Thursday, October 17, 2013
Moving the "immovable" contracts
By Jim Bowden
The Braves might like a mulligan on signing the disappointing B.J. Upton.
In 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world when they signed outfielder Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million deal. His career .319 OBP and a dismal 2009 season and perceived decline as well as a base salary that escalated to $21 million quickly made Wells’ contract such an albatross that no one thought Wells could ever be traded.
There are two ways an "immovable" contract can be, well, moved. A team can do what the Angels did and assume a majority of the remaining salary; they paid $28.1 million to the Yankees, leaving just $12.9 million for the Yankees to pay in 2013 and 2014. Or a team can trade a bad contract for another bad contract, as the New York Mets and Angels did in 2001, when they swapped first baseman Mo Vaughn for right-hander Kevin Appier.
And swapping gargantuan contracts can sometimes benefit both teams. Such was the case in August 2012 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox made a blockbuster deal that transformed both clubs into legitimate World Series contenders. The Dodgers got the big-name player they wanted (Adrian Gonzalez) while the Red Sox got the financial freedom they needed to rebuild.
Also, when clubs don’t have trade chips in either their farm system or major league club, and don’t like the cost of the present free-agent market, they might take a chance on a bad contract because it’s the only way they can make their team better, just as the Yankees did with Wells.
So, teams can trade some "immovable" contracts. Let’s take a look at the present market for them. I’ve categorized them into somewhat likely and unlikely, as some have a better possibility of being moved than others, but no matter what it will take a couple of very motivated teams on both sides to get a deal done.
B.J. Upton | CF | Atlanta Braves | Owed: $58.8 million through '17 Upton received the second highest free-agent contract for a position player last offseason, behind the Angels’ Josh Hamilton. The signing was a complete disaster, as Upton produced a feeble .184/.268/.289 slash line with nine home runs and 26 RBIs. Worse yet, he struck out 151 times in just 391 at-bats. He also lost his everyday job in center field.
At 28, he’s supposed to be in his prime years. But he struggled adjusting to the NL and the pressures that come with failing in a new city. However, because he’s an above-average center fielder with power and speed, he could bounce back next season. But should that be with the Braves?
Dan Uggla | 2B | Atlanta Braves | Owed: $39 million through '16 Despite having LASIK eye surgery to improve his vision, Uggla still batted .133/.298/.231 in the second half of the season with just two doubles and four homers. He punched out 55 times in just 143 at-bats.
With a lineup filled with strikeouts and with Uggla, who will be 34 in 2014, in his decline years, there aren’t many teams to which he could go. The Braves need a second baseman with more range and who strikes out less. However, to move Uggla they would have to pay almost his entire remaining salary. There are a few teams that need an upgrade at second and might be willing to take a gamble that Uggla will regain his 30-homer stroke, such as the Kansas City Royals, Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers.
Rickie Weeks | 2B | Milwaukee Brewers | Owed: $11 million through '14 The Brewers are ready to give Scooter Gennett the full-time job at second base, which makes Weeks expendable. Weeks is coming off his career worst season, in which he batted just .209/.306/.357 with 10 home runs, and he’s due to make $11 million in 2014 and there is a vesting option in 2015 for $11.5 million.
As a result, demand won't be high, but some team might take a chance hoping he can have a renaissance. The Brewers will have to pick up at least half of the remaining salary in any deal, and a team like the Royals might be willing to take a chance on Weeks because of his speed/power combo and the fact he’ll have to perform to get another substantial contract.
Brandon League | RHP | Los Angeles Dodgers | Owed: $15 million through '15 The Dodgers said publicly when they signed League to the contract that it was a bargain for a closer. They might have been right if he held onto the closer’s job, but he didn’t.
He saved 14 games before losing his job to Kenley Jansen. But he also lost the setup, middle-relief and long-relief roles, too. As a result, he was left off all of their postseason rosters. An offseason trade would make sense, and the Dodgers won’t hesitate picking up most of the remaining contract. With so many teams looking for bullpen help, if the Dodgers eat most of his contract, League could find a new home. I could see the D-backs, Mets, Marlins or Twins being a fit in such a scenario.
Alex Rodriguez | 3B | New York Yankees | Owed: $86 million through '17 Rodriguez is currently appealing his suspension, but he will almost certainly serve some time, with a minimum of 50 games being the starting point.
Even when his suspension is over, his contract, reputation and the sideshow he brings makes him an immovable player. I can’t find any scenario in which another team will trade for him.
Albert Pujols | 1B | Los Angeles Angels | Owed: $212 million through '21 It’s not his fault that he played hurt in 2013 with plantar fasciitis in his foot and other lingering knee injuries that led to a .258 average and 17 home runs before he was shut down in August. In 2014 he’ll play at 34 years old and his decline is expected to continue.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs every season from 2014 to 2017 if he stays healthy. However, he is still owed $87 million from 2018 to 2021. He’s finishing his career as an Angel, and owner Arte Moreno can only hope that Pujols plays well enough to make the contract look palatable.
Ryan Howard | 1B | Philadelphia Phillies | Owed: $85 million through '16 Three years at $25 million per season remain on his contract with an expected $10 million buyout of the 2017 team option. All told, that’s $85 million left.
He's played in a total of 151 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, and after hitting 30 or more home runs six straight years, he hit a combined 25 homers in that span. He’ll be 34 in 2014 and is going nowhere.
John Danks | LHP | Chicago White Sox | Owed: $42.75 million through '16 Danks’ three best seasons were from 2008 to 2010 when he had posted a 3.77 ERA or less with a 1.20 WHIP or less and averaged about 13 wins per season. It seemed odd to give him a long-term contract after 2011, when he finished with an ERA of 4.33; he’s never been the same and even required shoulder surgery.
In the past two seasons, he’s 7-18, making just 31 total starts. Still, he is just 28 and he is left-handed. There are no bad contract-for-bad contract deals I can see that match with the White Sox, so they have to hope that he regains his health.
Edwin Jackson | RHP | Chicago Cubs | Owed: $33 million through '16 Jackson pitched for postseason qualifying teams in 2011 and 2012 as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater. The Cubs signed him last offseason and unfortunately he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA a 1.46 WHIP with just 6.9 K's per 9 innings, his worst rate since 2009.
With $13 million per year left through 2016, there is not a viable trade market for him.