This won’t come as a shock: Major league teams spend a lot of money on bad contracts. In 2017, 50 players made at least $17.5 million, including Carl Crawford, who made $21.9 million to not play baseball. Half of that top 50 made a combined $528 million and were worth a combined minus-10.7 WAR.
With that in mind, let’s check in on all 30 teams and look at some of the potential bad money on each roster for 2018. Your team isn’t spending any money on free agents? Maybe that’s wise, or maybe it’s because they’re already wasting it elsewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp ($21.5M), Erisbel Arruebarrena ($6.5M), Hector Olivera ($4.67M), Adrian Gonzalez ($4.5M). This is what makes the Dodgers’ future scary to the rest of the National League: They’re slowly weeding the bad money off the roster. Some of that — such as the original Kemp contract (that they’ve now reacquired) or Crawford — was inherited by the current front office. Some of it came from bad international signings such as Arruebarrena and Olivera. And there were some bad free-agent signings, such as Scott Kazmir, who was injured and missed all of 2017.
Put it this way: The Dodgers won 104 games last year and spent an estimated $99.7 million on Gonzalez, Crawford, Kazmir, Andre Ethier, Alex Guerrero, Olivera, Arruebarrena and Kemp. That group, most of whom didn’t even appear for the Dodgers, provided minus-1.2 WAR. The Dodgers are getting under the luxury tax for 2018, but imagine when they want to go over again — like 2019 — and spend $100 million more wisely.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Yasmany Tomas ($13.5M). The previous regime gave Tomas $68.5 million, even though scouts said he lacked a position and some weren’t all that impressed by the bat. Tomas played just 47 games last year, but even when he was “good” in 2016 and slammed 31 home runs, he wasn’t really good, with negative WAR due to poor defense, baserunning and plate discipline. Without J.D. Martinez, Tomas will probably get another shot in the outfield — just don’t count on him collecting that $25,000 bonus for winning a Gold Glove.
Colorado Rockies: Ian Desmond ($22M), Gerardo Parra ($10M). The potential upside in signing Desmond — a signing widely criticized at the time — was that he could be the Rockies’ version of Ben Zobrist, except he ended up playing all but 14 innings at first base or left field. Desmond doesn’t hit like a first baseman or corner outfielder, and even if you want to blame his bad season on the fractured hand he suffered in spring training, he has struggled since the second half of 2016.
As for Parra, he rebounded from a dreadful 2016, but a .309/.341/.452 line in Coors Field isn’t all that impressive. He isn’t a useless player, but he isn’t the kind you want to be paying $10 million. The Rockies are paying $32 million — the going rate for a superstar free agent — for a fourth outfielder and utility guy. That’s bad management, something a mid-market team such as the Rockies can’t afford.
San Diego Padres: James Shields ($11M), Hector Olivera ($6.5M). The Shields and Olivera money are remnants of A.J. Preller’s ill-fated offseason of 2014-15, when he signed Shields and traded for Kemp (Olivera is an offshoot of the Kemp trade with the Braves).
San Francisco Giants: Mark Melancon ($20M), Hunter Pence ($18.5M). The first year of a four-year, $62 million deal with Melancon was a disaster after he threw just 30 innings in 2017. Maybe signing 32-year-old relievers without elite velocity isn’t a good idea. Pence is in the final year of his contract, but injuries and age have led to a decline the past three seasons.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun ($20M). Braun was a valuable asset in 2015-16, when he compiled 8.2 WAR, but his numbers slipped in 2017 (.268/.336/.487) as he battled calf injuries. He’s 34 now, so it could be an age thing, and he is signed for two more years. Aside from Braun, however, the Brewers have terrific financial flexibility in upcoming seasons, as nobody else will make even $10 million in 2018 or 2019 and several key players are still not arbitration-eligible.
St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright ($19.5M), Mike Leake ($6M). Wainwright has certainly given the Cardinals a lot of value over the years, but the $97.5 million extension signed in 2014 has provided just one stellar season, one injury season, a 4.62 ERA in 2016 and the 5.11 ERA of 2017. A couple of nine-run, blowup outings hurt the ERA, and then he tried to pitch through a back injury in August (and missed September), so don’t rule out a better season. The Cardinals will pay the Mariners $15 million over the next three seasons to help cover Leake’s contract.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Nobody. Now that Andrew McCutchen has been dealt, the only two players making at least $10 million are Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison, and Harrison might not be here on Opening Day.
Cincinnati Reds: Homer Bailey ($21M), Devin Mesoraco ($13.1M). Ouch. Some bad luck here, as Bailey blew out his elbow 23 starts into a $105 million extension, and Mesoraco injured his hip about five minutes after signing his extension in 2015 and has barely played since. Mesoraco comes off the books after 2018, whereas Bailey will receive $23 million in 2019, plus the inevitable $5 million buyout. Small-market teams can still win, but teams such as the Reds have to avoid these crippling deals.
Washington Nationals: Matt Wieters ($10.5M). The last time Wieters was healthy and produced above-average offensive numbers was way back in 2012. His .225/.288/.344 line from 2017 is that of a backup catcher, which explains why the Nationals have been rumored to be looking at an upgrade. J.T. Realmuto certainly would look nice in D.C.
