I don't want this to sound rude ... but I have never understood Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. I mean that sincerely. I just don't understand. I have friends all around the game who will tell me what a bright guy J.P. is, what a good baseball man he is, what a grounded person he is, what a nice guy he is, and so on. And I have no reason to doubt them except this: I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
And no, this isn't about the incredibly dumb things Ricciardi says, like the time he basically called Gil Meche a loser because he signed with the Kansas City Royals instead of his own multiple-championship team in Toronto (Ricciardi's team career record is 489-483 with zero playoff appearances in seven seasons). Or the time he ripped Adam Dunn for not liking baseball and then claimed to have apologized to Dunn even though Dunn insisted that he never heard from Ricciardi (at which point Ricciardi made some comment about how someone was PRETENDING to be Dunn, or something like that). Or the time he lied about B.J. Ryan's injury and then offered up the classic, "They're not lies if we know the truth," quote.
No. Forget all that. Here's my thing about J.P. Ricciardi, the thing that really baffles the heck out of me: How can someone keep giving out contracts THIS BAD and keep his job and reputation? I'm serious. How?
Obviously, you can start with the Alex Rios contract. You probably know that Rios has SIX YEARS and about $60 million left on his contract. And the guy is 28 years old and has a 94 OPS+ this year. He has a lifetime .335 on-base percentage, which is pretty darned mediocre. He has never hit 25 home runs in a season. He has not slugged .500 since 2006. He has been a good outfielder, but he even appears to be losing that. This contract is SO BAD that the only way for Ricciardi and the Blue Jays to escape it was to put Rios on waivers and have Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams come in, like Bagel in Diner, and pay off his gambling debts.
I don't know if the White Sox will get much for their money. They might get something ... Rios, in that hitters' ballpark and a new environment, might be revitalized and might have some good years. I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen and, again, some of the people I trust around the game say it will happen. But no matter what happens, that contract was so bad that the Blue Jays needed a bailout. If that was the only time it happened to Ricciardi, OK, everyone is entitled to a mistake. And you could see how the Blue Jays made this mistake: Rios was developed in the Blue Jays organization and put up a couple of pretty good years.
Trouble is, this is a frightening pattern for Ricciardi -- B.J. Ryan. Vernon Wells. Frank Thomas. Just for starters. For fun, I put together an unofficial list of the worst contracts in the game. And, as you will see, Ricciardi's name is all over it. This turned out to be more involved than I expected ... so I had to make up a few rules.
1. To qualify, the contract has to still be going for at least one more year ... and it has to be for more than $10 million per year on the remainder. So, that would rule out, say, the bizarrely awful Vicente Padilla contract because he's coming off the books after this season.
2. I try to take injuries into account when judging the contract. True, the Dodgers signing of Jason Schmidt (three years, $47 million) was, in retrospect, awful. The guy has won a grand total of three games with a 6.02 ERA. But he has been hurt. You could certainly argue that when you sign a 34-year-old pitcher for that much money you are ASKING for pain, but, again, I'm trying to be fair here.
3. I want to judge the contract based on the entire thing. What I mean is ... the Red Sox owe $12.5 million more to Big Papi next year, and that's really, really bad. At this point, I think, you can reasonably make the conclusion that Papi is more or less finished as a good player and so that is dead money. But the Papi contract as a whole was a good one; Papi had a couple of amazing seasons over the four-year contract and I would say he has been worth every penny the Red Sox will pay him.
And so a few contract thoughts, then the list ...
Bad contract coming off the books:Adrian Beltre (5 years, $64 million). Beltre is prime example of a general manager putting too much stock into one good year. Beltre had been a certain kind of player for five years -- good defensively at third, a bit of power, generally low batting averages, an inability to walk. Then in 2004 he had that monster year -- .334/.388/.629 with 48 homers in Los Angeles -- and the Mariners bought into it. To be honest, Beltre hasn't been as bad as I thought. He's a mixed bag. He's a terrific defensive player, he has generally hit 25 home runs a year, he still doesn't get on base. This year he looks entirely overmatched at the plate. I watched one game where he struck out three times on fastballs -- and he looked to be about five seconds late. Over the length of the contract, he has been a pretty good player. The Mariners paid him like a great one. It's a common mistake.
