Out of all the major North American sports leagues, baseball is the only one to feature full guaranteed contracts. You can thank a strong union for that. While it’s great for players, it definitely leads to a lot of situations where contracts that look great when they are first signed quickly (or sometimes slowly) turn into glaring warts on a team’s payroll.
It doesn’t matter how bad these players perform, or how many games they miss with injury — they are still going to collect multi-millions every year. For these 15 players, performance is definitely an issue. Some have been slowed by down by age or injury, while others have no excuse. Some of them are still young enough to turn it around and make strides towards earning those monster contracts, whiles others are closer to retirement than another All-Star game. Regardless, it’s an awful lot of money for such meager performance.
Here they are in order of how much money they are being paid in 2019, from least to most.
15. Kendrys Morales – $11M
When the Blue Jays were faced with both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting free agency after the 2016 season, most fans expected they could only afford to keep one. They tried to sign Edwin, but he held out for more money (which he didn’t end up getting in Cleveland). When that failed, they quickly pivoted to Kendrys Morales, who had been crushing baseballs for the Royals the past two years.
In 2015 and 2016, Morales was an RBI machine. He combined for 52 home runs and 199 RBIs in those two seasons, while batting .277/.344/.476 during his time with Kansas City. He signed a three-year, $33 million contract with Toronto and was supposed to fill the glaring hole left at DH. Instead he struggled in 2017, when he batted just .250 and set a career high in strikeouts (132). So far in early 2018, Jays fans are on the verge mutiny whenever Morales is in the lineup. He’s batting .152/.236/.278 as of May 8, and is often finding himself as the odd-man out in a Jays batting order that has gotten younger, faster, and… well, a lot better without Morales. It’s unlikely they will be able to trade him, so the Jays are probably stuck with him for 2019 too.
14. Ryan Zimmerman – $14M
Ryan Zimmerman broke into the league as a 20-year-old third baseman and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, his first full year in the Bigs. He seemed to be future of the hot corner for the Washington Nationals, so they locked him into a six-year, $100 million deal before the 2014 season. Unfortunately, he spent more than half of those first two years on the disabled list with various ailments and hit just .218 in 2016 (115 games).
Although he bounced back in 2017 in a big way, slashing .303/.358/.573 and crushing 36 home runs and 108 RBI. He was an All-Star and even picked up a few MVP votes at the end of the year. Unfortunately for Nationals fans who optimistic about his turnaround, Zimmerman has stunk so far in 2018. In 31 games, he’s batting just .194/.256/.398. He’s also moved over to play first base in recent years, as both Anthony Rendon and Wilmer Difo provide better defense. Next year (2019) is the final year on Zimmerman’s contract, and you can bet that the Nats won’t be picking up the $18 million option for 2020.
13. Rich Hill – $16M
It seemed like Rich Hill was washed up and on his way out of baseball. He had a 7.80 ERA in 2009 followed by missing most of the next two seasons with Tommy John surgery. When he returned in 2012, he came out of the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox with mixed results — and that’s being generous. Then, somehow, he found himself new life in 2015, emerging from the minors with sparkling numbers.
Hill bet on himself in 2016, signing a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics. In 14 starts, he was 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.092 WHIP. The ever-frugal A’s traded him to the Dodgers, where he pitched even better if his last six starts (1.83 ERA and 0.786 WHIP). That was enough to earn him a three-year, $48 million contract — almost unheard of for a player who was already 37-years-old.
Hill pitched a mostly solid 2017 and helped the Dodgers get to the World Series, but the first season of his contract was hampered by blister issues on his throwing hand. He made repeated trips to the DL, frustrating Dodgers fans. The second year of his contract has started out the same — a cracked fingernail/blister on his throwing hand and a 6.00 ERA in three starts. Hill is now 38-years-old, and that contract is starting to look pretty awful. Plus he’ll make $18 million in 2019, whether he’s still pitching in The Show or not.
12. Adam Jones – $17M
Adam Jones is a five-time All-Star and played most of career for the Baltimore Orioles — a career that has been very good for the most part. During his mid-to-late 20s, he regularly hit 30 home runs and 80+ RBI, while batting in the respectable .280 range. Even 2017 was a decent year for Jones. However, 2018 is off to a less-than-promising start.
