Caveat Emptor No More – The Mike Hampton Rule

In completely unshocking news, Mike Hampton’s hurt again. Now, he’s saying it’s just a minor groin strain and he won’t miss his next start, but you have to think the Braves are a little worried since Mike hasn’t thrown a pitch for them since 2005.

The fact that Hampton has been paid $29 million dollars the last two years not to pitch got me thinking about all the contracts that teams wish would just go away. Let’s say MLB instituted their own version of the Allan Houston Rule (let’s call it the Mike Hampton Rule), but instead allowed each team to completely void one contract (and paid it out of the central fund to avoid any grievances). Who would each team choose to get rid of?

For this exercise, past performance doesn’t matter. It’s a completely unscientific attempt to pick the one player on each team who is most overpaid for his likely performance going forward. Notice I didn’t say projected performance because that would require me to look at something like PECOTA, and that would take a lot of the fun out of this.

We’ll break this down by division and cover them all over the next few days. All contract information is from Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Baseball Reference.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Well, this is last year of the aforementioned Hampton contract*, since I can’t imagine the Braves picking up the $20 million option for 2009. But they’re still on the hook for $15 million this year, although Colorado pays the $6 million buyout for 2009. And judging by the fact that he hasn’t pitched in two and a half years, it’s not like the Braves are going to miss his contribution. The only other possibility is Mark Kotsay who’s in the last year of a contract that will pay $8 million this season. He’s going to be overpaid unless he bounces back both offensively and defensively, but his contract doesn’t really put up much of a contest against Hampton.

*How crazy is that Hampton contract by the way? He never once pitched for Florida, but ended up costing them $23.5 million. And Colorado, who already put in $23 million dollars for just two years of below average pitching (98 and 78 ERA+), owes him the $6 million buyout and then $19 million of deferred money (plus interest) for his signing bonus.

Florida Marlins

Florida is completely different ballgame. According to Cot’s, they have one player under contract beyond 2008*. And since Andrew Miller was a core piece of the Miguel Cabrera deal, I don’t see him going anywhere. So it comes down to the three highest paid players on the team: Kevin Gregg at $2.5 million, Luis Gonzalez at $2 million and Mark Hendrickson at $1.5 million. Yes, you read it correctly. The highest paid player on the team is making $2.5 million dollars.

Gregg is a pretty good relief pitcher who was the Marlins’ closer last year. He should easily be worth the $2.5 million. Gonzalez is an aging OF who doesn’t seem to have a lot left in the field, but is still passable at the plate. For $2 million, you can’t complain too much. Mark Hendrickson, on the other hand, has had one good half season and gives up a lot of hits. In front of Florida’s putrid defense (although it almost has to be better this year… right?) I can’t see Hendrickson putting up an ERA much south of 6.00. So even though he was just recently signed as a free agent, he’d be the one I let go.

*Wow, you have to be thinking Loria is either milking the revenue sharing (well, duh) or looking to sell the team after the new stadium is built. I can’t believe there’s only one player with a multi-year deal on the team. And that was signed by the Tigers. I can only think he’s trying to hold down the team’s long-term liabilities so the balance sheet will look better when he sells the team. Or he’s just an immoral d-bag. One or the other.

New York Mets

There’s really no contract on the Mets that is too outlandish. Obviously Johan Santana‘s monster deal carries some risk at the back end, and he’s one torn ligament away from making this list, but that can be said about almost any highly paid pitcher. Carlos Beltran is signed to a pretty reasonable deal for arguably one of the top players in the league. I’m not sure he’ll be worth $18.5 million a year in 2011, but it’s too early to forecast his decline. That leaves Carlos Delgado. He had a pretty bad year in 2007 (by his standards) and was definitely not worth the $14.5 million he was paid. He’s owed $16 million this year with an option for 2009 that will cost $4 million to buyout*. If I were the Mets, I don’t know if I take the chance he rebounds. His offense has dropped pretty precipitously over the last two years and he’s already gotten hurt this spring. However, it’s the Mets. They have money and right now they need warm bodies who can be propped up at the plate and hit. I’m not sure the Mets would take advantage of the Hampton rule, but if so, then Thin Carlos is their man.

