When it comes to bad contracts, Jays' Ricciardi is hard to beat
The Alex Rios fiasco is the latest in a series of Blue Jays blunders
B.J. Ryan, Vernon Wells and Frank Thomas are among Ricciardi's regrettable deals
But the Wells contract -- seven years, $126 million -- is one of the alltime worst
I don't want this to sound rude ... but I have never understood Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. I mean that sincerely. I just don't understand. I have friends all around the game who will tell me what a bright guy J.P. is, what a good baseball man he is, what a grounded person he is, what a nice guy he is, and so on. And I have no reason to doubt them except this: I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
And no, this isn't about the incredibly dumb things Ricciardi says, like the time he basically called Gil Meche a loser because he signed with the Kansas City Royals instead of his own multiple-championship team in Toronto (Ricciardi's team career record is 489-483 with zero playoff appearances in seven seasons). Or the time he ripped Adam Dunn for not liking baseball and then claimed to have apologized to Dunn even though Dunn insisted that he never heard from Ricciardi (at which point Ricciardi made some comment about how someone was PRETENDING to be Dunn, or something like that). Or the time he lied about B.J. Ryan's injury and then offered up the classic, "They're not lies if we know the truth," quote.
No. Forget all that. Here's my thing about J.P. Ricciardi, the thing that really baffles the heck out of me: How can someone keep giving out contracts THIS BAD and keep his job and reputation? I'm serious. How?
Obviously, you can start with the Alex Rios contract. You probably know that Rios has SIX YEARS and about $60 million left on his contract. And the guy is 28 years old and has a 94 OPS+ this year. He has a lifetime .335 on-base percentage, which is pretty darned mediocre. He has never hit 25 home runs in a season. He has not slugged .500 since 2006. He has been a good outfielder, but he even appears to be losing that. This contract is SO BAD that the only way for Ricciardi and the Blue Jays to escape it was to put Rios on waivers and have Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams come in, like Bagel in Diner, and pay off his gambling debts.
I don't know if the White Sox will get much for their money. They might get something ... Rios, in that hitters' ballpark and a new environment, might be revitalized and might have some good years. I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen and, again, some of the people I trust around the game say it will happen. But no matter what happens, that contract was so bad that the Blue Jays needed a bailout. If that was the only time it happened to Ricciardi, OK, everyone is entitled to a mistake. And you could see how the Blue Jays made this mistake: Rios was developed in the Blue Jays organization and put up a couple of pretty good years.
Trouble is, this is a frightening pattern for Ricciardi -- B.J. Ryan. Vernon Wells. Frank Thomas. Just for starters. For fun, I put together an unofficial list of the worst contracts in the game. And, as you will see, Ricciardi's name is all over it. This turned out to be more involved than I expected ... so I had to make up a few rules.
1. To qualify, the contract has to still be going for at least one more year ... and it has to be for more than $10 million per year on the remainder. So, that would rule out, say, the bizarrely awful Vicente Padilla contract because he's coming off the books after this season.
2. I try to take injuries into account when judging the contract. True, the Dodgers signing of Jason Schmidt (three years, $47 million) was, in retrospect, awful. The guy has won a grand total of three games with a 6.02 ERA. But he has been hurt. You could certainly argue that when you sign a 34-year-old pitcher for that much money you are ASKING for pain, but, again, I'm trying to be fair here.
3. I want to judge the contract based on the entire thing. What I mean is ... the Red Sox owe $12.5 million more to Big Papi next year, and that's really, really bad. At this point, I think, you can reasonably make the conclusion that Papi is more or less finished as a good player and so that is dead money. But the Papi contract as a whole was a good one; Papi had a couple of amazing seasons over the four-year contract and I would say he has been worth every penny the Red Sox will pay him.
And so a few contract thoughts, then the list ...
Bad contract coming off the books: Adrian Beltre (5 years, $64 million). Beltre is prime example of a general manager putting too much stock into one good year. Beltre had been a certain kind of player for five years -- good defensively at third, a bit of power, generally low batting averages, an inability to walk. Then in 2004 he had that monster year -- .334/.388/.629 with 48 homers in Los Angeles -- and the Mariners bought into it. To be honest, Beltre hasn't been as bad as I thought. He's a mixed bag. He's a terrific defensive player, he has generally hit 25 home runs a year, he still doesn't get on base. This year he looks entirely overmatched at the plate. I watched one game where he struck out three times on fastballs -- and he looked to be about five seconds late. Over the length of the contract, he has been a pretty good player. The Mariners paid him like a great one. It's a common mistake.
Contracts that have may or may not bomb, but I don't like them: Brian Roberts (4 years, $40 million) and Michael Young (5 years, $80 million). Do you get these two guys confused, too, or is it just me? I don't know why I get them confused. Roberts is a switch-hitter, Young a right-handed hitter. Roberts has led the league in stolen bases, Young in batting average. Roberts plays second base (and moderately well) while Young played shortstop and now plays third base (and the numbers suggest he's been terrible there -- minus-19 on the Dewan). They are really not alike.
Except this: Every time I look up either one of their numbers, I'm shocked at how unimpressive they are. Roberts has a career 103 OPS+. Young has a career 105 OPS+. Roberts will turn 32 in October, Young 33, so you would expect that both will very soon enter the decline phase of their careers. Maybe I'm wrong -- I hope I'm wrong because they both seem like likable guys you would root for -- but it seems to me that one or both of these contracts will be an albatross before the day is done.
Another contract that has not bombed yet but probably will: Francisco Cordero -- 4 years, $46 million. Two more years in Cincinnati at $12 million, plus a club option. This does not look like a bad deal at the moment -- Cordero is having a sensational year at 34. But a wise baseball man man once told me: If you have a team whose highest-paid player is the closer, you have a bad team.
A bad contract that you really can't blame anyone for: Eric Byrnes (3 years, $30 million). He has one more year left at $11 million, and he has been dreadful when he has been able to play the last two years (114 games, .213 average, 60 OPS+), and he can't keep his hamstrings from tearing. But in this case ... I'm just not sure what else Arizona could have done. He had that inspiring 2007 season -- 21 homers, 50 steals, all sorts of great defensive plays, good hair, national fame -- and the Diamondbacks really had to bring him back. In retrospect, of course, a 32-year-old guy with a career 100 OPS+ for four teams was probably not worth it. But, hey, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
A bad contract that was just sort of unavoidable: Aaron Rowand (5 years, $60 million). He will be paid $12 million per for the next three years, which is a whole lot of money to pay for a below-average hitter who probably has been pretty wildly overrated defensively for three or four years. But, hey, he came off that big 2007 season -- .309/.374/.515 -- and he'd had one year like that before (2004 in Chicago) and he had the great defensive rep, and he was a free agent, and somebody was going to overpay for him. Brian Sabean was the lucky winner.
A contract that is still not a disaster ... but the iceberg approacheth: Carlos Lee (6 years, $100 million). He's still hitting -- a 130 OPS+, a .514 slugging percentage, yet another year where he will probably hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs -- and yet, you can see bad things on the horizon. Lee is going to make $18.5 million in each of the next three years. He has already become a horrible outfielder and he's one of the worst base runners in the game -- so as soon as the bat stops producing, he has a chance to become one of the three worst contracts in baseball. And he's 33 years old.
A different kind of bad contract: Carlos Zambrano (5 years, $91.5 million). The contracts that I list below as the worst are those where (in my opinion) a team has wildly overpaid a player for the production they will get. This could be the case with Zambrano, certainly, but it's a different deal because Zambrano's still a good pitcher, and quite often an awesome pitcher. His problems are ... er ... tougher to define.
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