To any Yankee fan the perils of paying too much money on aging players are obvious. Alex Rodriguez is the ultimate example of the dead weight that can wind up on a team’s payroll from these large contracts, and Mark Teixeira isn’t far behind. Within the Yankees own clubhouse Robinson Cano serves as evidence of the other direction a team can take. Cano may soon become a very expensive player, but the Yankees have already benefited from years of cost effective production.
While the Yankees may continue to move away from the mega contract model of team improvement, other clubs in baseball can’t seem to learn the lesson. The Angels are currently the prime offenders in the American League. You’d think that any team with Vernon Wells would understand the risks these excessive contracts pose, but the Angels doubled down on this strategy with the C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols contracts. Wilson’s first season with the Halos was at best mediocre (3.83/4.04/4.10), while Pujols’ debut was a disaster. After getting off to an incredibly slow start, Pujols managed to piece together a .285/.343/.516 season. Fangraphs estimated his performance was worth $17.7 million, which was better than his $12 million salary, but only because his monster deal is incredibly back loaded.
We often talk about Tex or A-Rod as examples of players in decline, but Pujols should be added to that list as well. In 2008 Pujols put up an other worldly .459 wOBA. His numbers have declined every year since. Last season his .360 wOBA was the lowest of his career. Pujols may bounce back in 2013 now that he’s more acclimated to Anaheim, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m an A-Rod fan. I know better than to expect an aging player to return to his old form simply because I’m used to it. Pujols may be better than he was in 2012, but his days of being the best hitter on Earth are over. The Angels are going to love paying him almost $30 million a season eight years from now.
Needless to say the Halos haven’t learned their lesson. As a Yankee fan I know all too well how devastating Josh Hamilton is with the bat. But as a baseball fan I also know that he won’t be good for the last two or three years of that contract. In fact, Hamilton’s entire reputation is largely built on one season, 2010, and maybe his home run derby performance in 2008. Josh had a .445 wOBA in an injury shortened 2010 season, and he’s never come anywhere near that in any other season. In 2011 his wOBA was .369 and in 2012 it was .387. These are great numbers, but they are not $25 million per year great. Combine that with his high injury risk (2008 is the only season he managed to play in at least 150 games) and his well documented off-field issues and you have to wonder what the Angels are thinking. Does anyone in Anaheim truly believe that Hamilton and Pujols will be any good in 2017?
That doesn’t matter. The Angels are clearly trying to win now and ask questions later. They also have serious young talent to help pare down costs for next several years. However, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Tigers and of course the Yankees all represent teams with time bomb contracts on the books. It is a guarantee that all of these teams will regret these decisions.
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