Hey everybody it’s time for the second annual Big Lead Least Valuable Players list. Hooray. Huzzah. Last year’s inaugural effort was such a rousing success we’re doing it again.
Reminder: this isn’t an exercise in picking the “worst” players on each team, which would end up with a lot of indistinguishable utility infielders. Instead it’s about value. Joe Mauer is still a good baseball player, an All Star-level player, in fact, but in 2015 he’s not exactly worth $23+ million a season for the Twins. Here’s the list for the American League…
Baltimore Orioles, Ubaldo Jimenez: Fun fact: Ubaldo Jimenez’s four-year, $50-million deal is the largest for a pitcher in Orioles’ history. How did he respond to his big contract? Pitching to a 4.81 ERA, which got him demoted from the starting rotation for the AL East Champs. Jimenez, somehow, is the rare pitcher who’s become appreciably worse after leaving Coors Field, which is difficult. (Last year: Nick Markakis)
Boston Red Sox, Allen Craig: In the here-and-now, Shane Victorino is less valuable for Boston than Craig, since he’s not projected to start and is owed $13 million, but he comes off the books after 2015. Craig, 30, is tied up through 2017 with a club option for 2018. He’s only guaranteed $25.5 through those years which is not a lot of money for the cash-rich Red Sox even for a backup — it’s less than Yoan Moncada’s signing bonus if we’re being realistic. In 29 games for the Sox in 2014 Craig put up a woeful .128 batting average on his way to the third-worst OPS in the league. Going into 2015 Craig is projected as a backup at both first and DH. (Last year: Will Middlebrooks)
New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez: The Yankees roster is saddled with bloated contracts to declining veterans, namely CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera, saying nothing of Carlos Beltran or Brian McCann. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s set aside everything about A-Rod beyond his actual on-field performance. New York is set to pay a $22 million to a 39 year-old who hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007. If A-Rod is healthy and DH-ing at Yankee Stadium, he can still contribute in spurts but … nobody knows until he’s on the field, saying nothing of whatever headlines the New York tabloids cook up on a daily basis.
It’s pure speculation, but let’s say A-Rod gets around 350-400 at bats in 2015, can he hit 20 homers and bat .270? Whatever he does in 2015, odds are it’s not going to worth $22 million to the Yankees. (Last year: Ichiro)
Tampa Bay Rays, Grant Balfour: If you’re reading this Grant, please don’t yell at me. Next round is on me, mate. Balfour winds up the default pick of the low-payroll Rays. For all the plaudits heaped on Andrew Friedman, giving Balfour $14 million over two years isn’t one of his better moves, given the veteran reliever lost his closing job and finished the year with a 4.91 ERA. The Aussie is the fourth-highest paid Ray in 2015 to be a set-up guy, if that. (Last year: Heath Bell)
Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Reyes: We need a couple qualifiers here, because Reyes is hardly lacking value. First, Reyes’ big money kicks in this season, meaning he’s owed $66 million for the next three years (a contract handed out by the Marlins and traded for by the Jays). Reyes, when healthy, has produced for the Jays to the tune of a 3.1 WAR in 2014 — which is down from his peak of 5.8 with the Mets in 2006. Reyes’ slash line with the Mets over nine years and 1,050 games is .292/.341/.441. In two seasons at the Rogers Centre (236 games) it’s .290/.338/409. The big variance in the slugging could be attributed to a lack of triples. Reyes hit 99 with the Mets and four with the Jays.
Also gone? The speed that produced 370 stolen bases in New York yielded just 45 with Toronto. Going into 2015, the number that matters for Reyes is on-base percentage. He doesn’t need to steal second with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson behind him in the lineup. If Reyes ups his on-base percentage from the .328 it was last season he still might be getting paid a shade too much, but it might prove value to the Jays. But $20+ million of value? (Last year: Maicer Izturis)
Chicago White Sox, John Danks: Arm troubles cost Danks parts of 2012 and 2013, but the White Sox are still on the hook for $15.75 million each of the next two seasons — not terrible given the going rate for lefty starting pitchers — but a lot for a guy who hasn’t posted a sub 4.00 ERA since 2010. (Last year: Adam Dunn, single tear)
Cleveland Indians, Nick Swisher: Everyone around baseball seems to love Swish. You know, he’s a chill bro, bro. A chill attitude in the clubhouse isn’t quite worth $30 million over the next two years for smaller-market Cleveland, which might not even have a place in the starting lineup for Swisher in 2015. His two seasons at Progressive Field yielded 30 homers, a .702 OPS and 249 strikeouts in 242 games.
Totally unchill. /points to the sky after finishing this paragraph.