Contracts that have may or may not bomb, but I don't like them:Brian Roberts (4 years, $40 million) and Michael Young (5 years, $80 million). Do you get these two guys confused, too, or is it just me? I don't know why I get them confused. Roberts is a switch-hitter, Young a right-handed hitter. Roberts has led the league in stolen bases, Young in batting average. Roberts plays second base (and moderately well) while Young played shortstop and now plays third base (and the numbers suggest he's been terrible there -- minus-19 on the Dewan). They are really not alike.
Except this: Every time I look up either one of their numbers, I'm shocked at how unimpressive they are. Roberts has a career 103 OPS+. Young has a career 105 OPS+. Roberts will turn 32 in October, Young 33, so you would expect that both will very soon enter the decline phase of their careers. Maybe I'm wrong -- I hope I'm wrong because they both seem like likable guys you would root for -- but it seems to me that one or both of these contracts will be an albatross before the day is done.
Another contract that has not bombed yet but probably will:Francisco Cordero -- 4 years, $46 million. Two more years in Cincinnati at $12 million, plus a club option. This does not look like a bad deal at the moment -- Cordero is having a sensational year at 34. But a wise baseball man man once told me: If you have a team whose highest-paid player is the closer, you have a bad team.
A bad contract that you really can't blame anyone for: Eric Byrnes (3 years, $30 million). He has one more year left at $11 million, and he has been dreadful when he has been able to play the last two years (114 games, .213 average, 60 OPS+), and he can't keep his hamstrings from tearing. But in this case ... I'm just not sure what else Arizona could have done. He had that inspiring 2007 season -- 21 homers, 50 steals, all sorts of great defensive plays, good hair, national fame -- and the Diamondbacks really had to bring him back. In retrospect, of course, a 32-year-old guy with a career 100 OPS+ for four teams was probably not worth it. But, hey, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
A bad contract that was just sort of unavoidable: Aaron Rowand (5 years, $60 million). He will be paid $12 million per for the next three years, which is a whole lot of money to pay for a below-average hitter who probably has been pretty wildly overrated defensively for three or four years. But, hey, he came off that big 2007 season -- .309/.374/.515 -- and he'd had one year like that before (2004 in Chicago) and he had the great defensive rep, and he was a free agent, and somebody was going to overpay for him. Brian Sabean was the lucky winner.
A contract that is still not a disaster ... but the iceberg approacheth: Carlos Lee (6 years, $100 million). He's still hitting -- a 130 OPS+, a .514 slugging percentage, yet another year where he will probably hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs -- and yet, you can see bad things on the horizon. Lee is going to make $18.5 million in each of the next three years. He has already become a horrible outfielder and he's one of the worst base runners in the game -- so as soon as the bat stops producing, he has a chance to become one of the three worst contracts in baseball. And he's 33 years old.
A different kind of bad contract: Carlos Zambrano (5 years, $91.5 million). The contracts that I list below as the worst are those where (in my opinion) a team has wildly overpaid a player for the production they will get. This could be the case with Zambrano, certainly, but it's a different deal because Zambrano's still a good pitcher, and quite often an awesome pitcher. His problems are ... er ... tougher to define.
11. B.J. Ryan (out of baseball). Blue Jays still owe Ryan $10 million NEXT YEAR off a 5-year, $47 million deal. To be fair to Ricciardi, I said I was going to consider injuries and Ryan was dominant in 2006 before having Tommy John surgery in 2007. But you know what? You give a 30-year-old relief pitcher (coming off one good season) that much money, and you end up having to release him with about $15 million still on the books ... yeah, that's a disastrous decision.
10. Jeff Suppan (Milwaukee Brewers). He has two years and $25 million left on a contract -- $27 million if you count the buyout. And he is 15-18 with a 5.09 ERA since the start of the 2008 season. And he turns 35 in January. I'm just not too sure you're going to make big strides as a team by signing 32-year-old inning-eaters for a lot of money.
