By: Noah Wright
Sometimes, a bad contract can put a team in a financial hole. It can completely change a team’s future plans. They also can make the front office look stupid in the process. There has been no shortage of bad contracts in the 2010 decade, so I’m here to attempt to rank the 10 worst contracts from the past 10 years.
10.) Miguel Cabrera (8 years, $248 million):
The Tigers extended Miggy on the heels of a 2 straight MVP level seasons with the bat, including the 2012 Triple Crown. But those were just 2 seasons among many other MVP level seasons. From 2004 up to 2013, Cabrera had a .324/.403/.573 line, 353 home runs, and a 157 OPS+. The Tigers signed this extension at the end of Spring Training 2014. Cabrera’s 2014 season was a down year for his standards, but he still hit an extremely impressive .313/.371/.524 with 25 home runs and 150 OPS+ in 685 PA’s. During 2015, Cabrera was on pace for another fantastic season, but injuries limited him to just 119 games. 2016 has been his last great season. That’s when he batted .316/.393/.563 with 38 home runs and a 155 OPS+ in 679 plate appearances. But since 2017, Cabrera has been a well below average player with the bat. In the last 3 seasons, the former 2x MVP has batted a weak .270/.347/.400 with 24 home runs. In 2018, Cabrera played just 38 games, and his power has completely disappeared in 2019 with just 5 home runs and a .381 slugging % through 343 plate appearances. But Cabrera is still owed a guaranteed $124 from 2020 to 2023.
9.) Prince Fielder (9 years, $214 million):
Prince Fielder’s contract ended in a poor way. Originally signed by the Tigers in the 2011-2012 season, Fielder was supposed to give the team another bat to complement Miggy. And that’s what the former Brewer slugger did that in his first full season in the American League. In 2012, he batted a strong .313/.412/.528 with 30 home runs and a 151 OPS+. The next season, Fielder had a solid, but still fairly unspectacular season (.819 OPS, 122 OPS+). After the 2013 season, the Tigers sent to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler straight up. But Fielder played just 42 games because of neck surgery, marking the first time since 2008 he played fewer than 160 games in a season. Fielder bounced back nicely in 2015, batting a solid .305/.378/.463 line, 23 home runs, and 126 OPS+ in 693 PA’s as the team’s DH, but for $24 million there was still something left to be desired. Fielder suffered from more neck injuries in 2016, and played just 89 games. Eventually, the injuries to his neck were too much, and was forced to retire from the injury. Fielder announced his forced retirement in a tear-filled press conference during August 2016, but was still paid the $24 million the Rangers owed him every season until 2020.
8.) James Shields (4 years, $75 million):
The Padres signed Shields in the 2014-2015 off season with the thought of acquiring a high tier starting pitcher. Between 2011 and 2014, the right hander pitched to a 3.17 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and 1.155 WHIP, along with a solid 3.51 K/BB ratio, 2.3 BB/9, and .9 HR/9. Shields’ first season with the Friars was sub-par. While his 3.91 ERA wasn’t the worst, he gave up 33 home runs in 202 and a third innings, while his BB/9 rose to 3.6. His 2016 season was even worse, and was salary dumped on the White Sox for some guy named Fernando Tatis Jr. Between 2016 and 2018, Shields posted a 5.17 ERA, 5.59 FIP, and 1.444 WHIP. Maybe the biggest highlight of those 3 seasons was he was the guy who gave up the home run to Mets’ fan favorite Bartolo Colon.
7.) Hanley Ramirez (4 years, $88 million):
The Red Sox made 2 large signings after a disappointing 2014 season. One of which was infielder Hanley Ramirez. The shortstop had come off 2 decent seasons with the LA Dodgers. Between 2013 and 2014, Hanley batted a strong .308/.382/.525 with 33 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and 155 OPS+. The former Marlins’ all-star was signed on a 4 year deal, but not to play either shortstop, third base, or second base. All of those positions were filled with another player (Xander Bogarets, Pablo Sandoval, and Dustin Pedroia). So the Sox moved Hanley to left field. Ramirez saw a huge dropoff with his bat, only hitting .249/.291/.426 in an injury limited 430 PA’s. But his defense in left field was beyond atrocious. He had -19 DRS, -13.1 UZR, and a -2.5 dWAR in the grass. In 2016, he was moved back to the infield, but this time to first base. His offense saw a major bounce back, as Ramirez hit .286/.361/.505 with 30 home runs and a 126 OPS+ in 620 PA’s, but it was short lived. Ramirez had an average 2017 (.750 OPS, 23 home runs, 95 OPS+), and followed that up by cratering in May 2018. On May 30th, 2018, Ramirez was released from his contract.