Thirty-three games into the season, Jones is hitting well below his career averages (.245/.417/.674). Even worse, the Orioles are a league-worst 8-26, with barely any signs of life. With their superstar shortstop Manny Machado (likely) set to leave in free agency this Winter, it’s going to be a tough few years for O’s fans. As for Jones, the $17 million he will make this year marks the end of his current contract. He will be 33 next season, and recent history has shown us there isn’t much of a market for aging outfield sluggers.
11. Hunter Pence – $18.5M
Hunter Pence put together some strong seasons in late 20s, earning MVP votes in all of 2011, 2012, and 2013 while playing for the Astros, Phillies, and finally the Giants — where he helped them win a World Series as a rental player. He signed a massive five-year, $90 million contract to stay with the Giants before the start of the 2014 season and things started out great.
In the first season of that new contract, he played all 162 games to a slash line of .277/.332/.445, with 20 homeruns, 74 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. Plus the Giants won another championship, so all was well in the Bay Area. That was the high point, though. The second year of his contract (2015) was marred by injury, limiting him to just 52 games. He only played 106 in 2016, although his batting average and OPS stayed consistent with his career numbers.
So far, 2018 has been the worst season of his entire career. He’s batting just .172/.187/.190 with zero homeruns. His body is also breaking down, with various injuries keeping him out of the lineup over half the time. At 35-years-old, Pence will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he can get healthy and show signs of life, there’s a chance some team in the league will offer him a one-year deal in 2019, just to see how it goes. But it won’t be anywhere in the range of $18.5 million. He’ll be lucky to make $3 or $4 million next year.
10. Ryan Braun – $20M
Ryan Braun is the first player on our list to hit the $20 million mark, which he will make with a combination of his base salary ($19M) and a $10 million signing bonus that pays out $1M every year from 2011 to 2020. He has played his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers, and what an up-and-down career it’s been. At 23, he won the Rookie of the Year (2007). Four seasons later he was the NL MVP (2011) and the Brewers extended his contract even further, giving him a huge raise.
However, he missed two-thirds of the season in 2013 when a failed PED test led to a lengthy suspension. It also created questions about his previous performance numbers, casting a shadow over what was a stellar career up to that point. His numbers dropped in 2014, but then slowly climbed back up. He actually made the All-Star team in 2015, and everyone thought Braun was back!
It’s all vanished again, though. He put up numbers way below his career averages in 2017, and missed over 50 games with injuries. This season has started out even worse, with his average down to .243 and his OBP dropping below .300 for the first time in his career. He has time to turn it around, but he’s almost 35-years-old. Even worse, the Brewers are committed to paying him $20 million this year, $19 million in 2019, and even $17 million in 2020. That contract is starting to look pretty ugly!
9. Russell Martin – $20M
In the last year of his previous contract, Russell Martin had one of the best years of career. While playing for the Pirates in 2014, Martin slashed .290/.402/.430 with 11 home runs, 67 RBI, and 59 walks, playing backcatcher in 111 games. That performance was enough to attract a bunch of suitors when he hit free agency that winter, and the Toronto Blue Jays came calling for the Canadian native.
The Jays inked Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract — that’s a lot of money for a catcher! After he moved north, his batting average plummeted below .250. His power numbers went up slightly, but so did his strikeouts, as the Jays turned into a homer-or-stikeout type of team. In 2017 he only played in 91 games, limited by injuries. In 2018, the Jays are only letting him play two out of every three games so far, trying desperately to keep him healthy. It’s not helping though, as Martin is slashing .139/.277/.316 so far — hardly worth the $20 million he’s going to make this year. Toronto is on the hook for another $20 million in 2019 too, before the contract expires.
8. Troy Tulowitzki – $20M
We’ve arrived at the third and final Toronto Blue Jays player on this list, as Troy Tulowitzki and his massive contract was shipped to Toronto in 2015 as the team tried to win a championship. They reached the ALCS in both 2015 and 2016, but couldn’t crack the Royals or the Indians to get to the Fall Classic. As for Tulo, he has only shown glimpses of being the perennial All-Star he was while playing in Colorado.
Tulowitzki is still being paid the second half of a massive ten-year, $157.7 million contract. He made $20 million in 2017, and only appeared in 66 games due to being made of glass. Okay, not really, but he seemed to trip and hurt himself every few weeks. Even when he was healthy, he only hit .249/.300/.378 and managed to strike out in over 15 percent of his plate appearances. He hasn’t even played in 2018, after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in both of his heels. At this point, most Blue Jays fans assume they might never see Tulo suit up at shortstop ever again. Oh, and he’ll make $20 million in 2019 and another $14 million in 2020. His contract is unmovable and his play (when he’s actually on the field) is even worse.
