“Most valuable player” is a phrase open to interpretation: some would emphasize stats exclusively, while others also factor in team success.
Luckily, we’re going the opposite way with this one.
Instead of going through the worst players in baseball — a ranking that would be populated with middle relievers, utility infielders and back-up catchers — we’re going to examine the least valuable player on all 30 clubs. That just seems like it’ll be more fun.
Of course, any list of this sort is meaningless without some sort of ironclad criteria.
The infallible methodology for finding a team’s least valuable player is as follows:
1. Find the guy who produces the least
2. Does he make a lot of money? Great
3. Is he easy to snark on? Fantastic
Baltimore Orioles, Nick Markakis: Baltimore’s “franchise” player was one of the harder guys to place on the list. He’s a good fielder, and plays almost every day — unlike many others on the list. The problem is, Markakis is just average at the plate and is being paid like a borderline “star.” He looks the part of franchise cornerstone, and had great years in 2007/2008, but he might have peaked early at the plate. In 2014 he’ll earn $14 million after posting an 86 OPS+ and a .271/.329/.356 line — not a debacle if Buck Showalter bats him leadoff. Markakis’s situation is worth monitoring since he has a $17.5 million option or $2 million buyout for 2015. Either way that’s a lot of Old Bay seasoning. Honorable mention: Nelson Cruz, since he cost the Orioles a draft pick and will likely only DH. (via @starkweather77)
Boston Red Sox, Will Middlebrooks: This spot was going to go to Jake Peavy, making about $15 million this year with one sub-4.00 ERA during his four and a half seasons in the American League. However, after consultation with @htownhacker, the honor falls to Middlebrooks, not so much for his limp 2013 offensive season that saw him demoted to Pawtucket, but for dating the lovely Jenny Dell and thus getting her removed from NESN telecasts.
New York Yankees, Ichiro: Who but the Yankees can afford to pay $6.5 million to a 40-year-old fifth outfielder? Honorable mention: Mark Teixeira (health issues + strikeouts are a dangerous mix). Dishonorable mention: A-Rod, still on the books for another $61 million even after his season-long exile in 2014.
Tampa Bay Rays, Heath Bell: Tampa is typically a smart organization (maybe you’ve heard that mentioned once or twice before in the baseball press) and doesn’t keep a lot of deadweight on its roster, as an AL-East-low $71 million payroll attests. Even so, Bell is slated to pocket $9 million in 2014 thanks to the asinine Marlins spending spree in 2012. It also means after David Price ($14 million), Bell is the highest-paid Ray. Fortunately, Tampa is only on the hook for $4.5 million for Bell, which is still too much to pay for a set-up guy with a 4.50 ERA over the last two years. Given the way Tampa’s bullpen tends to work miracles — see Fernando Rodney — maybe Bell bounces back to his Padres form. Even if Bell returns to form — or respectability — he isn’t going to close unless Grant Balfour implodes, meaning he’ll be among the highest paid set-up guys in the game.
Toronto Blue Jays, Maicer Izturis: Izturis has carved out a nice little career as a utility infielder. 2014 will be his 11th season in the bigs. The Jays will pay him $3 million this year and next with an option for 2016 when he’ll be 35. It’s not that Izturis is an out-and-out disaster; it’s just that he doesn’t really do anything all that great either at the plate or with the glove. Fangraphs rates Izturis’ career UZR rating at -3.1, which rates below average. Couple that with a lifetime .269/.331./.372 line and you have a guy suited for a super-utility role, not a starting second base job. Blue Jays brass agreed with this assessment, naming Ryan Goins the team’s starter at second early in camp. Honorable mention: Brett Lawrie, who has underwhelmed after arriving in Toronto with all sorts of hype. The Canadian third baseman will be under even more pressure this year after playing in only 107 games in 2013.