9. Travis Hafner (Cleveland Indians). He has three years at $13 million per left on his four-year deal ... and a buyout on top. The reason this is not higher on the list is you can certainly understand why the Indians made the deal. Hafner had led the American League in OPS+ twice. He was coming off a year when he hit .308/.439/.649 -- tough to argue with those numbers.
BUT ... they gave him the contract in the middle of the 2007 season, when he turned 30, when his numbers had already started to take a precipitous fall, when he had not shown an ability to stay healthy (he had never even played 150 games in a season when they gave him the deal). PLUS, he's a big, slow guy who literally cannot play a single defensive position ... he has not put on a glove for a big league game since 2007. Hafner has shown a little spark of offensive life this year, but he has so many injury problems, and he's 32, and this contract surely will only look worse as time goes on.
8. Kerry Wood (Cleveland Indians). He signed before this season for 2 years at $11 million per and there's a reasonable chance it will kick in and become a three-year deal. He has been terrible this year, but that's not even the problem ... Why would you spend all that money to sign a 31-turning-32-year-old pitcher with a long line of injury problems who has never pitched in the American League and has had one decent year as a closer? Mark Shapiro seems to me a bright guy who has done some good things ... but this was a head-scratcher to me.
7. Alex Rios (Chicago White Sox). This is the third deal where Ricciardi has hit the ejector button in the middle of the contract (B.J. Ryan and Frank Thomas coming first). At least with this one, someone else picked up the tab -- and yes, Kenny Williams will now be the one judged on how this contract turns out.
6. Gary Matthews (Angels). Still has two years and $23 million left on his contract, which is tough because he has become one of the worst hitters in baseball (74 OPS+ and .346 slugging percentage last two years) and the two big defensive stats I like -- UZR and Dewan -- both suggest that he has lost whatever he might have had defensively. This was another example of a player with a long history of being below average (89 career OPS+ for seven teams between 1999 and 2005), then having one good year and making one incredible catch, and then signing for big money at age 32.
One funny part of this, though, is that I don't think the Angels have a lot of buyer's remorse here. They are a weird team, the Angels. They just chug along, year after year. They pretty wildly overpay for a player now and again. They give players odd roles. They do odd things that make you wonder what the heck is going on over there. But they make the playoffs almost every year, and they seem to deal pretty well with whatever mistakes they make. Matthews plays quite a lot, and he has a 69 OPS+, but the Angels continue to score runs like crazy. It's just weird over there.
5. Alfonso Soriano (Cubs). Wow, the Cubs owe him $18 million per year for the next four. And he's going to be 34 in January. And he has a 90 OPS+ this year and he seems to have lost his speed, which was a big part of his game. Bad stuff.
Funny, I kind of thought that in many ways Soriano was underrated when the Cubs signed him... because a lot of people seemed to be talking about all the things he couldn't do (he didn't walk, he struck out a ton, he was moody and didn't want to change positions) and were kind of missing some of the obvious things he COULD do, such as the fact that he had a 40-40 season (and was one homer away from a SECOND 40-40 season) and was showing improvement even in those troubled areas (he walked a career-high 67 times in Washington and moved to left field).
Still ... eight-year deal. Damn. You'd better be SURE before you give someone an eight-year deal, especially a guy two months away from his 31st birthday. Check that: There's no way you could be THAT sure about a player about to turn 31. Soriano still has some value, but you've got to think that deal will only look worse from here on.
4. Carlos Silva (Seattle Mariners). Three years left on that four-year, $48 million deal ... and a buyout to boot. Funny, people will constantly rip the Yankees and Red Sox and teams like that for all the money they spend ... but it is teams like the Mariners, Royals, Brewers, Blue Jays and Indians that seem to actually make the worst signings.
