

    The 10 players who made the cut are plagued by all sorts of problems, though the big ones are injury- and ability-related concerns that portend varying amounts of doom.

    After first touching on some dishonorable mentions, let’s start with the safest-looking bad deal and count down to the one that looks the most hopeless.

Dishonorable Mentions

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    Nick Castellanos

    Nick CastellanosRich Schultz/Getty Images

    RF Nick Castellanos, Philadelphia Phillies

    The first two rounds of this year’s playoffs were a reminder of how dangerous Castellanos is when he gets hot. But after two seasons, all he has to show for his five-year, $100 million contract is 1.5 rWAR.

    LHP Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals

    Corbin has led the National League in losses in each of the last three seasons and has otherwise posted minus-1.6 rWAR over the last four. Mercifully, though, the 2024 season will bring an end to his six-year, $140 million deal.

    3B Yoán Moncada, Chicago White Sox

    Moncada was fresh off a star-making 2019 season when the White Sox extended him for $70 million over five years in March 2020. He had a good year in 2021, but has otherwise fallen short of even 1.0 rWAR in the other three years of the deal so far.

    RHP Jameson Taillon, Chicago Cubs

    Taillon was basically a league-average pitcher in 2021 and 2022, so it was a surprise when the Cubs signed him for $68 million over four years. Whatever they were hoping for, they didn’t get it as he posted a career-low minus-0.1 rWAR this year.

    LF/DH Masataka Yoshida, Boston Red Sox

    Yoshida started the ’23 season out by silencing doubters of his five-year, $90 million contract by hitting .320 through July 25. But then he hit just .233 the rest of the way and was generally so bad on defense that he ultimately only managed 1.4 rWAR.

10. SS/2B Trevor Story, Boston Red Sox

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    Trevor Story

    Trevor StoryBrandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2023 Stats: 43 G, 168 PA, 3 HR, 10 SB, .203 AVG, .250 OBP, .316 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $22.5 million, $100 million through 2027

    Even though he’s posted only 3.3 rWAR in two seasons so far, there may yet be hope for Trevor Story in a Red Sox uniform.

    The .685 OPS he’s put up for Boston comes two caveats: It wasn’t until late in the 2021-22 offseason that he signed his six-year, $140 million deal and, for the most part, he just hasn’t been healthy. Most notably, he didn’t play until August of this year following elbow surgery.

    That surgery did the job of resurrecting Story’s fallen arm strength, which figures to further solidify him as Boston’s best defender. As it is, he’s compiled 14 Defensive Runs Saved over the last two seasons.

    Even with all this said, though, there’s no escaping the notion that the former Colorado Rockie isn’t going to be a post-Coors Field success story similar to DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado.

    Though the previously noted caveats should remain on the record, it’s harder to rationalize other factors such as Story’s diminished exit velocity and upward-trending strikeout rate. More specifically, his sudden inability to handle fastballs seems like a telling red flag.

9. SS Javier Báez, Detroit Tigers

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    Javier Báez

    Javier BáezMegan Briggs/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2023 Stats: 136 G, 547 PA, 9 HR, 12 SB, .222 AVG, .267 OBP, .325 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $25 million, $98 million through 2027

    Though he’s signed to the exact same deal and has been similarly disappointing, it’s not impossible to believe more highly in Javier Báez than in Trevor Story.

    Unlike Story in Boston, at least Báez has been durable in his first two seasons with the Tigers. He’s played in 280 of 324 games, technically making him the team’s foremost iron man.

    The one-time Gold Glover has also continued to do good work at shortstop, particularly in 2023. With nine Outs Above Average, he was one of the top six defenders at the position.

    But if anyone has any excuses not to be concerned about the .634 OPS that Báez has posted on the other side of the ball, I’d honestly love to hear them.

    There’s basically nothing from his metrics that stands out in a good way, whereas plenty does in a bad way. His plate discipline has gone from bad to even worse, as he’s tallied a 47.4 chase percentage with the second-most out-of-zone whiffs of any hitter over the last two years. To this end, he may be no more able to change his stripes than an actual tiger.

8. CF/DH Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

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    Byron Buxton

    Byron BuxtonDavid Berding/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2023 Stats: 85 G, 347 PA, 17 HR, 9 SB, .207 AVG, .294 OBP, .438 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $15.1 million, $75.7 million through 2028

    The seven-year, $100 million pact that the Twins made with Byron Buxton in Dec. 2021 was never not a huge risk, but there was likewise never any question that the upside was also huge.