* Delgado’s contract carries a $16 million option for 2009 that vests based on his rank in the MVP voting. Cot’s doesn’t have any details on where he needs to place, but Delgado finished 6th in 2005 and 12th in 2006. Does anyone know the status of that option?

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies’ Hampton Rule representative would likely differ based on who you asked. If you asked the Philly Phaithful, they’d probably say Pat Burrell. He’s finally in the last year of the 6 year / $50 million contract he signed back in 2003, and the fans have never thought he lived up to it.* Still, he’s only owed $14 million more and he’s delivered an OPS+ in the mid 120s for the last three years. Now, that’s no great shakes for an adventurous fielding corner outfield, but there’s a far more egregious thief of Bill Giles’ money.

For some reason, Pat Gillick thought it would be a good idea to sign Adam Eaton to a 3 year deal that will pay him a total of $16.5 million dollars over the next two seasons (including the $500 thousand buyout of the 2010 option). Now $8 million a year for a starter isn’t too much above market price, but you’d want that starter to at least be somewhere close to league average, right? About the only positive for Eaton is that he did make 30 starts last year, a number he hadn’t hit since 2004. The bad news is he gave up 117 runs in those 30 starts for a sparkling 6.29 ERA. It makes you wonder how the Phillies won the division last year running Eaton out there every 5 days.

* I know it’s cliche to talk about Phillies’ fans, but they really do seem to have trouble appreciating what they have. Pat Burrell is obviously nothing special, but he’s not worth the derision some fans seem to have for him. I mean I can understand it somewhat. I was in college in Philly when he came up and he was viewed as a potential superstar. He never reached those heights, despite being paid like he had. Of course, I wouldn’t mention how he’s a disappointment to Mets fans. Anyway, Burrell is just another link in a long chain that reaches back to Mike Schmidt. Schmidt was obviously never driven out of town, but Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu were, if not pushed out the door, at least very strongly encouraged to leave. And I’d consider Rolen and Abreu to be the team’s two best players between Schmidt and Utley. Sometimes I just don’t understand people.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are a team that don’t really have too many albatross contracts, especially considering they’re about to get a huge revenue jump from moving into a new stadium. Austin Kearns is somewhat overpaid at $13 million over the next two seasons (with a $10 million option for 2010 or a $1 million buyout). But he’s shown some potential in the past and he’s a toolsy outfielder – there’s no chance that Bowden will get rid of him*. The easy choice for the Nats is Cristian Guzman. Brought in as one of the first “big” signings of the Washington era, he couldn’t even hold his starting job beyond one season (to be fair he missed the entire 2006 season, but that was probably a good thing for Washington). In that one season, Guzman managed an OPS+ of 53. And lest you think he made up for it with defense, he was rated one of the worst shortstops in the majors. He’s in the last year of his deal now and only owed another $4.25 million, which really isn’t too much. But there shouldn’t be much expectation he repeats his performance from last year (which was actually pretty solid in a small sample size). And really, who else was there to choose from. Paul LoDuca and Dmitri Young** aren’t paid much more than Guzman and should deliver quite a bit more.

* Does any team have a more intriguing set of youngish toolsy outfielders than the Nats? Between Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes, there’s a whole lot of unrealized potential there. The Dodgers with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have a lot of promise, but who knows if they’ll both play. The Diamondbacks with Chris Young and Justin Upton and the Rays with B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli are contenders as well.

** I just saw on Dmitri Young’s Baseball Reference page that his nickname is “Meat Hook”. I don’t really have anything to add, I just thougt it was pretty cool.

Check back tomorrow or Monday for the NL Central.

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