In the National Basketball Association, each franchise is allowed to waive one player prior to the start of any season from 2011–12 through 2015–16 without having their salary count toward the team’s salary cap or luxury tax. The team must still pay the player they waive the previously agreed upon salary if he goes unclaimed, and if another team does claim the player, the claiming team acquires him at a reduced rate with the waiving team paying the balance owed on the contract.
The transaction rule is unique to the NBA, but with the National Hockey League recently triggering a lockout while it negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement with its players’ association, The Score’s hockey blog, Backhand Shelf, imagined a scenario wherein the NHL adopted this specific NBA policy. From there, Chris Lund went through every team and estimated which contract would be the most likely to be let go.
Of course, Major League Baseball’s lack of a salary cap and the extreme structure of its luxury tax policies wouldn’t lend itself to a similar rule being enacted. However, since we’re dealing with a fantasy world here where we make the rules, let’s pretend that there exists a unique brand of amnesty that allows MLB teams to drop one contract from its payroll without any repercussions.
This is obviously something that the MLBPA would never allow to take place, but let’s go through each team and figure out what contract, if any, is most burdensome to its success.
Justin Upton has $39 million owed to him over the next three seasons, and while that’s a lot of money to have committed to a player who will likely only be worth a little more than two wins above replacement this year, given his age and the fact that he’s only a year removed from a six and a half win season, it’s likely not enough to make the Diamondbacks want to walk away from it entirely. As we’ll no doubt see this off season though, Upton’s salary will be enough for Arizona to want to deal him in return for more manageable assets. It’s sort of like going to a pretty good restaurant, then seeing the bill at the end of the meal and realizing you would’ve done a whole lot better to spend that money on groceries instead.
Dan Uggla also has $39 million owed to him over the next three years, but unlike Justin Upton in Arizona, the Braves would be happy to rid themselves of his contract. The second baseman lost his starting job at the beginning of the month, but seems to have quietly reemerged as a regular once again in Atlanta. The fact that the streaky player has somehow continued to convince the team that he’s still a second baseman and not a left fielder suggests that Uggla has compromising photos of Fredi Gonzalez, while poor Martin Prado does not. As the one team that won’t make out well on an upcoming regional television deal, the Atlanta Braves would love to have a do-over, not only on Uggla’s contract, but also the trade that brought him over from the Miami Marlins. It’s sort of like going to see a movie, hating it by the mid-point, while knowing that a better movie started at the same time in the theater next door.
It might be a little bit cruel to suggest that the Orioles would already want out of the $85 million over six years that they committed to Adam Jones following his great start this season, which leaves us with the $32 million guaranteed to Nick Markakis over the next two seasons or the $10 million owed to Brian Roberts in 2010. While certainly the burden to Markakis is much greater, they have still gotten average production out of the right fielder, and would be unlikely to simply let him go for nothing in return. Roberts, however, has played fewer than 100 games over the last two seasons while remaining close to the top of the team’s payroll. Excising the final year of the four year contract they signed him to in February of 2009 would please this franchise to no end. It’s sort of like buying a car that’s in constant need of expensive repairs, so basically, a BMW.
Boston Red Sox
While the Red Sox managed to rid themselves of a lot of contract commitments in their much-discussed salary dumping to the Los Angeles Dodgers, there remains a certain notorious deal with John Lackey that still guarantees the Tommy John surgery recovering pitcher will receive $30.5 million over the next two years (and maybe beyond if Boston wishes to pick up a 2015 option that would pay him at the league minimum thanks to his elbow problems. Was there anyone in all of baseball who believed an $82.5 million commitment to John Lackey ahead of the 2010 season would work out favorably? Certainly none that would admit as much today. It’s sort of like paying off all of your student loans except for one that sits there and stares you in the face every time you check your bank balance online. Not that I’d know anything about such things.
Alfonso Soriano, despite his rejuvenation this season, would be sent to the waiver wire in a minute by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein if the Cubs were granted one amnesty exemption. That’s because the left fielder is still owed $38 million over the next two seasons and has a full no-trade clause attached to his contract. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Cubs would love to put that sizable chunk of payroll into their player development budget, or in search of talent that will help them in the future. It’s sort of like buying a diamond ring that turns out to actually be cubic zirconium, but your betrothed doesn’t seem to mind, so it doesn’t really matter, but once you get married, she just sits at home all day and watches the Young & The Restless, only occasionally showing you the least bit of affection.