6.) Pablo Sandoval (6 years, $95 million):
The second of the two big signings the Red Sox made during the 2014-2015 off season to bolster their line-up was adding Pablo Sandoval the 2012 World Series hero, and former 2 time All-Star third baseman. Sandoval’s numbers with the Giants showed he was a talented player. From 2009 to 2014, the Panda batted .290/.345/.464 with a 124 OPS+ and 103 home runs. Plus he was a decent defender at third base. Sandoval’s first season in a Red Sox uni saw him have a .658 OPS, and 75 OPS+. His defense went from solid to well below average with -11 DRS. In 2016, Sandoval played just 3 games. At the same time, while Sandoval was always a big guy, the switch hitter was suffering from a weight problem. After another injury filled season in 2017, Sandoval was released. Sandoval was picked up by the Giants, where he actually has done pretty solid since. But the Red Sox still had to pay Sandoval $18.05 million in 2018 and 2019.
5.) Jordan Zimmerman (5 years, $110 million):
When the Tigers signed Zimmerman back in the 2015-2016 off season, they thought they were going to get another ace to back Justin Verlander. Plus with the arrival of top prospect of Michael Fulmer, this looked to be a signing that would help bolster the rotation for years to come. Before heading to Detroit, Zimmerman had pitched very well with the Washington Nationals from 2011 (his first full season) to 2015. In total, he had a 3.14 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and 1.135 WHIP. While he didn’t strikeout tons of batters (7.3 K/9), Zim was a control master with a 1.7 BB/9 and .8 HR/9, Since his arrival to the Tigers, Zimmerman has been absolutely awful. Each season has been worse than the last. Since 2016, Zim has a 5.45 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and 1.429 WHIP. That also includes multiple injuries during his Tigers tenure.
4.) Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years, $153 million):
When Jacoby Ellsbury entered the free agent market during the 2013-2014 off season, he was the top outfielder on the market. In 2013, Ells batted .298/.355/.426 in 636 plate appearances, while also leading the AL in stolen bases with 52. That also included elite defense in centerfield (13 DRS, .9 UZR, 1.9 dWAR). The Yankees signed the former gold glover to the large deal, thinking that they just locked down a top MLB center fielder. While Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes wasn’t bad per say, as he still batted .271/.328/.419 with 16 home runs, and 39 stolen bases, it definitely wasn’t worth $21.1 million they were paying him. Things only went down from there. Since 2014, he has only played more than 115 games once (2016), and hasn’t played a single game since 2017.
3.) Josh Hamilton (5 years, $125 million):
Signing Josh Hamilton seemed to make the Angels’ outfield an unstoppable force. The 2010 MVP just came off 5 seasons where he put up a .305/.363/.549 line, 142 home runs, and 137 OPS+. While his centerfield defense was below average, he was a solid defender in either left or right field. But adding Hamilton to the same outfield as 2012 MVP runner up (and who should have won 2012 MVP) Mike Trout seemed like a solid decision. Hamilton’s first season in LA was a huge disappointment. He batted just .250/.307/.432 with 108 OPS+ and 21 home runs. 2014 was slightly better, but not only was he still disappointing (.745 OPS, and 115 OPS+), Hamilton played just 89 games. The Angels decided to cut their losses and send him back to the Rangers during the 2014-2015 off season where he played just 50 games before being cut by the team in 2016. Hamilton’s was a tragic one filled with multiple relapses with drugs and alcohol, and was part of his downfall in 2015.
2.) Chris Davis (7 years, $161 million):
It was already questionable when the Orioles signed Davis to an extremely large, and expensive contract. Sure he had a good 2015 season (.262/.361/.562, 47 home runs, 147 OPS+), but his 2014 (.704 OPS, 26 home runs), and 2016 (.792 OPS, 38 home runs) seasons were solid at best, but not worth $20 million+ annually. Regardless, the Orioles still decided to give him this contract in the 2016 and 2017 off season. His first season was close to league average, as he batted .215/.315/.423 with 26 home runs and 96 OPS+. But his 2018 season was awful. The best way to describe it is that his bWAR for the season was -2.8, and OPS was sub-.600 (.539). We all know about his hittless streak to start 2019, and he hasn’t been much better since breaking it. Even if the Orioles are ready for competition again by 2021 or so, Davis is controlled through the 2022 season.
1.) Albert Pujols (10 years, $254 million):
You knew that this contract was gonna be here. It’s easily one of the worst contracts of all time. The Angels signed this contract back in the 2011-2012 off-season to add one of the best sluggers of all time to their line-up. Before heading to the Angels, Pujols put up a dozen year run as the Cardinals MVP level 1B. Between 2001 and 2011, Albert batted .328/.420/.617 with 445 home runs, and a 170 OPS+. That also came with one of the best gloves at first base. Pujols has regressed so much, he’s a shell of his former self in 2019. Pujols has only really had 1 above average season since leaving St. Louis. That would be his debut season in LA when he batted .285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs and a 138 OPS+. But since 2013, it’s been all doom and gloom for the former 3 time MVP. He has batted just .254/.309/.441 with 172 home runs and a 107 OPS+ since ‘13. Plus he has missed time in 2013, 2018, and in 2019 due to leg injuries and ankle surgeries. This is all while being paid above $20 million every season since 2014.