In 1960, based on his previous season’s lackluster performance, future Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial took a pay cut — from $100,000 to $80,000.
This would be unheard of in today’s game; once multi-million-dollar contracts are locked in, players can seemingly play as well or poorly as they want to and still rake in the big bucks. Just ask the New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez, who’s sitting out the entire 2014 season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension — and prior to that, wasn’t putting up all that amazing numbers. As of 2013, he was making $29 million per year — and he’ll even see approximately $6 million this year, all for sitting poolside. So much for Musial’s formula.
It stands to reason, then, that some players are getting paid way too much. Some of this has to do with team payrolls — the bigger the market, the higher the potential salary. Some it also has to do with representation: Jay Z, who is now in the sports agent business, got the Seattle Mariners to cough up $240 million over 10 years for former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
In order to come up with our list of 25, we used a variation of a FanGraphs’ formula — which guestimates the dollar value of $5.4 million for every win a player brings about. (Obviously, this is not an exact science.) That amount is then multiplied by the player’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which in this case, is for the 2014 season so far. That total is then subtracted from the player’s 2014 salary. The solution? The player’s market value. (Unlike FanGraphs, we’ve included hitters and pitchers on the list.)
25. Jonathan Papelbon – Philadelphia Phillies – Closer
Salary: $13 million
Current Market Value: -$1.1 million
Papelbon was the toast of the town in Boston in 2007, when he helped the Red Sox with their second world championship since 2004. But like most of the team’s talented players, he eventually saw dollar signs (in 2011) and wound up in a different league and on a different contender (i.e. the Philadelphia Phillies). Now, it’s a relatively common argument that teams shouldn’t blow big bucks on closers because of their shelf-life — and Papelbon is actually having one of the best seasons of any closer in the league. But look at what the Phillies are doing: Dead last in a not-so-competitive division? Give us a break. Papelbon has been part of some trade rumors of late — and might possibly find himself back in the AL before the deadline is up — but until then, he’s just another overly expensive arm playing for a lousy team.
24. Martin Prado – Arizona Diamondbacks – Second Baseman/Third Baseman/Outfielder
Salary: $11 million
Current Market Value: -$3.4 million
Very little has gone right for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. Key injuries have plagued the ball club, and after the front office let young star Justin Upton go, it made for a tricky situation. Yes, they have a future star in Paul Goldschmidt, but who else? One of the best moves they made in the offseason to bolster an otherwise lackluster lineup? The addition of infielder Martin Prado, one of the National League’s premier utility guys. Grabbing him for four years and $40 million, the D-Backs knew they’d have a reliable guy in Prado. He has done his best to make the most of a not-so-positive situation, but at $11 million for the year, it seems like a total waste at this point.
23. Hanley Ramirez – Los Angeles Dodgers – Shortstop
Salary: $16 million
Current Market Value: -$4.1 million
Part of one of the biggest blockbuster deals in recent memory, the Boston Red Sox sent prospects Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez (now a Detroit Tigers ace) to the then Florida Marlins in 2005, for pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Mike Lowell, both of whom went on to win a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007 (Lowell was the series MVP). There’s been no shortness of five-tool talent in Ramirez, now on the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he’s been plagued with injuries the last four years and has become somewhat of a liability. Most recently, he took a pitch to his hand, which has been sidelining him of late (not his fault, obviously, but misery loves company). We can imagine the front office didn’t foresee paying him such a giant sick-leave salary.
22. Robinson Cano – Seattle Mariners – Second Baseman
Salary: $24 million
Current Market Value: -$4.5 million
Robinson Cano, he of the Jay Z mega-deal, has a higher current WAR than perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, which would seem to make this pick controversial. But unlike Cabrera, who’s playing for a first-place team, Cano is simply running up a tab with a team that’s eight games out of first place in a reasonably winnable division. There’s been a lot of talk of the Mariners’ adding arms or hitting assistance to their arsenal before the trade deadline, but they need their star Cano to come through for them. Don’t let the All-Star appearance and .331 average fool you; his power numbers are way down. Unless he leads his team on a late-season run, that WAR total, which is nearly half of what it was in 2013, will continue to haunt the Mariners front office.
21. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles – First Baseman/Third Baseman/Right Fielder
Salary: $14 million
Current Market Value: -$5.0 million
Chris Davis put up MVP-like numbers during the 2013 campaign, leading all of baseball in HRs (53) and RBIs (138) and looking like the stud all the baseball analysts had long predicted he would be. So when he got off to a slow start this year, the rationale was that he’d find his swing again. See that 1.0 WAR? That should tell you everything you need to know. We’re just past the All-Star Break, and Davis is still hitting a measly .201 with an astounding 114 K’s (good for No. 1 in the AL). His power numbers are also way, way down. Talk about an expensive slump.
20. Curtis Granderson – New York Mets – Right Fielder
Salary: $13 million
Current Market Value: -$5.4 million
It’s no fluke that Curtis Granderson had a pair of 40-plus-homer years in Yankees Stadium (2011-12); he’s had quite a bit of pop in his bat over the years, and a hitter-friendly park made for a fun getaway from the Motor City (he spent his first six seasons with the Tigers). But covering center field can take its toll; and in 2013, he was hit by a pitch, which fractured his right forearm. The Bronx Bombers didn’t pick up his option, so in the offseason, he signed with the Queens-based New York Mets, a four-year, $60 million deal. No longer in center, that will help his durability. But is he worth the $13 million price tag on a second-to-last-place team? Only the Mets’ front office knows the answer to that.
We’ll be counting down the most underpaid players in the MLB all week on the ScoreBlog. Check back tomorrow to see players 19-15.
By Will Levith for the ScoreBlog
Sources: Salary data: Yahoo Sports; WAR data: Baseball Reference; Formula: FanGraphs.com
Feature Image Credit: Keith Alison