Chicago White Sox
When the White Sox singed Adam Dunn, a model of consistent power, to a four year contract worth $56 million, it looked ingenious considering all of the money that the division rival Detroit Tigers spent on Victor Martinez to essentially fill the same position. A nightmarish 2011 changed that perception drastically, but a good start to 2012 appeared to make up for it. Unfortunately, Dunn has had a disappointing second half, and fans in Chicago are left wondering once again about the $30 million owed to him over the next two seasons. It’s kind of like shopping at Costco. Yeah, you got a lot of that one thing in bulk at a discount, but good luck ever finding anything in your garage again.
Brandon Phillips is a very good baseball player. Unfortunately, Brandon Phillips will not always be a very good baseball player. He will decline into an above average player, then an average player and then a below average player. Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, they’re likely to see this decline in Brandon Phillips first-hand, as he’s locked up until 2017, with $60 million committed to him over that time. Again, because of the value he can offer immediately and the contending situation that the team finds itself in this season, the Reds wouldn’t want to ship him out for nothing in return at this time, but ask them about it at the end of the 2014 season, or in 2015, or in 2016. It’s sort of like buying lots of stock in Facebook when they first went public.
With contracts to Travis Hafner, Ubaldo Jimenez and Grady Sizemore all coming off the books at the end of this season, it’s difficult to find a deal that the Indians would want to dump. The only significant money committed is to Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, both of whom offer great returns on investment. In fact, before arbitration, but after option buy outs, Cleveland has only $11 million committed for next season. If they want to get back up to the $65 million payroll they held this year, they’ll probably make a mistake on the free agent market this coming off season. So, we’ll go with whatever that mistake ends up being as the contract they’d most like to see amnesty take away. It’s sort of like the annoying neighbor who doesn’t invest anything in the upkeep of his house, and then instead of improving his property value, he buys a series of incredibly creepy and verging on racist lawn ornaments.
I still don’t know if the $140 million committed to Troy Tulowitzki through the 2020 season is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a lot of money to be invested in a player who has shown an inability to remain healthy. However, there’s little doubt in my mind that when he’s contributing at full health, Tulowitzki is one of the best players in all of baseball. Given the rate at which baseball salaries seem to inflate, maybe this deal will look okay in the future. The Rockies would most likely choose to wait a bit longer to see how many games he can manage to suit up for over the next couple of seasons before ridding themselves entirely of Tulowitzki for nothing in return, but the very fact that there are questions at all this early into the deal is troubling. It’s sort of like buying a whole lot of milk while completely blind to the expiry date.
While the Tigers would do well to reinvest the money committed to Prince Fielder into building a lineup that doesn’t consist of about four designated hitters, Detroit is far more likely to consider nixing the $25 million remaining on the contract that belongs to the injured Victor Martinez, whose bat is great for a catcher, but not so much for a designated hitter or first baseman. Given the roster construction of the Tigers, Martinez could easily be considered a redundant asset. It’s sort of like investing heavily in subway tokens when you have a car and driver.
As it currently stands there will be five players on the Houston Astros next season making more than the league minimum. In fact, they have zero dollars committed next year to players on the roster (!), as the five players I mentioned will all still be in their arbitration years. When the Boston Red Sox trade Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this summer, people referred to it as though Boston was pressing the reset button on its roster. They don’t even begin to compare to the fresh beginning that the Astros will enjoy. The most expensive player on the Astros roster next season figures to be the $5 million of Wandy Rodriguez’s contract that Houston will pick up while he pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After that, it would be Jed Lowrie in his second year of arbitration. Get rid of him, now. It’s sort of like the worst garage sale ever.
Kansas City Royals
It might not compare to the tens of millions of dollars that other teams would shed from their payroll if given this fantastical opportunity, but the Kansas City Royals will pay Jeff Francoeur, the worst position player in baseball, $6.75 million next season. That’s money that would be better spent somewhere … anywhere else. This season, according to Fangraphs, the Royals would’ve actually been better off starting a back up or a fringe Major Leaguer in Francoeur’s place. That’s how bad he’s been. It’s sort of like answering one of the emails from the Nigerian prince who supposedly wants to bring $450 million out of his country, and needs your help to do it. You’re buying the opportunity to lose.
Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem
Since acquiring Vernon Wells, the Angels have paid the outfielder almost $44 million for one win above replacement. That’s close to a 900% overpayment. Over those two years, only Miguel Olivo has collected outs at a higher rate. Things don’t stand to get much better over the next two seasons, for which Wells will be owed another $42 million, while younger and cheaper talent on the Angels will continue to emerge as better options than the expensive veterans. It’s sort of like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a a Lite Brite and then using it to light your entire home instead of the light fixtures throughout the house.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have nine players on their roster scheduled to make eight figures in salary next season. That’s a lot of dough already committed to a roster that has struggled since being assembled at the end of July and through early August. It’s difficult to imagine a contract that the team would be more willing to part with than the $102.5 million owed to the largely disappointing Carl Crawford over the next five years. In acquiring the other assets from the Boston Red Sox, part of the cost for Los Angeles was believed to be taking on Crawford’s contract. Outside of that, the money due to Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett is hardly unreasonable. It’s sort of like over paying for a once-great stereo system in order to acquire an entire home entertainment system.
The Marlins employ a team policy that keeps them from offering no-trade clauses to potential free agent acquisitions. Instead of a written promise to keep players in Miami as part of their contract, the team offers ridiculously back-ended long-term deals that essentially make the contracts hard to move in later years. It’s a good bit of strategy because it essentially allows the Marlins to push back payment on its purchases to a later date without suffering anything that resembles crippling interest. For the purposes of our little game here, it makes things a whole lot easier to jettison a contract as well. Even though he’s likely met most expectations during his first season in Miami, Mark Buehrle is scheduled to make $41 million over the next three seasons to essentially serve as the team’s third starter. In that final year of the deal, he’ll be owed a whopping $20 million as a thirty-five year old mid-rotation pitcher. It’s sort of like signing up for Columbia House. It seems like a good deal at first, but it will get you in the end.
In terms of transactions, an auditor would be hard-pressed to find fault with just about anything that the Milwaukee Brewers have done over the last couple of years. I can’t imagine the team would be much interested in parting with a single contract to which its currently committed. If their arms were twisted I suppose the Brewers would consider dropping Rickie Weeks, who signed a four year, $38.5 million contract after his career season in 2010. Weeks hasn’t come close to equalling the value he gave the Brewers that year, and there was a serious cause for concern after his slow start this season. He’s turned it around just in time for Milwaukee to make a late season push at the playoffs. And looking at his deal, he basically has to offer the Brewers only comparatively average production for the deal to be worthwhile. In all honesty though, that’s not the type of contract on which you’d typically give up. It’s sort of like buying an electric toothbrush at a bargain price. The motorized part might not work as well as it did when you first bought it, but you paid such a good price for it that even as just a regular tooth brush it makes sense.
The Minnesota Twins might have had the opportunity to let Joe Mauer slip away for nothing earlier this season when he was placed on trade waivers. Unfortunately, no team was willing to claim Mauer, and we weren’t able to see what the Twins would do given the opportunity. In my mind, Mauer is the perfect candidate for amnesty. Yes, he’s still a very good player, and he’s having a very good year, but he’s owed $138 million over the next six seasons. Toss in an expected decline after his age 30 season, and couple it with his diminished value from no longer being a full-time catcher, and it suddenly becomes easy to understand why the Twins might wish Mauer to be the face of another franchise. It’s sort of like continuing to pay a premium for Head and Shoulders shampoo even when you don’t have dandruff anymore.
New York Mets
The Mets are going to pay Jason Bay a total of $19 million to play for their team in 2013, and not play for their team in 2014. On almost any other club, this would be the easiest of choices when considering what contract to rescind. However, there’s no small matter of the money owed to Johan Santana who will earn $31 million in total to play in 2013, and then not have his 2014 option picked up. Even though Santana is likely to offer more value than Bay next season, it’s not enough to overlook the $12 million difference between the two deals, let alone the additional money owed to Santana through the $5 million deferred annually at 1.25% compound interest every year of his contract which is payable seven years after the season in which the salary was earned. It’s sort of like overpaying for McDonald’s to avoid overpaying even more for In-N-Out.
New York Yankees
Alex Rodriguez is owed $114 million over the next five years, and while he remains a very good baseball player, it’s difficult to see him playing third base for much longer after this season. In fact, if anything keeps him from becoming the full-time designated hitter at some point over the next two years, it will be Derek Jeter also needing to rest his weary legs on occasion. This combines with A-Rod’s anticipated decline to ensure that the Yankees will be overpaying for a player that should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer as his career winds down. Typically speaking, long-term contracts that cover free agent years are signed by the team anticipating that the majority of the value of the deal will come in the first half of the contract, while they also expect to pay for that value later in the contract when a player’s decline becomes more pronounced. However, the amount of value that Rodriguez has produced hasn’t matched his salary over the first half of the ten year deal he signed ahead of the 2008 season, and the chances of that happening in the second half of the deal are less likely than Rodriguez suddenly becoming likable to non-Yankees fans. It’s sort of like renting a very expensive and large apartment so that you can have killer parties, only fewer and fewer people accept your invitations.
