One of my favorite annual features to put together is our list of best and worst contracts in baseball. You don’t see the impact of money directly on the field during the season, but there’s no denying it has been a crucial aspect of how individual teams are constructed for nearly a half century. Just like most kids have that moment when they realize Santa Claus doesn’t exist, every young baseball fan has that instant when a belief that everybody on the field is playing just for the love of the game, and the love of their team’s city, can be cruelly shattered.
We’re doing one thing slightly different this year. This time around, we’re limiting the contracts to those signed when the player has some leverage, covering players who sign their deals while arbitration-eligible and those that extend into at least one free-agent season. That way, we can see who scored the best contracts when they had a little more juice at the bargaining table.
Each player’s deal 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.
MLB has been signing the best players from Nippon Professional Baseball who wish to come to the United States for a generation now, but bringing in players from the Korean Baseball Organization League (KBO League) is a fairly recent trend. There have long been some players from Korea, but typically as young prospects. The veterans who came over with KBO experience, such as Dae-Sung Koo and Chang-Yong Lim, had to first prove themselves in NPB before getting MLB contracts. Hyun-Jin Ryu was the first exception, coming over straight from KBO’s Hanwha Eagles, and he had a great deal of success before injury issues.
The Pirates brought over Kang, coming off a near 1.200 OPS and 40 homers for the 2014 Nexen Heroes, to a low-risk, high-reward contract. Spending $11 million isn’t much, but Kang earned it before his rookie season even finished, and his defense at third (and even short) was better than initially advertised. Signed for two years at $5.75 million, it’s quite likely his $5.5 million option gets picked up rather than the $250,000 buyout. He’d rank even higher if ZiPS was projecting more at-bats, but his projections take a hit because of the time lost after his 2015 collision with Chris Coghlan that broke his leg and tore his MCL. Even with a likely suspension for his DUI arrest in South Korea, he’s easily worth the money.