The Bad Contract Swap Meet

While trade season primarily involves contenders raiding also-rans for useful players, we always hope for that trade that makes us go: what? When the Red Sox traded Manny to the Dodgers in 2008: What? (Which was preceded, of course, but a much louder what when it was reported they traded him to Florida.) We don’t see those very often, because they often involve high-profile players with big contracts, which complicates matters. Chances are we won’t see any jaw-dropping moves this off-season, but that doesn’t preclude us from writing about possibilities.

Today we’ll hold a bad contract swap meet. There aren’t too many huge, horrible contracts out there — that is, contracts that a team would dump if possible and not really miss the player’s production. The entrants, with the year their contracts expire and the money they’re owed beyond 2011 (assuming options declined):

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey (2014, $47.85m)
New York Mets: Jason Bay (2013, $39.26m)
San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito (2013, $46m)
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano (2014, $57m)

There are many differences among these players, but perhaps the biggest obstacles are the differences in their contracts. We’ll assume that Bay’s and Zito’s options will be declined, meaning they’re both signed through 2013. Lackey and Soriano are signed through 2014. Zito also is owed a bit more money than the other three. That’s why originally I had this as Lackey-for-Soriano and Zito-for-Bay, but it doesn’t necessarily have to work out that way. We can assume cash, or another player, changes hands when the money and years don’t match up. But that probably precludes a Bay-Soriano swap.

Take a moment, if you will, to rearrange these players onto different teams. Let’s see if ours, and our rationales, match up.

Jason Bay: Red Sox

This one stood out as fairly obvious if unlikely. Lackey and Zito match up well in terms of dollars, and the Red Sox could get out of the commitment a year earlier with Zito. But a fly ball lefty at Fenway Park does not bode well. There was also a report that the Red Sox can’t add short-term payroll, which basically kills any chances there. We move on, then, to Bay.

The Red Sox acquired Bay in the aforementioned Manny Ramirez deal, and Bay lit up the scoreboard upon arrival. From August, 2008, through 2008 he hit .274/.380/.534 for the Sox, ranking behind only Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew in batting runs during that span. He dropped off immediately after leaving, which raises the question of whether he might re-find himself back in familiar digs. The Sox could certainly use an outfielder to complement Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, and a right-handed hitter could help balance their lineup.

This deal would save the Red Sox one year and $8.59 million, which is something to keep in mind as we continue flipping players.

Barry Zito: Mets

While it’s tough to justify the Mets taking on more salary when trading Bay, they’re not taking on additional years of a contract. The surplus cash from the Red Sox alone would cover the entire difference between Bay and Zito.

The Mets would have use for any of the players involved, and might find Soriano particularly useful, since they’re giving up an outfielder and don’t have many replacement options. But this isn’t just about the Mets. They could certainly put Zito to work the the rotation, and his fly ball heavy ways might play to City Field’s spacious dimensions. He’d also fit into the rotation next year, and would be an even better fit if the Mets could somehow trade Johan Santana. (Though the idea of trading Santana while trading for Zito is somewhat, if not completely, silly.) It’s not ideal, but neither is Bay at this point.

Not factoring in the Red Sox money, the Mets would lose $6.74 million in the deal, though they’d drop Zito at the same time they’d drop Bay.

Alfonso Soriano: Giants

The first question to ask here is why the Giants would want another outfielder. They already have a surplus, with Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ross. But that has been a disappointing unit at the plate, providing just 3.8 batting runs above average among them. It’s not Mariners outfield bad, but it’s still in the bottom half of the league.

To date Soriano has provided 6.0 batting runs above average, mostly due to the home run ball. AT&T Park would hurt him compared to Wrigley, but he’d be better off than a lefty in the same park. And, again, the idea is that some of these guys might improve with a change of scenery. The Giants would have to trim from their crowded outfield, but that might not be that big a problem. Both Burrell and Ross become free agents after this year, meaning Soriano has a clear spot in 2012. Plus, I doubt that they’ll let Aaron Rowand hold them back from doing anything at this point.

The Giants lose 11 million in this deal, and gain one more year of contract time, since Soriano is signed through 2014.

John Lackey: Cubs

This one is more by process of elimination than by need. The Cubs don’t necessarily need another right-handed starter, never mind another high-priced right-handed starter. But it’s not as though they’re signing Lackey as a free agent. They’re shedding Soriano’s contract at the same time, which helps.

I honestly don’t have much to say in favor of Lackey to the cubs, other than a move to the NL might help turnaround his disappointing performances from the past season and a half. The Cubs could definitely use some rotation help in general, too, since they’re trotting out Doug Davis every five days. That would also set them up in 2012 with a rotation of Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Lackey, and a smattering of fifth starter options (Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, etc.). If they can shed Dempster or Zambrano, all the better.

The Cubs save no years, but they do save $9.15 million in the deal.

Clearly, if they wanted the money to even out they could just divvy up the surplus and excess to cover the differences for each team. They could also do it somewhat on merit, with the Mets getting money to cover Bay (since he’s owed the least) and the Giants getting some to cover the difference between Zito and Soriano, but the Cubs holding onto some, since their end seems the toughest to justify.

There are plenty of other ways to do this, including the more realistic two two-team trades. Of course, since any trades involving these four are unlikely to occur, I went with the more amusing four-team trade. It seems to me that comments section were made for situations like this. (Wink wink, nudge nudge)

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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I take it you did not consider players in the first year of their contracts? Dunn, Uggla, Werth, and Crawford have all been notoriously bad so far. But it’s only 1/2 a year so it would make sense for you not to consider them here.


Crawford hasn’t been “notoriously” bad – he just had a bad stretch to start the year followed by an injury (that is hardly career threatening). While he hasn’t been worth the $ they doled out for him so far, he’s not worth dumping and could easily have a strong second half that would more or less erase all the doubts he’s raised over the past two months.

More importantly, as you note, none of these guys are far enough into their contracts for us to write them off completely. It’s entirely possible that any of those four could have a strong back half to their season and give us cause for cautious optimism next year… whereas Zito, Lackey, Bay, and Soriano have been underperforming so much and for long enough that there’s little to no hope that they will ever earn anywhere near what they’re being paid.

I was surprised by one omission though… where’s the love for Carlos Zambrano? His contract isn’t quite as bad as Soriano’s, but I feel like, with another year under contract plus an option for 2013, he’s someone who should at least be considered for some sort of fantasy dump-trade scenario like this…


Well, Crawford is still at 0.0 WAR with a .290 wOBA, but I don’t know how much better that is than his low point.

Other than your minor disagreement, I have nothing on which to disagree with you.


I’m not sure you know exactly what “notoriously” means.