The ugliest nine-figure contracts in baseball history

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By ALEX PUTTERMAN
College Contributor Network

Last week, I looked at and ranked the five best nine-figure contracts in recent baseball history. Those deals, mostly extended to established stars in their 20s, proved that not every giant contract proves disastrous for the team offering it.

Of course, some nine-figure deals do end poorly, mostly ones given to position players on the wrong side of 30 and pitchers without the resumes to justify their paydays. Those are the ones we'll rank today.

For this exercise we won't do any projection. Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Joey Votto's contracts (among others) will likely turn out poorly for their clubs, but at their current stages it's too early to declare them among the worst ever. We'll mostly stick to finished deals, with one exception for an atrocious contract that's more than halfway through.

One interesting note: of the top 27 largest contracts ever handed out (by total value), 24 are currently in progress and the other three were on last week's list of the best ever long-term deals.

It's further down the list that terrible contracts begin to pop up. Here we go.

Honorable mention:

Despite being crushed with injuries during the second half of his six-year $137.5 million deal, Johan Santana avoids this list on the strength of three very good years during its first half.

Carlos Lee was a decent hitter during his six-year, $100 million contract, but that's not good enough when you're a liability in the field and don't have the opportunity to DH.

On to the top five:

5. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (traded to Yankees)
Years: 2007-14
Age: 30
Terms: eight years, $136 million
Wins above replacement* during contract: 7.9
Dollars per WAR: $17.2 million

When the Cubs signed Soriano, he was coming off the best season of his career, in which he hit 46 home runs, stole 41 bases and posted 6.1 WAR for the Nationals. But the outfielder's play immediately fell off, beginning with injuries in 2007 and 2008.

After relocating to Chicago, Soriano never again hit 35 home runs, stole even 20 bases or posted an OPS+ above 125. After a string of poor seasons with the Cubs, he was traded to the Yankees midway through 2013 and experienced a two-month rejuvenation before devolving into one of the league's worst players in 2014.

The Cubs and Yankees got some home run power from Soriano (204 long-balls over the seven-year contract), but that hardly cancelled out his low averages, lack of patience, declining speed and bad defense.

4. Vernon Wells, Blue Jays (traded to Angels, then Yankees)
Years: 2008-14
Age: 30
Terms: seven years, $126 million
WAR during contract: 6.7
Dollars per WAR: $18.8 million

This one was so bad that Wells didn't even make it to the final year. He was paid $21 million in 2014 not to play.

That's because Wells performed below replacement level in 2011 and again in 2013, barely staying in positive WAR during an injury-shortened 2012. He was somehow traded twice but failed to produce in Toronto, Anaheim or the Bronx after signing his big deal.

All in all, Wells batted .255/.302/.433 during the five years he played under the six-year contract, for an OPS of .736 and OPS+ of 98. Those are fifth-outfielder-quality numbers for a guy being paid like a superstar.

3. Ryan Howard, Phillies
Years: 2012-16
Age (when the extension began): 32
Terms: five years, $125 million
WAR during contract (so far): -1.5
Dollars per WAR (so far): uhh, infinity I guess?

Almost everyone knew when the Phillies extended Howard two years before they needed to that the deal would not go well, and it certainly hasn't.

Howard's performance fell off as soon as he signed the extension and then declined further right when it kicked in. With two years left on the deal, the now-35 year-old Howard is a league-average hitter at a power position who plays atrocious defense and provides no value on the bases. He can't hit left-handed pitching at all and led the National League in strikeouts in 2014.

All that has added up to negative WAR in two of the three seasons since the start of the extension.

By the time Howard's contract ends after 2016, it might be the worst nine-figure deal of all time. For now, given that it's only 60 percent through, it ranks third.

2. Barry Zito, Giants
Years: 2007-13
Age: 28
Terms: seven years, $126 million
WAR during contract: 3
Dollars per WAR: $42 million

There were reasons to think Zito's best days were behind him when he inked this deal. After all, his performance had fallen off substantially since his Cy Young season in 2002, especially measured by fielding independent numbers.

But no one expected his deal to be the complete trainwreck it was.

Zito largely stayed healthy during his seven years in San Francisco but was an average pitcher at his best and one of the least effective in the league at his worst. The final numbers: 4.62 ERA, 87 ERA+, 1.439 WHIP.

He would top this list if not for some timely performances in the 2012 playoffs and another left-handed pitcher with an atrocious contract.

1. Mike Hampton, Rockies (traded to Braves)
Years: 2001-08
Age: 28
Terms: eight years, $121 million
WAR during contract: 2.9
Dollars per WAR: $41.7 million

Oh man was this a disaster.

Hampton had been one of the National League's best pitchers in the two seasons before his big deal but -- thanks to command issues, Coors Field and several injuries -- never again approached that level after it.

After only two years in Colorado, the left-hander was traded to the Braves (with help from the Marlins) for an unimpressive haul. He submitted three decent seasons in Atlanta, missed two years to injury, then finished out the contract with another uninspiring campaign.

By the end of the deal, Hampton had thrown only 111 innings a season and posted a 4.81 ERA and 96 ERA+ (adjusted for ballpark factors). Essentially, he had pitched at league average level while missing 40 percent of his starts and making more than $15 million a year.

Yikes.

*All WAR figures according to Baseball-Reference


Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02
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