    Sure, Buxton only played in 61 games that year. But he was arguably the best outfielder around when he did play, as he tallied a 1.005 OPS, 19 home runs and 4.6 rWAR. Per his underlying metrics, it was all legit.

    But would Buxton stay healthy enough to justify his contract? It always was an iffy proposition, and the answer thus far has been a decisive “no.”

    Buxton has mainly been plagued by leg injuries as he’s gotten into just 177 games over the last two seasons. The big one this year was a right knee injury that limited him to designated hitter duty and ultimately required surgery.

    The Twins are hoping that Buxton will be able to return to the outfield in 2024, but they may not be out of the woods even if he does. Along with his health, his productivity and some of his specific abilities—most notably his speed and strikeout rate—have deteriorated over the last two seasons.

7. DH Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees

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    Giancarlo Stanton

    Giancarlo StantonJim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    2023 Stats: 101 G, 415 PA, 24 HR, 0 SB, .191 AVG, .275 OBP, .420 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $32 million, $101 million through 2027

    So you want to hear the bright sides of Giancarlo Stanton’s remaining deal with the Yankees. Alright, then.

    For starters, the Miami Marlins are picking up $3 million annually on Stanton’s remaining salaries. Otherwise, he’s still a dangerous power threat who landed in the 96th percentile with his 93.3 mph average exit velocity in 2023.

    But even though he caught heat from Stanton’s agent and plenty of casual observers for saying as much, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was hardly twisting the truth when he referred to the slugger as “injury-prone.”

    What else would you call a guy who’s played in 391 of 708 possible games since 2019? And even if 350 of those appearances have come in the last three seasons, the impact of all the lower-half injuries Stanton has incurred is especially hard to ignore when he’s running the bases.

    As for Stanton’s bat, it’s never easy to rationalize either a sub-.200 average or a sub-.300 OBP. It’s particularly hard to do so in this case, as he’s among the most whiff-prone hitters in baseball and he’s coming off the worst season of his career against fastballs.

6. RF Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies

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    Kris Bryant

    Kris BryantMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2023 Stats: 80 G, 335 PA, 10 HR, 0 SB, .233 AVG, .313 OBP, .367 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $28 million, $136 million through 2028

    Whether we’re talking Ian Desmond, Wade Davis or even as far back as Mike Hampton, the Rockies just seem to have a knack for turning bad ideas into action in free agency.

    This was again the case with the seven-year, $182 million deal they did with Kris Bryant in March 2022. It was clear in 2020 and 2021 that he was no longer his MVP-winning self from 2016, but the Rockies bet big on him to be the savior of an 87-loss team anyway.

    What they have to show for it so far is minus-0.6 rWAR, with little hope that Bryant is going to turn back the clock.

    Whether his body will even allow him to stay on the field is a big enough question. Bryant has played in just 122 of the Rockies’ 324 games over the last two seasons, notably missing time with back, foot, heel and finger injuries.

    If Bryant’s health doesn’t get him, his declining abilities might. Of particular note is that the 6’5″, 230-pounder’s average exit velocity is down about 4 mph from his 2015-16 heyday. To wit, he was hitting the ball as hard as the Adam Fraziers and Jace Petersons of MLB in 2023.

5. 3B Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels

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    Anthony Rendon

    Anthony RendonRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    2023 Stats: 43 G, 183 PA, 2 HR, 2 SB, .236 AVG, .361 OBP, .318 SLG

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $38.6 million, $115.7 million through 2026

    Is all hope necessarily lost for the Angels’ $245 million third baseman?

    Maybe not. The Steamer projection system has Anthony Rendon down for 131 games, 16 home runs and 2.3 WAR in 2024, which could even prove to be his floor if he’s able to stay healthy.

    Perhaps never before, though, has the word “if” done so much heavy lifting. Rendon has played in just 148 games over the last three seasons, or precisely 30 percent of the Angels’ slate. Alas, to recap all the injuries he’s had would frankly take too long.

    One thing to say in Rendon’s defense is that he hasn’t been all together worthless when he has suited up. His 94 OPS+ since 2021 puts him just six percent below average, and there’s otherwise no faulting him for his 0.8 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

    Yet he’s hit only 13 home runs in the process, and that’s only one datapoint which suggests that the power that once produced a 34-homer season in 2019 is now long gone. So despite what Steamer says, this situation does seem pretty much hopeless.

4. LHP Carlos Rodón, New York Yankees

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    Carlos Rodón

    Carlos Rodón Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2023 Stats: 14 GS, 64.1 IP, 65 H (15 HR), 64 K, 28 BB, 6.85 ERA

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $27.8 million, $139.2 million through 2028

    Carlos Rodón might have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball in 2021 and 2022.

