The Yankees are, quite notably, the only Major League team without a major-league free agent signing this offseason. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of glaring needs and a desire to get younger, but the primary explanation for Brian Cashman’s silence in free agency is money. The Yankees, weary of the annual luxury tax bills they’re always stuck with, are trying to cut costs.
Basically, because of bad contracts the Yankees have given out in the past, they are categorically unwilling to give out bad contracts, or contracts at all, in the present. In fact, the Yankees are probably the only team in baseball (except for maybe the Angels) that has so many payroll albatrosses we can argue over who holds the most damaging contract on the roster.
So without further ado, here are the candidates for worst contract on the Yankees.
Contestant 1 – Alex Rodriguez
Years remaining: Two
Dollars remaining: $40 million
WARP in 2015: 2.5
WARP over past three years: 3.2
Just a year ago, our first contestant not only looked like a frontrunner for worst contract on the Yankees, but also worst contract in baseball. But an emphatically solid .250/.356/.486 campaign boosted A-Rod’s deal from disastrous to merely inconvenient. In fact, it’s not far fetched to say that, based on the value of a win on the open market, Rodriguez’s play was actually worth his pay in 2015. Of course, A-Rod has two more years left on his deal, and given his age, it seems unlikely he’ll ever again be worth three wins. This contract may no longer be a catastrophe, but it’s still not one the Yankees are happy to be carrying.
Contestant 2 – Mark Teixeira
Years remaining: One
Dollars remaining: $22.5 million
WARP in 2015: 3.0
WARP over past three years: 3.3
Like A-Rod, our second contestant entered 2015 with a contract that appeared worthless, and like A-Rod, he had a nice year in 2015 and more or less earned his pay. Teixeira has been about as valuable over the past three years as Rodriguez (even though the latter missed all of 2014) but has two things going for him by comparison: He’s five years younger than A-Rod and is under contract for half as long. It’s not too hard to imagine Tex putting together another three-WAR campaign and riding out his Yankee deal as a productive player.
Contestant 3 – CC Sabathia
Years remaining: Two
Dollars remaining: $50 million
WARP in 2015: 0.4
WARP over past three years: 1.0
Things once looked so promising for our third contestant’s contract. Over the first four years on Sabathia’s seven-year $161 million deal, the left-hander averaged 32 starts and 226 innings a year, pitching to a 3.22 ERA (3.28 FIP). But a one-year extension and a dramatic decline in performance have made Sabathia a replacement player and his contract a massive burden. Unlike with our first two contestants, we have no reason to assume Sabathia will contribute any value over the remainder of his time in pinstripes. For all the fuss about A-Rod’s deal, Sabathia is actually a much worse player owed much more money.
Contestant 4 – Jacoby Ellsbury
Years remaining: Five
Dollars remaining: $110,714,285 (including $5 buyout)
WARP in 2015: 0.6
WARP over past three years: 8.4
While our first three contestants are all old guys whose monster contracts are almost done, Ellsbury is something scarier: a player with five years and a boatload of money remaining but rapidly diminishing value. The outfielder’s 2015 was about as bad as it gets, with injuries limiting him to 111 games and a meager .257/.318/.345 slash line mixing with uninspiring defense to produce 0.6 WARP. Five more years of that lack of production is scary to consider. On the other hand, Ellsbury has more upside than the other contestants. If he can return to his 2013-14 levels of output (3.9 WARP/year) for the next couple years this contract won’t look bad at all. It’s the worst-case scenario that makes this one so worrisome.
So who has the worst, most damaging contract on the Yankees? Well, Teixeira has only one year left, so he’s out, and A-Rod is owed less money than Sabathia and remains a better player. So our contest comes down to two very different players with two very different financial situations. Ellsbury is a slightly built center fielder with five years left on his deal and a high ceiling. Sabathia is a burly starting pitcher with two seasons remaining and little hope of ever again being a good player.
Here’s why Ellsbury’s contract is worse: Even if he bounces back from 2015 with a solid season or two, the end of his deal won’t go well. On a pure WARP-per-year basis Sabathia will likely be worse, but Ellsbury might submit three or four sub-average seasons while clogging the Yankees’ payroll for half a decade. When Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia and others leave to make room for the next crop of expensive big-name stars, Ellsbury will still be around, most likely looking more like a bad investment by the day.
Lead photo: Andy Marlin/USA Today Sports