Major League Baseball teams should want to spend money on players. That’s how they secure the good ones, who tend to be useful for the goal of, you know, winning games.
But since it doesn’t always work out, let’s take a look at each team’s worst contract heading into the 2023 season.
Rounding these up was harder than you might think. There was only a handful of obvious choices—i.e., deals that were always risky and have since gone bad—which left us to pick nits and force less-than-favorable forecasts onto newly signed deals. In any case, the idea was to pinpoint guaranteed or likely mismatches between monetary value and on-field value.
We’ll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Madison Bumgarner
- Age: 33
- 2022 Stats: 30 GS, 158.2 IP, 179 H (25 HR), 112 K, 49 BB, 4.88 ERA
- Status: Year 4 of 5-Year, $85 Million Contract
Even in retrospect, it’s hard to fault the Arizona Diamondbacks for signing Madison Bumgarner back in Dec. 2019.
They were coming off a solid 85-win season, amid which they had saved about $53 million by trading Zack Greinke and the remainder of his $206.5 million contract to the Houston Astros. Despite his recent injury scares, reinvesting those dollars into a four-time All-Star and bona fide postseason legend like Bumgarner was more than defensible.
Three years in, though, “oof” doesn’t even cover it. The lefty’s seven-inning no-hitter in 2021 was a nice moment, but there have otherwise been few of those as he’s racked up all of 0.3 rWAR in the desert. As he was literally the third-most hittable pitcher of 2022, it’s hard to bank on any kind of return to form in 2023.
Atlanta: DH Marcell Ozuna
- Age: 32
- 2022 Stats: 124 G, 507 PA, 23 HR, 2 SB, .226 AVG, .274 OBP, .413 SLG
- Status: Year 3 of 4-Year, $65 Million Contract
If anything, it seemed like Atlanta had gotten a good deal on Marcell Ozuna when the club re-signed him in Feb. 2021. The flier they had taken on him ahead of 2020 ended up yielding a 177 OPS+ and National League-high 18 home runs in the shortened season.
Yet the deal obviously has not aged well in more ways than one, including by way of Ozuna’s issues away from the field. There was his arrest and subsequent suspension relating to domestic violence in 2021, and then another arrest on DUI charges last August.
Meanwhile, Ozuna hasn’t exactly shined on the field in putting up just an 84 OPS+ with batted ball metrics that look nothing like the eye-popping figures he put up in 2020. Though Atlanta is sticking with him, it’s reportedly not for lack of having tried to get rid of him.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Kyle Gibson
- Age: 35
- 2022 Stats: 31 GS, 167.2 IP, 176 H (24 HR), 144 K, 48 BB, 5.05 ERA
- Status: Year 1 of 1-Year, $10 Million Contract
Before anyone points out that James McCann (who hasn’t even risen to replacement-level over the last two seasons) is on the Orioles’ payroll, they’re only paying $5 million out of the $24 million remaining on his deal. The rest is on the New York Mets.
We’re therefore picking on Kyle Gibson out of a lack of a better option, and with an acknowledgment that $10 million isn’t an unreasonable sum for a pitcher like him.
Sure, he’s been a below-average hurler to the tune of a 94 ERA+ for his career. But he’s proven himself to be good for 30-plus starts and 150-plus innings annually, and his ground-ball style should play better with Baltimore’s infield defense than it did in Philadelphia’s last season.
Boston Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale
- Age: 33
- 2022 Stats: 2 GS, 5.2 IP, 5 H (0 HR), 5 K, 1 BB, 3.18 ERA
- Status: Year 3 of 5-Year, $145 Million Contract Extension
It was tempting to give the nod here to Trevor Story, whose availability for 2023 is up in the air following his elbow surgery in January. But at least the Red Sox got half of a solid season out of him last year, which is more than they’ve gotten out of Chris Sale’s deal so far.
Even setting aside the 25 disappointing starts he made immediately after signing his extension in March 2019, it’s bad enough that a veritable laundry list of injuries has limited the lefty to 11 regular-season appearances since Aug. 13 of that year.
The good news heading into 2023 is that Sale is healthy…for now. And even if that does remain the case, whether the dominance that marked his seven straight All-Star appearances between 2012 and 2018 is gone for good is a fair question at this stage of his career.