One of my favorite annual features to put together is our list of the best and worst contracts in baseball.
You don’t see the impact of money directly on the field, but there’s no denying that it is an elemental aspect of how teams are constructed and has been crucial for nearly a half-century now. But we’re doing one thing slightly differently this year than last year: We’re limiting the contracts to those signed when the player had some leverage, covering players who signed while arbitration-eligible with the contracts extending into at least one free-agent season. That way, we can see who had the best contracts when they had a little more juice at the bargaining table.
Each contract is ranked based on the difference between the wins the team is paying for and the wins the team is projected to get, as predicted by the ZiPS projection system.
A toast and a fond farewell go to Ryan Howard, who finally graduated from this list after making it each season of its existence.
And the worst contracts are:
Robinson Cano would have made the top 10 and kept Heyward from his debut on this list without the former’s extremely promising bounce-back season. But Cano hit .298/.350/.533, and Heyward, in the first season of his $184 million deal with the Cubs, hit an atrocious .230/.306/.325. Heyward was still good enough defensively that he wasn’t far below the level of an average player, but that’s not what the Cubs are paying him for.
ZiPS is optimistic that Heyward will return to being a good player in 2017 — he’s 27, not 34 — but even the most objective person wearing a Cubs World Champions shirt has to admit that there’s a lot more uncertainty than there was a year ago. Heyward hitting a 115 OPS+ is worth the deal, but hitting a 100 OPS+ isn’t. ZiPS projects him to be an above-average player over most of the rest of the deal, but that isn’t good enough for the price.