Miami Marlins: Martin Prado ($13.5M), Edinson Volquez ($13M), Wei-Yin Chen ($10M). The Marlins haven’t yet felt the worst impact of the Chen contract: His salary goes up to $20 million in 2019 and $22 million in 2020. In his first two seasons with the Marlins, he won seven games.
Atlanta Braves: Adrian Gonzalez ($22M), Scott Kazmir ($17.7M), Brandon McCarthy ($11.5M), Nick Markakis ($11M). Matt Kemp, the contract that keeps on giving. Most of this money comes from the reshuffling of the Kemp trade. Kemp came to the Braves because then-GM John Coppolella wanted to dump Hector Olivera’s money in 2016. Olivera was part of that three-team deal in 2015 that John Hart made with the Dodgers and Marlins, but from the Braves’ perspective, it basically ended up as Alex Wood for Olivera. This is what one bad deal can do. The Braves could have Wood in their rotation; instead, they’re paying more than $50 million to Gonzalez, Kazmir and McCarthy. The good news is all the money above comes off the books after 2018. The Braves will have cash to spend in next year’s lucrative free-agent class.
New York Mets: David Wright ($20M). Reports have said the Mets insured Wright’s contract, with the club recouping 75 percent of his salary if he doesn’t appear in the majors. The guy they need to keep on the field in 2018 is Yoenis Cespedes, who will make $29 million but played just 81 games in 2017.
Philadelphia Phillies: Nobody. The only players the Phillies have signed beyond 2018 are Carlos Santana, Odubel Herrera, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. With no bad money, players such as J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery ready to join Rhys Hoskins as big league contributors, plus the advantages of a big-market franchise, the Phillies will certainly be major players in free agency next offseason.
Houston Astros: Tony Sipp ($6M), Jonathan Singleton ($2M). They’re good, they’re smart and they haven’t been sucked into any bad contracts. Heck, they’re even getting the Yankees and Tigers to pay a combined $13.5 million of Brian McCann‘s and Justin Verlander‘s money.
Texas Rangers: Shin-Soo Choo ($20M), Prince Fielder ($9M). Choo isn’t useless, about a league-average hitter albeit with minimal defensive value, but you’d prefer to not be giving this kind of money to a DH/corner outfielder unless the production is top-shelf. Fielder is on the hook for three more years, with the $9 million what the club still owes after insurance.
Cleveland Indians: Nobody. The Indians have to be careful with their money. They do have two injury risks in Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, who will make a combined $25 million, but they’re good players if healthy.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer ($23M). It seems like yesterday that Mauer signed that eight-year, $184 million extension, a huge deal at the time for a franchise such as the Twins. We’re now in the final year of that contract. According to FanGraphs, Mauer has provided $116.8 million worth of value, so the deal hasn’t been as calamitous as some believe, and Mauer is actually coming off a nice season, hitting .305 with a .384 OBP, the first time he has hit .300 since he moved off catcher after 2013.
Chicago White Sox: James Shields ($10M). Shields is 11-26 with a 5.60 ERA the past two seasons. He’ll make $21 million between the White Sox and Padres.
Boston Red Sox: Hanley Ramirez ($22.7M), Pablo Sandoval ($18.5M), Rusney Castillo ($11.7M). Yes, I’m throwing Ramirez in the bad contract boat. He was worth minus-0.3 WAR in 2017 and minus-1.3 in 2015. If the Red Sox end up signing J.D. Martinez, that pushes Ramirez to a part-time role. Without any defensive value, you have to mash, and Ramirez has hit well just one year out of his three in Boston.
New York Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.1M), Brian McCann ($5.5M). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees end up trading Ellsbury. They’ll have to eat a lot of the remaining three years on his deal for that to happen. For now, he’s an expensive fifth outfielder.
Tampa Bay Rays: Denard Span ($11M), Evan Longoria ($3.5M). Taking on Span was part of the Longoria trade, to help the Giants offset some of the Longoria money. Span played center field for the Giants, and his defensive metrics were straight out of a Stephen King novel. He’ll play left field for the Rays. Moral of the story: Be wary of signing 30-something free-agent center fielders.
Toronto Blue Jays: Troy Tulowitzki ($20M), Russell Martin ($20M), Kendrys Morales ($11M), Steve Pearce ($6.2M). This foursome helps explain how the Blue Jays went from first in the AL in runs in 2015 (891) to last in 2017 (693). All were below-average hitters. They’re all 30-something. Good luck getting better production in 2018.
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis ($21.1M), Mark Trumbo ($12.5M). Everyone points to the Orioles’ rotation as their problem, but their three highest-paid players posted OBPs of .322 (Adam Jones), .309 (Davis) and .289 (Trumbo) last season. That’s just as big a problem. Even Manny Machado dropped to a .310 OBP — maybe hitting around these guys isn’t helping. Davis and Trumbo are paid to hit home runs, but neither hit 30 last year, in a season when 41 players hit at least 30.