I have absolutely no idea what the heck the Mariners could have been thinking when they gave Silva that money. The previous two years, he was 24-29 with a 5.01 ERA. He never could strike out anyone. He was turning 29, which ain't exactly young. Of course he went 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA last year with the Mariners. Of course he was dreadful this year and then got hurt. Of course. This is the sort of signing that makes me wish, just once, I could be in on one of these meetings, just so I could HEAR what these people are saying when they make these moves.
3. Barry Zito (San Francisco Giants). Four more years at about $19 million per and a huge $7 million buyout on the end. Well, what can you say? It's the most famous bad contract in baseball right now ... but the tide could be shifting a bit. Zito, you probably noticed, is pitching better of late. He's 8-10 with a 4.40 ERA, which isn't exactly Koufax -- it's not even Murray Koufax -- but he has the makings of a crafty lefty, and crafty lefties can sometimes age quite well. Plus, he has endured some bad times. Look, when the Giants made this deal it was very clear that they had completely lost their minds. And no matter what happens, this contract will be known as a masterpiece of excess. But -- and admittedly this is just a hunch -- Zito might still be a reasonably valuable pitcher for the Giants.
2. Jose Guillen (Kansas City Royals). One more year at $12 million. I will admit that I'm grading this one on a curve ... the Royals, more than other teams, cannot afford titanic blunders like this one. Everything about this deal baffled from the start. The Royals talked about wanting to get players who get on base -- Guillen doesn't and never has. The Royals talked about wanting players who are leaders -- Guillen had played for nine teams and was suspended for the playoffs by the Angels for inappropriate conduct. The Royals talked about players with good character -- Guillen was facing a drug suspension when the Royals signed him (he was given amnesty).
But more than anything: Guillen was almost 32 when the Royals signed him to a three-year, $36 million deal ... and he's precisely the sort of player who starts going wildly downhill at that age. And ... so he has. Guillen led the team in RBIs in 2008 despite having a pretty bad year. This year he has been perhaps the worst everyday player in baseball. His power is gone -- .371 slugging percentage -- he can't play the outfield any more and his quick bat (the one thing he always had) has slowed measurably. Funny thing is, I have found him to be quite a likable guy, and he has been brutally honest in his own self-assessment. "If I suck then I suck," he says. "And I suck." Probably not worth $36 million, but entertaining still.
1. Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays). Cot's Baseball Contracts -- the incredibly awesome site where I got these numbers from -- is one of my favorite Internet stops. And on occasion, just for fun, I will go to the site just to look up Vernon Wells' contract. I don't know why. It gives me hope, somehow. It tells me that in this world, anything is possible. It tells me that good things happen, funny things, unexpected things. Don't tell me that I won't win the lottery ... just look at Vernon Wells' contract.
In 2011 Vernon Wells will get paid $23 million. No. Really. He will get paid $23 million.
In 2012 he will have to take a paycut and will only get $21 million. Same in 2013. And same again in 2014.
This isn't a baseball contract. This is a testament to the power of mankind to do the impossible.
Oh, Vernon Wells also has a full no-trade clause in his contract. Well, sure, why not? Then, what difference would it make? This is the most untradable contract in the history of the world. Vernon Wells turns 31 this year. The Dewan has him a minus-29 center fielder, which means he's exactly as bad defensively as you can be while a manager who is still breathing allows you to play centerfield. He has an 85 OPS+. He has a lifetime .329 on-base percentage. He's slugging .408. He IS third in the American League in making outs. So he has that going for him.
And it never made sense. Ever. Wells had a very good year in 2003 (and he was a very good fielder then), a couple of OK years, a good year in 2006 at age 27. But he never got on base much, and he was inconsistent, and ... then the Blue Jays gave him this hysterical contract: seven years, $126 million.
This deal, to be honest, is not the sort of thing that leads to a general manager getting fired. It's the sort of thing that leads to entire villages getting pillaged. And that's what I mean about Ricciardi. I mean, this contract alone should be enough to put him in the Bad Contract Hall of Fame. But when you look over the whole body of work ... he IS the Bad Contract Hall of Fame.
In fact, really, we should just start referring to bad baseball contracts as "Ricciardis."