Chicago White Sox, Adam Dunn: Hoss Dunn is going to hit over 500 career home runs, so long as he doesn’t decide to retire after 2014 and chill out with Matthew McConaughey full-time. He’s got 440 lifetime round trippers coming into 2014, but those come with 2,220 strikeouts attached. Dunn’s first two years in Chicago were historically bad — and statistically fascinating. He was okay last year, so let’s cut him a little slack. Even so Dunn collects $14 million this year to DH, hit the occasional home run, walk and strike out — on a team that doesn’t figure to contend. Hopefully Dunn sends Kenny Williams a delicious honey-baked ham every December for Christmas. Side note: if Dunn doesn’t create his own line of signature taco sauces after his playing days, I’ll be totally bummed. Honorable mention: Dayan Viciedo (via @ButtersBC)
Cleveland Indians, Nick Swisher: If sticking your tongue out and pointing toward the sky on a third-inning single to right were a measurable quality that helped ballclubs win games, Swisher wouldn’t be on this list. (He’d likely be the most valuable player in baseball if that were the case.) Getting paid $15 million a year to hit 20-ish homers with a sub-.800 OPS, however, can be measured. Swisher is a good player and a quality clubhouse guy, but seems better suited as like the sixth or seventh banana on a team like the Yankees rather than the highest-paid player on a small-market club like the Indians. Honorable mention: Michael Bourn, who’ll make $13.5 million this season and saw his strikeouts rise and every other offensive number plummet his first year in Cleveland. Oh, bum hamstrings, too. (h/t Scripty)
Detroit Tigers, Phil Coke: Coke is nominally a “lefty specialist” who, problematically, isn’t especially effective vs. lefties (lifetime .241 BAA). Coke’s also posted back-to-back seasons with a WHIP north of 1.60. For that sub-medocrity the 31-year-old earns $1.9 million in 2014. (Life hack: channel your inner Marv Marinovich and force your children to throw left-handed in Little League.)
Kansas City Royals, Jason Vargas: Vargas is the definition of average MLB pitcher – aka, fourth starter. Over his eight-year career he’s totaled an 8.1 WAR — good for one win a year, with 3.1 of these hypothetical wins coming in 2012 with Seattle. Vargas is what he is and earned a four-year, $32 million deal. Good for Vargas, less so for the Royals if James Shields walks after the season and he becomes the de facto staff ace in 2015. In memoriam (lifetime honorary member): Yuniesky Betancourt, now with the Orix Buffaloes.
Minnesota Twins, Mike Pelfrey: Here’s a guy with a lifetime 4.48 ERA and 5.2 K/9 for his career. Pelfrey’s never posted a WHIP under 1.36 and yet he secured a two-year, $11 million deal from Minnesota — not a bank-breaker, but still a nice chunk of change. His agent? Scott Boras. Why every single baseball player doesn’t use Boras to negotiate their contracts is one of life’s great mysteries. Pelfrey also loses points for taking forever on the mound. Guess that’s a valuable trait if you sell peanuts or beer at Target Field, at least. (H/T @Chief_aka_James)
Houston Astros, Chris Carter: You could probably pick any Astro for this list because: LOLAstros, right? Carter gets the nod for striking out a league-high 212 times in 506 at bats in 2013, his first season as a full-time starter. On the plus side Carter’s been involved in trades featuring Carlos Quentin, Dan Haren and Jed Lowrie during his brief career. Honorable mention: Brett Wallace, released last week by Houston meaning the Walrus is coming to an independent league near you.
Los Angeles Angels, Albert Pujols: Let’s go out on a major limb and agree the Angels won’t get much value out of the 10-year, $240 million deal that runs from 2012-2021 for Pujols, now 34. We explored the contract last August. It is truly atrocious, especially if it hinders the team from re-signing Mike Trout long-term. Honorable mention: Josh Hamilton, who’ll make $32 million in both 2016 and 2017.
Oakland Athletics, Nick Punto: Hustling Nick Punto was the first name written down on this list. ‘Nuff said.
Seattle Mariners, Justin Smoak: Call it a hunch, but the Mariners were expecting a little more from the key piece in the Cliff Lee deal than a guy with a lifetime .227 average and a lifetime wRC+ of 95 (where 100 is average). He’s still going to be the Seattle first baseman heading into the season. Good luck. Honorable mention: Fat Jesus Montero.