Honorable mention: Michael Bourne. (Last year: Swisher)
Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander: Waaaaaaaaaay back in 2011 Verlander led the American League in every relevant pitching category and took home the Cy Young and MVP awards. Awesome. Wonderful. Hooray. Flash forward to 2014 and the Tigers one-time ace led the AL in one category: most earned runs allowed (104). Some attributed this to core muscle surgery in the offseason. Verlander is reportedly 20 pounds heavier going into 2015, but his declining fastball velocity precedes 2014. Oh right, he’s owed $140 million through 2019. Let Verlander’s contract serve as yet another cautionary tale about signing/rewarding players for past performances. (Last year: Phil Coke)
Kansas City Royals, Omar Infante: Compared to many players on this list, the Royals paying a veteran second baseman $30 million over four years isn’t outrageous, it’s reasonable in fact and a sign that owner David Glass isn’t afraid to spend some money. (Remember, the Royals made the World Series last October for the first time since 1985.) Kansas City gets three more years from the 33-year-old Infante, who finished 139th in OPS last season among qualified players, driven by his .295 on-base percentage. (Last year: Jason Vargas)
Minnesota Twins, Joe Mauer: Avert your eyes, Twins fans. The Twins’ payroll in 2015 is around 107 million — $23 million goes to Mauer, or $11.5 million per sideburn. Mauer is by no means a “bad” player, but his value isn’t close to what he’s paid, especially at first base where he managed to play in only 120 games in 2014. Mauer was still a 2+ WAR player, but hit a paltry four home runs and, shockingly, slugged under .400. His 2009 MVP season where he posted a .365/.444/.587 line is a distant memory. Honorable mention: Torii Hunter. (Last year: Mike Pelfrey)
Houston Astros, Jed Lowrie: Shortstops are hard to come by, hence Houston didn’t feel too bad handing Lowrie a three-year/$23 million deal to put up numbers slightly below the league average. Disclosure: the Astros contract situation is mostly reasonable and we needed to pick somebody. (Last year: Chris Carter)
Los Angeles Angels, Josh Hamilton: This isn’t meant to pile on Hamilton, who’s in the midst of a rough stretch that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball. While Hamilton tries to square away his personal life, his contract is still worth over $90 million for the next three years. Hamilton faces a suspension, on top of a neck injury that meant his season probably wouldn’t begin until May at the earliest. Before his latest off-the-field issues cropped up, Hamilton was already on the decline, playing in just 89 games in 2014. He also went 0-fer the postseason during the Royals sweep of the Angels in the ALDS. His five years in Texas resulted in 142 home runs with a .305/.363/.549 line, which is why Los Angeles rewarded him with a five-year/$125 million deal. Add everything up and the Angles aren’t getting close to what they paid for. Honorable mention: Albert Pujols (Last year: Albert Pujols)
Oakland Athletics, Billy Butler: On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with handing a veteran like Butler a three-year deal worth $30 million and by traditional American League designated hitter standards (and current baseball revenue streams) that’s chump change.
How much value Oakland gets from Butler is questionable. He’s only hit over 20 home runs twice in his career. In 111 at bats at the O.co Coliseum he’s managed a .252/.354/.405. Maybe with Ike Davis they form one super lefty/righty platoon that exceeds expectations. Still, Butler looks like an odd choice for Billy Beane to open up the wallet, even in earnest. (Last year: Nick Punto)
Seattle Mariners, Austin Jackson: As a Tigers fan, it pains me to dismiss the guy who made this catch to temporarily save Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game back in 2011 (and was a solid performer in MoTown). Jackson, on the verge of free agency, is a conundrum. He’s never quite developed into a power hitter, nor is he that adept at getting on base, meaning he doesn’t quite have a perfect spot to bat in the lineup.
After being traded to the Mariners in July 2014 he posted a .267 on-base percentage, on his way to a negative WAR. He’s making $7 million this year, which isn’t a killer for the Mariners but they’re still not getting much production. (Last year: Justin Smoak)
Texas Rangers, Elvis Andrus: Supposed front office wunderkind Jon Daniels somehow fields a roster that pays $50+ million to Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus and Shin-Shoo Choo. All three are under contract through 2020. Andrus’s big-money deal begins in 2015, where he makes $15 million a season through 2022. It’s one of those deals that looked good at the time — hey let’s lock up our young shortstop who we’ve gone to the World Series with so he doesn’t wind up on the Yankees — only to backfire. Andrus OPS is sub .700 over the past two seasons. Advanced fielding metrics even rated him a negative defender in 2014. The good news for Andrus? Using Baseball-Reference’s “Similarity Score” the player he grades out to the most at age 25 is Alan Trammel. Bad news? Under the blanket “Similar Batters” column Andrus compares to light-hitting utility infielder scrubs Ryan Theriot and Jason Bartlett.
Honorable mention: Matt Harrison, who’s made six starts since signing a 5-year, $55 million deal in 2013. (Last year: Prince Fielder)