The playoff hunts are all but over and the awards races are more or less settled, making now a good time to ponder what went wrong in the 2017 baseball season. Specifically, a look at the most overpaid, underproductive players in the game (all stats through Friday).
1B – Albert Pujols $26 million, -1.6 WAR: When 538.com recently ran an August 30 headline proclaiming Pujols the worst player in baseball, many assumed it was they meant to say he was the worst value in baseball. Nope – they meant the worst player. Pujols responded by going 15-for-29 over the next 7 games, raising his OPS from .665 to .688 and handing off the baton for lowest WAR to Jose Bautista. Still, he’s walked just 36 times, has just 22 homers, a .678 OPS, and has become a full time DH. Fret not, though, Angels fans, he’s got just 4 years and $114 million left on that contract. Oh, and then a ten-year, $10 million personal services contact.
2B – Danny Espinosa $5.45 million, -1.6 WAR: What’s been so amazing about Espinosa’s season is that he keeps finding a home. After playing miserably in LA for 77 games with a .513 OPS and only so-so D, he got picked up by the Mariners, who cut him loose after just 8 games. But lo! The Rays found themselves in need of some infield help, where’s he’s been perfectly as bad as he has been all season.
3B – Pablo Sandoval $17.6 million, -1.4 WAR: The only reason he isn’t the “worst player in baseball” is because he couldn’t get the at-bats. The Boston Red Sox finally gave up on him after 108 plate appearances with a .622 OPS, only to have the Giants invite him home, where he briefly got his mojo back, hitting .288 over 70 PA before setting the franchise record for most consecutive at bats without a hit at 39. Sandoval has now been paid $52.8 million over the last 3 seasons to post a .637 OPS over 766 plate appearances.
SS – JJ Hardy $14 million, -.6 WAR: From 2011 to 2014, Hardy was among the best shortstops in baseball, and so the O’s rewarded him with a hefty new contract that quickly became an albatross. This year Hardy, 35, hit bottom, as his OPS sank to .555, and his glove, once among the best in baseball, regressed to simply good.
LF – Matt Kemp $21.75 million, -1.2 WAR: After Matt Kemp led the NL in WAR in 2011, the Dodgers signed the then-27 year old slugger to a franchise record 8-year, $160 million extension. Kemp, who’d hit 39 homers and stole 40 bases in 2011, boldly proclaimed he was “going to go 50-50 next year.” Since then he’s averaged 22 homers and 6 stolen bases. Now 33 and playing for the Braves, Kemp this year led the NL in double plays with 24, and posted the lowest dWAR of any LF, and the second-worst dWAR of any player in all of baseball.
CF – Denard Span $11 million, -1.5 WAR: So who, you might ask, has played the worst D this year? According to dWAR, it’s Span, the man who in 2012 dWAR rated as the second-best CF. As his glove has cratered, his bat has slowly weakened, as well, with his oWAR dropping for a third straight year to 1.3.
RF – Jose Bautista $18 million, -1.8 WAR: After watching his production decline in 2015 and 2016, the Blue Jays decided to re-sign Joey Bats, giving the slugger a raise from $14 million to $18 million. In return, Toronto got a shell of a man, as Bautista has put up a brutal .678 OPS while playing terrible defense in right, even by his own low standards.
DH – Alex Rodriguez $21 million, 0.0 WAR: Once one of the greatest players of all time, A-Rod’s 2016 WAR fell to -1.2, leading the Yankees to the logical conclusion that they’d be better off giving him $21 million not to play, rather than have him clog their lineup. The Angels should take note. The highlight of A-Rod’s 2017 has been making Jeter very uncomfortable and dating J-Lo — OK, he’s actually had a pretty good year.
SP Matt Cain – .8 WAR, $21 million: Cain is coming to the merciful end of a contract that was once the richest ever for a RHP, 5 years, $112.5 million. This is what the average Matt Cain box score looks like these days: 5.1 IP, 3.5 runs, 6.6 hits, 1.95 BB, 3.1 SO, and he’s surrendered a .311/.367/.475 slash line.
SP Homer Bailey -1.2, $19 million: Once a perennial Cy Young candidate and author of two no-hitters, Bailey’s WAR has gone down every year since he signed a 6-year, $105 million contract ahead of the 2014 season. Over the past 3 seasons he’s pitched a grand total of 118 1/3 innings with a 6.77 ERA, a 7-13 record, and -1.7 WAR.
SP Ubaldo Jiminez -1.4 WAR, $13.5 million: A career of peaks and valleys hit a new low as he posted a 6.81 ERA with a 6-11 record, a league high 108 earned runs, and served up a career-high 33 homers.
SP Bartolo Colon -2 WAR, $12.5 million: Father Time finally caught up with the ageless wonder who is the active leader in career wins, losses, innings, hits, earned runs, homers, and batters faced. Colon put up a 6.63 ERA with a 6-14 record while splitting time between Minnesota and Atlanta. Surely this is the end.
SP Chris Tillman -2 WAR, $10.05 million: After posting a rock solid 2016, Tillman saw his ERA more than double to 7.66 as his homers per 9 jumped from 1 to 2.2, his walks per 9 went from 3.5 to 4.9, his K’s per 9 fell from 7.3 to 6.2, and he lasted just 4.52 innings per start.
CL Aroldis Chapman .7 WAR, $17.2 million: Chapman’s gotten healthy and good again down the stretch, striking out 15 of the last 40 batters he’s faced over his last 10 appearances, but at $17 million, a 3.50 ERA and 3.9 BB/9IP is unacceptable.
In total, that comes to $228.05 million for -16.4 WAR. If one WAR cost about $8 million on the free agent market, this team is being overpaid by $359.05 million, which is to say, thy should be giving back the entirety of their salaries plus another $131 million. And this doesn’t even include backups and middle relievers. To put this into perspective, the Giants have the lowest WAR in baseball at 7.7, 24.1 more than our mythical assortment, and the Tigers have the highest payroll at $173.2 million, a relative bargain at $54.9 million lower.
Someday general managers will come to their senses, and start giving guys bigger money for fewer years. Until then…
Tuesday, September 26
Chicago Cubs vs St Louis Cardinals
8pm ET on ESPN
Wednesday, September 27
Houston Astros vs Texas Rangers
2pm ET on ESPN
Chicago Cubs vs St Louis Cardinals (out-of-market only)
7pm ET on ESPN
San Diego Padres vs Los Angeles Dodgers (out-of-market only)
10pm ET on ESPN
Saturday, September 30
Houston Astros vs Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays vs New York Yankees
1pm ET on FOX
Milwaukee Brewers vs St Louis Cardinals
4pm ET on FS1
Sunday, October 1
Seattle Mariners vs Los Angeles Angels
Detroit Tigers vs Minnesota Twins
3pm ET on TBS