A contract never starts off “bad,” per se.
Obviously, a general manager signs a player to a contract with the intent that the player will help the team win, even if the GM knows the criticism over dollars and years is out there. The contract often infuses hope and renewed optimism; there’s excitement in the franchise and the fan base. One need only look in Anaheim, where a gargantuan 10-year, $240 million contract for Albert Pujols left Angels fans agog not only from the sheer size of the contract but by what they hoped Pujols would bring -- success. The addition even serves as a marketing tool for other players. C.J. Wilson admitted as much when he signed. His current struggles not aside, the excitement trumped any concerns over money or long-term implications. The Angels took care of business and were lauded for doing so.
But it’s over the course of time that a contract can sour like milk. Mammoth contracts and their repercussions can linger like a migraine. They are often thought of as “immovable” because possible trade partners are scarce, almost nonexistent. That is, unless the team is willing to absorb a bulk of the dollars left on the contract.
Now we’re talking.
During my tenure as GM for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, I saw a number of so-called “immovable” contracts actually get moved, but it nearly always happened only if the player’s team ate a large portion of the remaining salary. And why not? The risk is often low and the reward could be potentially great.
The problem is that reward usually never materializes. For all the dollars that are shifted and the cachet that accompanies the names, the production never matches the sizzle. And usually, the player has struggled recently, been injury-prone or is in decline, so his production often doesn’t match his salary. Take a look at the chart above and you’ll see what I mean. For the right price, everyone is tradable. They’re just not productive. It’s simple addition by subtraction for one team, and a low-risk proposition for another.
Or in some cases, the players traded even out on salaries. Other times, the GM believes the player can regain form and is young enough to justify the contract (read: Alex Rios).
Below are five active players whose contracts are considered “immovable” by many big league general managers. I didn't include contracts for elite players like Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Joey Votto because they are the best at their position, and as such, large contracts like theirs are what a team must pay, or else your team just won't get that player. But with the players below, you’ll see in most cases they are not in the same class but are still paid handsomely. Thus their contracts aren't justified. The production doesn't equate to the price. That's why the likelihood of their being traded is small. Some are simply dead weight. But if the financial exposure from a proposed deal is so small that it’s nearly a no-risk move, there will undoubtedly be a team out there willing to give it a shot.