7. Jacoby Ellsbury – $21.14M
In his contract year of 2013, Jacoby Ellsbury had himself one helluva year. He batted .298/.355/.426 with nine home runs, 53 RBI, and a league leading 52 stolen bases. He was also an above average center fielder for the Red Sox, and all of those things combined into making him a very attractive free agent.
Not content to let the Red Sox keep such a talent, the New York Yankees offered Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million deal that would keep him under contract until the end of 2020. He will be almost 38 when the contract expires. The first year of the new deal went alright, with only a slight regression towards his career norms. Then he missed over 50 games in 2015 (and only hit .257 when he did play). Both 2016 and 2017 were also below average years for Ellsbury, who continues to struggle to stay healthy enough to play. He missed exactly 50 games last year and hasn’t even played yet in 2018, as he battles both a foot and a hip injury.
His contract will still pay him over $21 million a year for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Even if he does regain his health, the Yankees restocked with youthful talent in a hurry and are one of the best teams in baseball again. Ellsbury’s place on the team isn’t guaranteed anymore, and that’s a lot of money to pay a bench player.
6. Ian Desmond – $22M
After six very good (but not great) seasons in Washington, Ian Desmond finally hit free agency for the first time in a strange market — buyers just weren’t buying. Not like they used to, anyway. You would think that an everyday second baseman with above-average numbers would get some decent contract offers, but Desmond ended up playing the 2016 season on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers. Betting on himself worked out, as Desmond had one of the better years of his career. He slashed .285/.335/.446 with 22 homeruns and 86 RBI, earning himself a much deserved raise.
Desmond signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Rockies (who no longer have to pay Troy Tulowitzki — see above — so they had some spare cash). He missed almost 70 games in the first year of that contract, due to injury. So far in 2018, he’s hitting just .182/225/.372 with 16 RBI over 34 games. Those are hardly numbers worthy of a $22 million salary. He’s also been shipped over to play first base, since D.J. LeMahieu has turned into an All-Star second baseman.
Desmond is already 32, and this contract runs until the end of 2021. The only saving grace for the Rockies is that it gets cheaper as the years go on — he’ll make $15 million in 2019 and 2020, and only $8 million in 2021.
5. Cole Hamels – $22.5M
In his late 20s, Cole Hamels was regularly finishing in the top ten of Cy Young voting while playing for the Phillies. In 2012, he signed a massive contract extension that was worth $144 million over six more years. He lived up to his end of the bargain, pitching well in 2013 and 2014. By 2015 though, the Phillies were full on tanking. They desperately wanted to shed payroll and acquire young prospects, so they worked a trade that sent Hamels to the Texas Rangers in exchange for six other players.
Hamels ERA ballooned up to 4.20 in 2017, while his K/9 numbers dropped dramatically. He still managed to go 11-6 on the year, but he also only made 24 starts due to injury. The red flags were popping up. In 2018, his ERA is hovering around 4.00 and he’s started with a 1-4 record. On the bright side, his strikeout rate is up again. But he’s hardly the $22.5 million ace starter that the Rangers expect him to be. Hamels has a $20 million club option for 2019, but you can expect that to be declined. He will be 35 next season, and will probably float around the league on one-year contracts — worth much less money — until he decides to retire.
4. Yu Darvish – $25 M
Yu Darvish has always been a pitcher that flirts with greatness, but never quite gets there. When he’s dialed in, he can shut down the best lineups in baseball. When he’s not, he tends to get shelled. He was an All-Star in his first three seasons in Major League Baseball, but then there was also the small matter of Tommy John surgery in early 2015 — he hasn’t quite been the same since coming back.
As the Texas Rangers became sellers at the 2017 trade deadline, the expiring contract of Darvish was one of the things they had to cut loose. He was traded to the Dodgers, who were making a World Series run. He pitched well in L.A., all the up to the World Series itself. In two starts against the Houston Astros, he lasted just 3.1 innings (combined) and posted an ERA of 21.6. Yikes!
Nevertheless, the Cubs decided Darvish was their Jake Arrieta replacement ahead of the 2018 season, and secured his services with a six-year, $126 million deal. Then he started the season 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.567 WHIP before hitting the DL with a bout of parainfluenza virus. Seriously?
The Cubs better hope he can return to form, and there’s a good chance he will. He’s still just 31, after all. It will be a bitter pill to swallow, though, if they have to pay Darvish an average annual salary of $21 million until 2024 for the awful numbers he’s put up so far.
