Alex Rodriguez will be paid a total of $32.0 million from the New York Yankees this season. That number is 854 times the median income level in New York City; however, A-Rod, one of baseball's greatest players, still does not own the worst contract in the MLB. A-Rod actually still produces at a high level and is having a good year (.289/.372/.506). His WAR (wins above replacement) is on pace to be 5.3 for 2011, which is solid.
So who could it be? Who is projected to hurt his team not only in the wallet, but also on the field? SweetSpot Blog of ESPN ran a study of the top 25 paid players in the MLB this season to determine if MLB teams are getting the same amount of value for their high-paid stars compared to 1985. The answer was clear: MLB players get more money for less value nowadays. Of the 25 highest paid players, 5 have negative WARs.
My favorite team, the New York Mets, are paying a combined $59 million to three players (Santana, Beltran, Bay). Johan Santana has yet to play this season, as he is recovering froms shoulder surgery. Jason Bay has played poorly and his WAR stands at 0.0. Of the three, only Carlos Beltran is providing any value to his contract, with a 2011 projected WAR of 5.1. The sad story of the New York Mets continues.
The five players with negative WAR's are: Vernon Wells, John Lackey, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Barry Zito. So we narrow the list to five player, but there are a couple we can easily shave off. Mauer has been hurt much of the season and was signed to a long-term deal just last year, so it is too soon to evaluate the contract.
Zito was given a monstrous seven year-$126 million deal with the Giants in 2007. In the five seasons he has a record of 40-58, hardly worth $18 million a year. Still in 2007 and 2008, Zito was a part of some pretty bad baseball teams and he did stay healthy in the first four years of his contract, throwing over 750 innings. His contract is terrible, but not exactly the worst considering he does provide some value.
Torii Hunter is having a down season in his fourth year with LAA, but his first three years were definitely productive. He provides great outfield defense and a run producing bat. His talent may be declining, but he is still not in consideration for baseball's worst contract.
The final showdown: Wells vs. Lackey.
Since being extended in 2008, Vernon Wells has hit 73 homeruns in a little less than 3.5 seasons. That number is average at most for Wells, as that averages out to about 20-23 homeruns per season. He is hitting .267 since 2008, which for a power hitter is okay. Wells does not strikeout much, which is a unique characteristic for an RBI producer such as himself; however, so far this year he has 20 RBIs and just 9 BBs. He is hitting .202 with a .241 OBP. Those numbers are just flat out awful. His career may be at a turning point right now and if he doesn't bounce back, his contract will go down as one of the worst ever.
John Lackey signed a 5 year deal worth around $82.5 million with the Boston Red Sox before the 2010 season. Since then he is 19-16, which isn't too bad. However, you have to take the team he's playing for into consideration. The Red Sox score a lot of runs every night and Lackey's record is definitely inflated. Last year, he started 33 games and had an ERA of 4.40, good for a 14-11 record. Lackey had a run support average of over 7, meaning the Red Sox would average 7 runs per Lackey's nine innings pitched. So his 4.40 ERA did wonders last year, despite being completely mediocre. This year, Lackey has started 10 games and has gone 5-5. His ERA is at 7.02 and at 32 years old, all of his stats suggest a diminished pitching repertoire.
So out of the two, who is worse? Wells will make $26.2 million just this year, while Lackey will bring in just under $16 million. Lackey's contract is just a year and a half in, so he has time to catch up. Therefore, Vernon Wells wins the coveted Worst Contract in Baseball Award. He better not get to comfortable though, cause John Lackey is pushing Wells to the brink.