As heated as rooting can get for baseball fans defending their teams, one of the things that gets a fan’s blood boiling is thinking about the poor investments made by their team.
We don’t mean the way the owners of the New York Mets lost their shirts (and maybe their franchise) to Bernie Madoff. No, we are referring to big contracts given to players who don’t live up to their high salaries.
Some are truly terrible. Mo Vaughn injured himself in his first game under a huge payout and never really earned the riches he received.
Some even occupy a middle ground. Take Alex Rodriguez, for instance. His numbers prove he’s one of the game’s greatest hitters, but the size of his contract made it difficult for the Texas Rangers to win because they couldn’t pay for other good players.
There are great contracts, too. And one, given to Jackie Robinson, was a true bargain.
While there are several players that didn’t live up to their contracts, this is AdvisorOne’s list of the Top 10 Best and Worst Baseball Contracts. THE WORST
10. CARL PAVANO: 4 years, $39.5 million—New York Yankees
Carl Pavano’s big free agent contract isn’t the biggest on this list, but the team that ponied up the cash didn’t get what it paid for. Pavano was a good pitcher who had a great postseason in 2003 and fine regular season in 2004 while with the Florida Marlins. He parlayed that into his deal with the Yanks.
What followed was a string of strange injuries that left the Yankees with little to show for its expenditure. Pavano’s record was just 9-8 over four seasons, including 2006 when he didn’t throw a pitch—that’s nearly $4.4 million per win. One injury was a “bruised buttocks” that he got while diving for a grounder, which knocked him out for several games. Some teammates even questioned his desire to play. After leaving the Yankees, Pavano found some success with the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins. 9. ALBERT BELLE: 5 years, $65 million—Baltimore Orioles
Albert Belle was an offensive machine for the Cleveland Indians. He was so good at knocking in runs that he helped the sad-sack club make it to the World Series in 1995 for the first time in decades. Off the field, his angry outbursts often attracted unwanted publicity (going after a fan in the stands he says was spewing racist remarks and chasing kids egging his house on Halloween). Eventually the best power hitter of the 1990s (and a pretty fair hitter for average, too) got his big payday with the Orioles. Alas, after a couple good seasons (Belle hit just 60 of his 381 homers and drove in just 220 of his 1,019 RBI for Baltimore), Belle was done. And Baltimore’s birds were out of luck.
8. MO VAUGHN: 6 years, $80 million—Anaheim Angels
Mo Vaughn was a big man. The kind of larger-than-life man with a persona to match. His long home runs added to his aura and his popularity with fans in Boston, where he was the AL MVP in 1995.
With all that in mind, the Anaheim Angels (this was before they changed their name to capitalize on the L.A. market) made him a multimillionaire in 1999. His career in the Golden State was doomed from the start: In his first game he tripped in the dugout and injured himself. By 2001 he was sent packing to the New York Mets. A chronic knee injury soon ended his career. Before his big contract, Big Mo hit 201 home runs; after, he banged out just 98.
7. VERNON WELLS: 7 years, $126 million—Toronto Blue Jays/L.A. Angels (sharing the pain)
When Vernon Wells signed a seven-year extension in 2006 with the Blue Jays, his contract was the fifth biggest in the history of baseball. Injuries and dwindling offensive numbers made the center fielder such a liability that he was traded to the Angels before the 2011 season. He bounced back with a decent year at the plate, but it’s hard to figure why the Halos decided to put themselves on the hook to the tune of $86 million through 2014. Since the contract, Wells has only hit .300 once (in an injury shortened season in 2008) and he hasn’t driven 100 runs in a season, something he did three times before signing.
Since there’s still a few years left for redemption, Wells’ big contract doesn’t get the nod, rather the thumbs down, over the next guy. 6. MIKE HAMPTON: 8 years, $121 million—Colorado Rockies
Mike Hampton was on top of the world at the end of the 2000 season. He was coming off a very good campaign, he was 15-10, in which he helped the New York Mets get to the World Series (the season before he was 22-4 for the Houston Astros). He could pitch and field and, maybe most important, he was a free agent. Spurning the Mets, he signed with the Rockies. A strange choice given that the team’s ballpark was considered the worst for pitchers in baseball.