Texas Rangers, Prince Fielder: The good news for the Rangers is they’re only on the hook for $138 million of the remaining $168 million on Fielder’s contract that runs through 2020. That’s going to be an, ahem, princely sum to pay someone who’ll be a full-time DH sooner rather than later. If you’re a disciple of the UZR fielding metric, chew on this: Fielder’s compiled a lifetime -44.3 in eight seasons. Or you could just use your eyes and call him a lead glove. Fun fact: Texas owes four Scott Boras clients: Fielder, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Shoo Choo and Alex Rios about $132 million over the next two seasons!
Atlanta Braves, Dan Uggla: It’s not a good sign when you’re paying someone $26 million over the next two seasons and he can’t crack the postseason roster. Uggla is never going to hit for average or field his position capably, but at least during his first two years in Atlanta he contributed something, such as 36 homers in 2011 and an NL-high 96 walks in 2012. Last year Uggla was awful, batting a paltry .179 coupled with a .362 slugging percentage. Uggla tends to rock one of the biggest wads of dip in the majors, but alas, that doesn’t exactly increase his value to Atlanta other than for clerks at Cobb County convenience stores. Honorable mention: B.J. Upton (via @RittyRich)
Miami Marlins, Jeff Baker: Try as they might, Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson have to pay a couple veterans to fill spots in South Florida every year. This winter they decided to hand Baker a two-year deal for $3.7 million. Chump change for most teams, right? Why Miami decided a journeyman with a lifetime .267/.321/.440 line who’s never had more than 299 plate appearances in a season is worthy of that money is a good question. Oh right, Baker’s agent? Scott Boras.
New York Mets, Bobby Bonilla: Wait, what? Didn’t he retire over a decade ago? Well … the Mets are paying him $1.19 million a year through 2035 instead of buying him out for $5.9 million in 2000. It means he’s the team’s 10th-highest paid player this season. You’d think they’d get Bonilla to show up at least once a year and pose for pictures with Mr. Met for some return on that investment.
Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard: Philadelphia still owes its now 34-year-old first baseman $75 million over the next three years. (Not good.) It’s even worse considering Howard’s only played 151 games the last two seasons combined, hitting 26 home runs. Hopefully Howard brings a Subway cookie platter to the Citizens Bank clubhouse every now and then. Honorable mention: Chase Utley, who might be completely washed up at age 35 pocketing $15 million in 2014.
Washington Nationals, Rafael Soriano: This spot was going to go to Ryan Zimmerman due to his massive drop-off in 2013 and $14 million per year salary. Instead the dishonor goes to Soriano. Let’s allow TBL commenter SROD fill in the details, writing on Twitter: “Rafael Soriano, their nominal closer. He’s good, but lost velocity & confidence as last year wore on. May not last all of ’14.” Soriano still finished with 43 saves in 2013, but saw his ERA swell to 4.39 post-All Star Break. He’s owed $11 million in 2014 and the team has a $14 million option for 2014. You might want to snag Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen in the late rounds of a fantasy draft.
Chicago Cubs, Edwin Jackson: Jackson possesses some talent and is a serviceable Major League starting pitcher, but he’s like that delicious deep-fried local delicacy. It’s great the first time you try it at the county fair and a lot less so each time thereafter. Jackson pitched for seven teams before the age of 30 prior to the Cubs handing him a $52 million, four-year pact prior to 2013. He rewarded Chicago with a league-high 18 losses and 4.98 ERA — mostly as the result of being a guy with a good, not great fastball and not much else in his arsenal. Why the Cubs, in the midst of another rebuilding project, decided he was worth a four-year commitment is baffling. Great job, Theo!
Cincinnati Reds, Zack Cozart: Two straight sub-.300 on-base percentage seasons isn’t a long-term ticket for success. According to Reds fan TNCowboy, Cozart’s defense might be overrated, too. Cincy’s lineup will be much shorter without Shin-Shoo Choo at the top, so Cozart will be more pressed to contribute this year.
