As I mentioned, albeit a bit more than briefly, in the Saturday Afternoon Rangers Strikes, Jonah Keri released his list of the worst contracts in baseball on Friday. Keri is a writer I have a lot of respect for, and his work is indicative of the kind of writer I'd love to be. Of course, that doesn't mean I always have to agree with him -- like times when he has three Rangers on his top 10 list of the worst contracts in baseball and another on the "dishonorable mention" list.
For Texas, the three Rangers on the "top 10" list are Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, and Matt Harrison, who rank 5th, 4th, and 2nd, respectively. Of course, any list like this is likely to be headlined by Alex Rodriguez. He's just too easy to hate, something Keri makes note of. B.J. Upton, who comes in at 3rd, is another easily identifiable candidate for the "worst contract in baseball".
Regarding Fielder and Choo, while Keri notes that the Fielder deal is somewhat mitigated by Detroit paying $30 million of his deal as part of the trade last offseason that netted Texas Fielder in exchange for Ian Kinsler, he seems to get too caught up in both players having injury-plagued seasons in 2014. Sure, he makes a note of it, but considering he updates the list before each season, it's safe to assume that these are contracts he views as the worst both now and moving forward.
It's at this point that I'd like to mention that Albert Pujols is on the list in the 6th slot. That is, Keri believes Fielder, Choo, and Harrison all have worse contracts than Pujols. Pujols will make $24 million in 2015, and his pay will increase until he's receiving $30 million during his age-41 season. He's already significantly dropped off from his production from his St. Louis years, and while he hasn't been terrible, he's hardly been the guy the Angels hoped they were getting prior to the 2012 season when they signed him.
Considering potential inflation and what will be considered a "bad contract" by 2021 makes it hard to really project whether or not $30 million will be a terrible deal by then. Although there's a good chance he won't be contributing meaningfully by that point, we can't really know until we reach that point in time. For now, however, his $24 million is the same that Prince Fielder will be paid in 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, the $30 million from Detroit will begin being paid in 2016 in $6 million annual installments through 2020. That is to say, Prince Fielder actually gets cheaper for Texas after this season. Yet somehow, he figures to be of lesser value than Pujols moving forward? I wouldn't bet on it.
For starters, Fielder is five years younger -- that is, if you believe Pujols is actually 35 and not older as some have speculated in recent years -- and while ZiPS projects Fielder to be worth 1.2 WAR in 2015, that's mostly based on the fact that he provided next to nothing in 2014 due to his neck injury. Meanwhile, Pujols projects to be worth 3.1 WAR according to ZiPS. At the very least, I feel like it'd be a good bet for Fielder to be the more valuable player between 2015 and 2020 for what Texas is paying for. Beyond that, it's not too difficult to envision a scenario in which he's more valuable than Pujols in 2015.
A lot of the lost value that people forget about with Fielder is that he comes with a career OBP of .388. That's higher than David Ortiz's .379, and Ortiz is heading into his age-39 season in which he will make $16 million. Oh hey, Fielder will be paid $18 million by Texas in 2016 and beyond -- thanks to Detroit paying $6 million a season on his $24 million a year contract -- and I haven't heard too many people complaining about what Ortiz has made in recent years. If Fielder were able to provide something around what Ortiz has, I think many would pause before criticizing the Rangers too much on the contract.
Shin-Soo Choo is another player that the media -- and some fans -- love to hate right now. He's not flashy, at least in the sense of hitting for significant power, and we're still living in a time in which the average fan doesn't appreciate the value of getting on base as much as catch statistics like RBI and batting "average". ZiPS likes Choo a bit more than Fielder, projecting him at 1.8 WAR. Needless to say, the Rangers fully expect that a healthy Choo is something closer to the 5.2 fWAR he put up in 2013 than the 0.2 fWAR he put up in 2014.
Choo will make $14 million in 2015 a figure that escalates to $20 million a year in 2016 and up again to $21 million a year in 2019 and 2021. Sure, there's a pretty good chance that even $20 million may look a bit on the high side by, say 2018, when Choo will be 35. I would still contend that by that point, he'll have a better chance of providing value than an Albert Pujols who is 38 years old.
Matt Harrison is in another group all on his own. When the Rangers signed Harrison to a 5-year deal in January of 2013, it looked to be a very team-friendly deal for Texas. If he merely provides 2 WAR per season going forward, he would likely fall right in line with his value on the basis of $/WAR. That, of course, assumes he's able to pitch at all, an unknown at this point as he attempts to come back from spinal fusion surgery.
An overlooked part on Harrison is that the Rangers have an insurance policy on Harrison's contract, one that paid $2 million in 2013 and up to $6 million in 2014, according to Evan Grant. It's unclear whether or not such a policy exists for 2015 and beyond, but it wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibilities for the Rangers to have some sort of protection in place in the event that Harrison's comeback attempt fails.
Finally we have Elvis Andrus, who was on Keri's "dishonorable mention" list. Andrus is a player that fans and the national media love to hate right now because, let's face it, offense is sexier than defense. Much of his value is tied to his defense, and ZiPS projects him to put up 2.3 WAR in 2015. Ironically, based on the general assumption of $6.5 million per WAR, that places him exactly on his value -- he'd have to put up a WAR of 2.307, if you want to get really technical. Anything beyond that, like the 4.2 and 4.0 fWAR figures he put up in 2011 and 2012, and the Rangers come out smelling like a rose. But as Keri points out:
Well, there we have it. Invoking the name of Scott Boras to prove a point. That one's never been done before. Sure, it's easy to point to him because of Alex Rodriguez, but that also ignores that he represents Adrian Beltre. That's worked out pretty well for Texas. In the case of Andrus, it appears that Keri found himself wrapped up in the fad of jumping on the "Elvis can't hit" bandwagon. That's partially true. With that said, he's still only 26, and there's no reason to believe that he can't perform up to his contract on a $/WAR basis, especially factoring in inflation in future years and the like. Elvis Andrus not only doesn't belong on any list of the worst contracts in baseball, he doesn't even deserve to be in the "dishonorable mentions" category.
Of course, winning cures a lot of these things, and if Texas is able to go out this season and, like Beltre has since writers like Jeff Pearlman criticized his contract, perform above the perceived media expectations, we're likely to be having a totally different conversation by October. Meanwhile, there's a good chance that Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton will all seem to have awful contracts moving forward.