Oakland’s payroll has been quite nicely set up for the future through the Yoenis Cespedes contract working out better than anyone expected and the solid returns the Athletics received for Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. Once again, we’re without a legitimate contractual grievance on this big league roster, but if we were to get incredibly picky, we might suggest that the $7 million owed to Coco Crisp could be better spent. We’d likely be wrong though, considering his defensive value at multiple outfield positions. So, instead, let’s look to the often injured Brett Anderson and the $7.25 million that the A’s have guaranteed him to pitch in Oakland next season. Despite making only 38 starts over the last three seasons, Anderson likely does retain some trade value for the Athletics, but given that his contract only ensures two additional years of team control at escalating prices and yet another injury plagued year of Tommy John surgery recovery in 2012, he’s unlikely to garner a massive return. In fact, it might be so little that Oakland would probably be better off seeing what they have from Anderson once his oblique strain is healed. Who knows, maybe the 2014 and 2015 team options will become more tempting with a full year of production. It’s sort of like buying lottery tickets and then throwing them out once they give you a paper cut, but before you find out the results.
Ryan Howard’s five year, $125 million contract just started this season. He’ll turn 33-years-old in two months. Over the last three seasons, his age 29-32 years, he’s managed to put up a paltry 2.2 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs. To say this doesn’t bode well for the future is an understatement of such massive proportions that it should inspire an overstatement to describe it. It’s sort of like paying someone to beat you up.
Even though the Houston Astros agreed to pay $10.5 million of Wandy Rodriguez’s salary when they traded him to Pittsburgh this summer, the Pirates are still on the hook for $16.5 million over the next two seasons. While acquiring A.J. Burnett along with a good chunk of money to cover his salary worked out well for the team, those immediate dividends couldn’t be found with Rodriguez’s acquisition, as the 33-year-old pitcher has watched his strike out rate fall and his walk rate increase in a Pittsburgh uniform to disappointing results. Two more years of overpaying for a mid-rotation starter wasn’t likely the idea that the Pirates had in mind when they acquired the southpaw. It’s sort of like buying a used car that begins to smell a whole lot like farts as soon as you pull out of the car lot.
St. Louis Cardinals
32-year-old Matt Holliday will begin to decline some day, but for now his seven year contract, worth $120 million with the St. Louis Cardinals makes too much sense for them to want to rid themselves of it, even with four years and $69 million remaining on it. We’ll also wait to see how Yadier Molina’s power numbers progress through as he enters his five year contract worth $75 million next season. For now though, the well-run Cardinals would likely do best to rid themselves of the $7 million they owe Rafael Furcal next season. In fact, Furcal’s season-ending injury might be something of a blessing in disguise as Pete Kozma has unexpectedly emerged as an offensive upgrade over the veteran in his brief tenure as a replacement at shortstop. He’s set to make something close to the league minimum next season, which only serves to create more regret over the $7 million that will go to Furcal. It’s sort of like paying a lot of money for bottled water when tap water is readily available.
San Diego Padres
The Padres signed catcher Nick Hundley to a three year, $9 million contract before the start of 2012. While $3 million annually isn’t a whole lot of money to spend on a veteran back up catcher, it’s odd to see a team commit so much to a position that really should be evaluated year-to-year. Such a strategy would at least protect against being worried about knee surgery causing this contract to look even worse than Hundley’s play while he was healthy. While San Diego has done well in its dealings to acquire and lock up both Huston Street and Carlos Quentin, we might find some fault with the five year deal for $25 million that the team spent on Cameron Maybin. However, Maybin’s defense ensures that there’s still value to be had in that deal, even if it isn’t as much as the team likely would’ve hoped when they originally signed it back in March. It’s sort of like paying three years of bank fees at once when you might need to switch banks in a couple of months.
San Francisco Giants
I believe that if Major League Baseball were to actually enact our imaginary rule, the Giants might actually resent it, as they probably would’ve stood to benefit from it more for the last five years than ahead of the 2013 season, which represents the last year that they’ll have to pay Barry Zito’s salary. However, the fact that they will still owe the fifth starter a minimum of $27 million after the 2012 season ensures that he would still be chosen as their subject for contractual amnesty, and the Giants would be right to do so even if the lefty has experienced a rejuvenation of sorts this season. With funds freed up, a dip into the free agent market this off season to fill some lineup holes would make a lot more sense, as would a contract extension for MVPosey. It’s sort of like getting used to paying protection money to the mafia, and continuing to do so long after they’re of any use to you or your business.