    Beyond the 2.67 ERA he posted over 55 starts, he also struck out 12.2 batters while issuing only 2.5 walks per nine innings. He was a Fielding Independent Pitching darling, compiling a 2.42 FIP that led all starters.

    But while all this was at the forefront when Rodón signed a seven-year, $162 million deal with the Yankees last December, lurking in the background was the lefty’s injury history. He’d had both shoulder and Tommy John surgeries, and even his otherwise excellent ’21 season was marred by shoulder fatigue.

    All this seems relevant now after back, forearm and hamstring injuries kept Rodón on the sidelines for half the 2023 season. And with his 31st birthday due up on Dec. 10, he’s not in an age range wherein better health can be expected.

    The ’23 season also raised the question of what Rodón will be capable of even when he is healthy. It’s not just that he got crushed. It’s that his fastball, specifically, got crushed. Whereas it had been by far his best pitch in ’21 and ’22, it became his worst pitch this year.

3. LHP Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners

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    Robbie Ray

    Robbie RaySteph Chambers/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    2023 Stats: 1 GS, 3.1 IP, 4 H (0 HR), 3 K, 5 BB, 8.10 ERA

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $23 million, $73 million through 2026

    Robbie Ray’s Cy Young Award-winning 2021 season seemed to come out of nowhere, but the Mariners bought high on him anyway via a $115 million contract.

    There was no immediate payoff. Ray’s ERA rose from 2.84 in 2021 to 3.71 in 2022. He was also on the mound when Yordan Álvarez’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the American League Division Series heralded the beginning of the end for Seattle’s season.

    A potential redemption tour for Ray in 2023 ended as soon as it began. The one start he made was on March 31. Just a few weeks later, he had Tommy John surgery.

    Ray will be out until at least the 2024 All-Star break, effectively rendering 30 percent of his five-year deal kaput. Yet just as much concern goes into his outlook beyond next season.

    On either side of the 6.9 rWAR that Ray posted in 2021 is a mere 4.5 rWAR for the 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022 and 2023 seasons. He had also lost 1.8 mph off his average fastball from 2021 in the one start he did make this year, which naturally raises doubts about whether his fastball will ever again be the dominant pitch that it was that year.

2. RHP Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers

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    Jacob deGrom

    Jacob deGromAP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

    Age: 35

    2023 Stats: 6 GS, 30.1 IP, 19 H (2 HR), 45 K, 4 BB, 2.67 ERA

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $40 million, $155 million through 2027

    Pretty much as soon as the Rangers finalized their five-year, $185 million contract with Jacob deGom last winter, everyone wanted to know: “Are you guys sure about this?”

    After capturing back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019 and finishing third in the voting in 2020, deGrom spent more time on the injured list than he did off of it in 2021 and 2022. He made just 26 starts across those two seasons.

    Like Ray, deGrom is now slated to miss at least the first half of the 2024 season after having Tommy John surgery in June of this year. Unlike Ray, however, this was the second time deGrom had undergone the operation. He first had it back in 2010.

    Save for Rangers teammate Nathan Eovaldi, there really aren’t any examples of pitchers who’ve undergone Tommy John surgery twice and returned to dominance in starting roles. Simply to this extent, a cloud of pessimism looms over deGrom’s remaining contract.

    There’s also the more basic reality that this is a 35-year-old pitcher who will be five years removed from his last season as a healthy, effective starter when he returns. The odds of deGrom ever being that guy again would thus seem to be slim.

1. RHP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Stephen Strasburg

    Stephen StrasburgKatherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Age: 35

    2023 Stats: Did not pitch

    2024 Salary, Total Due: $35 million, $105 million through 2026

    In all fairness, Stephen Strasburg shouldn’t even be eligible for this list.

    He made plans to retire in August, with the Nationals making plans of their own to honor the occasion with a ceremonial send-off and the retirement of his number in 2024. But then the club changed its mind, and the result for now is that Strasburg is still on the roster.

    Though this may be the case, the thought of the erstwhile No. 1 pick and World Series MVP actually pitching next season is, well, unthinkable.

    Strasburg has barely pitched since signing his seven-year, $245 million deal following the 2019 season. He’s made only eight appearances (including zero in 2023) because of a series of serious ailments, including one that required thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.

    Strasburg last start was on June 9, 2022. It featured him barely cracking 90 mph with a fastball that once touched triple digits and resulted in him giving up seven runs in 4.2 innings. It pains one to say it, but it’ll take a miracle for him to get a chance to improve on that.

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