Milwaukee Brewers, Rickie Weeks: I’m guessing this happened at least once or twice during your fantasy baseball season last year. You looked on the waiver wire and saw Weeks was available. Your eyes temporarily lit up … and then you looked at his numbers, which have dropped off across the board for four straight seasons. The Brewers signed their would-be star second baseman to a four-year, $38.5 deal in 2011 and it looked like a bargain. Weeks will be 32 in September, with a $11.5 million option for 2015 if he hits 600 plate appearances this season. Unless he improves on last year’s line of .209/.306/.357 Milwaukee will find a way to ensure he doesn’t hit that figure. Honorable mention: Ryan Bruan, mostly for the most insincere string of apologies ever following his PED suspension.
St. Louis Cardinals, Pete Kozma: St. Louis fans, on Twitter at least, seem to love everyone who plays for the Redbirds … except Kozma. His time is probably nearing an end with the arrival of Jhonny Peralta, or at least he’s moving into a more comfortable utility role. Even so, expect the understated Midwestern vitriol to rear its pleasant head at the first mistake by Kozma.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Stewart: If we were doing a simple “Worst Players” list, it would be populated by back-up catchers like Stewart. This isn’t meant to pick on Stewart — a 32 year old still three years away from free agency. That said, most Yankee fans would agree after watching Stewart play 109 games and post an entirely sub-.300 line of .209/.293/.272 he isn’t bringing much value of any kind to a club. He’s also facing potential knee surgery ensuring zero value to the Pirates this season. Sorry Chris, truly.
Arizona Diamondbacks, J.J. Putz: Admittedly the D’backs were the toughest team to pick somebody since they are so decidedly milquetoast and nondescript across the board. The dishonor here goes to veteran reliever Putz, in the last year of a contract where he’ll earn $7 million this year to likely serve as a set-up man to newly acquired Addison Reed. If Putz wrests the closer’s job away from Reed, cross him off the list and leave it vacant. (Thanks to @Kevin10Richards for the help here.)
Colorado Rockies, Boone Logan: Fangraphs projects the Rockies to have about a 12 percent shot to make the Wild Card game. Yet Colorado handed out $16.5 million over three years to Logan, a lefty-specialist. As we detailed in December, this is a S-M-R-T move.
Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp: Kemp? A former MVP candidate turned LVP? Huh? Admittedly the Dodgers trio of Carl Crawford, Andre Either and Kemp are all making big money and producing so-so results as of late. Kemp’s lack of value is tied to his inability to stay on the field. Since finishing second for NL MVP in 2011 he’s only played in 179 of a potential 324 games. He’s also being paid over $21 million per season through 2018. In October Kemp had surgery on both his ankle and shoulder, so that could get him back to All-Star level production although it means his days pursuing 40/40 seasons are likely over. Put it this way: Kemp is a guy who is either going to make or break your fantasy baseball season. The interesting thing about Kemp is in 2009-2011 he played in 159, 162 and 161 games.
San Diego Padres, Carlos Quentin: Again, like Edwin Jackson this is more on the team making a questionable decision than it is against Quentin’s ability, although he has the reputation for being a jerk, so screw him, right? San Diego, another team perpetually rebuilding, decided to dole out a four-year, $37 million deal to a player who’s never stayed on the field for more than 131 games. Quentin, when healthy, puts up slightly better than average numbers but you’re not getting any value when he’s only played 166 games the last two seasons. Call me crazy, but there is some value found in staying healthy. It’s unclear if beating up Zach Greinke adds or detracts from Quentin’s value.
San Francisco Giants, Mike Morse: The knee-jerk pick here is Tim Lincecum, earning $35 million the next two years after posting ERAs of 5.18 and 4.37. Lincecum is at least durable — he’s never made less than 32 starts in a season. His back-t0-back Cy Youngs were five years ago. So be it. Morse however, has posted one really good year in his career — 2011 with the Nationals when he hit 31 homers with a .910 OPS. Since then he’s been hurt, playing in only 200 games for the Nationals, Mariners and Orioles. San Francisco took a one-year, $6 million flier on him. Given his track record they’ll get less productivity from Morse than they will from The Freak, especially in the power-reducing confines of AT&T Park.