3. Jason Heyward – $21.5M + $6.67M Signing Bonus
After five impressive seasons in Atlanta and one really good season in St. Louis, Jason Heyward hit the free agent market as a 26-year-old. He was a defensively strong outfielder who showed he ability to hit close to .300 and provide 10-to-20 home runs. The Cubs shelled out big bucks, signing him to an eight-year, $184 million contract that included a $20 million signing bonus. When combined, he will make just over $28 million in 2018.
The Cubs thought they had their new leadoff guy, but Heyward slumped hard in the first year of his contract, batting just .230/.306/.325 with seven homeruns and only 61 runs — not the kind of numbers you want from someone hitting at the top of the lineup. By mid-season, he was dropped into the middle of the order, but his production didn’t improve.
The second year of his contract, 2017, was slightly better than the first, but 2018 is shaping up to be another stinker. Heyward now occupies a spot at the bottom of the batting order, and is hitting just .227/.315/.340 with a pair of dingers. He’s still a solid outfielder, but the Cubs are massively overpaying. Even worse, there’s almost no chance Heyward will exercise his opt-out clause this winter. That means the Cubs will have to pay him $22.5 million in 2019, $23.5 million in 2020 and 2021, and $24.5 million in 2022 and 2023. Woof!
2. Albert Pujols – $27M (+3M for 3,000 hits)
We’re not here to slag on Albert Pujols. The man is a legitimate Hall of Famer and for a long stretch of his career he was the most feared hitter in baseball. He recently joined the 3,000 hit club (which earned him an extra $3 million) and is seventh on the all-time homerun leader board, with 620 career dingers. If he actually plays out his contract, he could get into the top five by passing the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Willie Mays (660) and Alex Rodriguez (686).
The problem is that Pujols signed an obscenely large contract with the Angels back in December 2011 — a ten-year, $240 million deal that would pay him until he was 41-years-old. The contract was back loaded, meaning he actually gets paid more as he ages, which also comes with a decline in production.
Pujols still hits around .250, but he used to hit .330 with relative ease. His slugging numbers are way down too. He used to hit 40 homers a year, but he only managed 23 in 2017. His OPS used to hover around 1.100 (which is massive), but recently has been more like .700. He has battled foot injuries that slowed him down considerably, and his defense at first base (when he’s not in the DH spot) has also dropped. Sadly, no athlete has ever defeated Father Time and Pujols is destined to be his next victim.
The Angels are stuck with him though. His contract will pay him a combined $117 million over the next four years (including the 2018 season), and he has a full no-trade clause. If he somehow managed to break the all-time home record, he’ll earn another $7 million. He also has a $10 million “personal services” contract that will be paid out after his playing contract expires. He’s already 38-years-old, and isn’t getting any younger. What were the Angels thinking?
1. David Price – $30M
After being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, David Price blossomed into a feared ace. He won the Cy Young award in 2012 and was already a four-time All-Star when he was traded to the Tigers near the end of his rookie deal. The Tigers became sellers themselves one year later, and traded Price to the Blue Jays for their playoff run. He pitched well for the Canadian club (although struggled in the playoffs), and finally hit unrestricted free agency.
Only the richest of the rich could afford his contract demands (the Jays didn’t even make an offer), and the Red Sox ended up winning the sweepstakes by signing Price to a seven-year, $217 million deal. The first season of that contract went well, as Price started 35 games and pitched 230 innings — leading the league in both. His ERA slipped up a bit to 3.99, but he still went 17-9 and recorded 228 strikeouts.
The next year, 2017, things started to sour. Price only made 11 starts due to injury and feuded publicly with the Boston media. He finished the season pitching out of the bullpen — not exactly the kind of role you want to pay $30 million for.
The 2018 season has started with all the same struggles. Price has battled inconsistent performances and ended up missing starts due to carpal tunnel syndrome in his throwing hand — how does that even happen to a professional pitcher who has been throwing his entire life? In seven starts so far, he’s just 2-4 with a 5.11 ERA and a very hittable 1.405 WHIP. His K/9 numbers are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie year and his walk rate is spiking up too.
Price can opt out of his massive contract after 2018, but it’s unlikely he’ll find another team willing to pay that kind of dough. It’s our guess that he will continue to collect fat paydays from the Red Sox (at least $30 million annually until the end of 2022). If he can regain his ace form from previous years, he might even be worth it. Right now, he’s definitely not.