If the Mariners allow Chone Figgins to attain 600 plate appearances next season, the entire front office and coaching staff should be unceremoniously replaced by interns. If the team’s terrible, terrible, terrible second baseman turned third baseman turned outfielder manages that many plate appearances in 2013, his option for 2014 will vest, and Seattle will end up paying $17 million for the next two seasons of the worst player in baseball. Given that Figgins hasn’t been a regular for two years now, that’s unlikely to happen. However, the Mariners are still committed to paying him $8 million next season, as part of the final year of his four year, $36 million contract. In order to make up all of the value he’s failed to provide Seattle over that time he’d have to provide $41 million worth of production in 2013, or approximately eight wins above replacement. It’s sort of like a farmer taking a whole bunch of money into the middle of a field, setting it on fire and hoping that it in turn doesn’t cause acid rain.
Tampa Bay Rays
Given their reputation, it’s unsurprising to suggest that there haven’t been a whole lot of long-term contract missteps made by Tampa Bay’s front office. Like any team, they’ve made mistakes on the free agent market, but those mistakes are usually in the form of a one-year deal that still represents a high reward for essentially minimal risk. In fact, the only contract on the team that could even come close to being considered an albatross would be the $7.6 million guarantee that they’ve made to Wade Davis for the next two seasons. The remainder of the four year, $12.6 million contract with team options for 2015-2017 would like represent one of the better contracts for several other Major League franchises. That, in itself, is a good representative of just how far ahead of the game the Rays are in terms of spending. It’s sort of like buying a lot of penny candy, and then regretting that you paid a nickle for one of those chewy big red toes.
Even as the team most other clubs ascribe to be, the Texas Rangers are not without some warts. They’ve likely experienced some disappointment with the lack of development in Leonys Martin. They may have been a bit too quick on the trigger to sign Derek Holland to a long-term contract. And there may even be some regrets left over for the enormous fee that the team paid in order to negotiate a contract with Yu Darvish. However, their biggest misstep is likely one that they don’t think to be a mistake, and that’s the contract that was given to Michael Young back in 2007. The five year, $80 million contract may not be as bad as the infielder’s detractors would like to claim, but the $16 million owed to him in 2013 stands to be the team’s worst bit of spending for the foreseeable future. While the coaching staff is quick to point out Young’s intangible value, I wouldn’t be surprised if General Manager Jon Daniels demanded something more metrically viable to justify such an expense. It’s sort of like hiring a really nice guy to work for your company, and then not firing him when he doesn’t do his job because everyone in the office loves him.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays really only have one massive expenditure and that’s the money that they’ve committed to Jose Bautista. The outfielder has already provided so much value in the first two years of his five year deal worth $65 million that as long as he provides one single win above replacement over the next three seasons, Toronto will break even on it. Their next biggest commitment belongs to starting pitcher Ricky Romero who has had a terrible season in 2012. So terrible, in fact, that even though the Blue Jays wouldn’t be prepared to delete his contract from the organization’s memory banks, he still represents the potential to be the worst deal on record for General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. If Romero doesn’t bounce back from this year’s disaster, Toronto will very much regret the $23.1 million over the next three years that it’s committed to the southpaw. In more realistic terms, though, the team would likely be most willing to drop the $7 million that they’ve guaranteed to Adam Lind for next season. It’s sort of like putting money in your inept friend’s investment scheme, knowing that it won’t work out, but hoping against hope that it will.
At the conclusion of this season, Jayson Werth will still be owed almost $100 million over the next five years, and yet if the Washington Nationals end up the 2012 World Series Champions, he likely wouldn’t have to play another game to make that contract seem worthwhile to the organization. In his seemingly unlikely role as a lead off hitter, Werth has become a big part of the best team in baseball this season, and there’s no way that the Nationals would consider ridding themselves of his massive contract at this stage, even if it’s almost guaranteed to result in a large loss of value for the club. However, in a vacuum the remaining money owed to the 33-year-old represents a gross over payment for the outfielder. On almost any other team in baseball, it would be seen as such. But it works for Washington, at least for the time being. It’s like purchasing an airplane instead of merely buying a ticket for a plane.