How badly can cute and cuddly players hurt their team? With baseball’s new market, more than ever in recent history. If your local community pillar signs for a charitable $2.5 million, in today’s market, that’s two and a half average outfielders on short-term deals. And if your guy got signed before the market crashed…it may hurt just to think about it.

So I went through looking for guys who are killing their teams. While the Rangers paid laughable service to “flexibility” when talking about trading the hugely productive Alex Rodriguez, it’s true that when teams saddle themselves with giant unproductive contracts, it makes it much harder to build a good team on a necessarily limited budget. So here are the guys who are really grinding down their teams. Bonus points for easily replaceable position players, and guys who have huge, long contracts granted by virtue of being popular.

So who’s out there to form our team?

  • C: Jason Kendall. $8.6m ( salary data). Three years left after this one, and they’re going to get much more expensive. It’s easy to forget that Kendall’s performance hasn’t been all that terrible. It’s not like he’s Darin Erstad–but I’m getting ahead of myself. As the Pirates try to put together a winning team in one of baseball’s smaller markets, they’re going to keep trying to move him.

  • 1B: Darin Erstad $7.75m. Oh, this has to hurt. The Angels signed the defensive specialist to a 4-year, $32 million dollar deal because he’s a clubhouse leader and they feel he played a big part in the championship team’s success. Now as an injured and still-not-hitting first baseman, Erstad’s blocking the path of super prospect Casey Kotchman while draining the team budget.

    Honorable mentions: 1B/DL David Segui, $7m. Or $148,936 per at-bat this year. There’s a case to be made that this is an even worse contract–Segui’s barely healthy enough to play, doesn’t play well, but refuses to sit out so the Orioles can collect the insurance money. Mercifully, this is the last year of his contract.

    1B Shawn Green. Boy, he used to be good, too. Well, better. BP’s Will Carroll reports that his shoulder has degenerated so much that he’s basically operating with bone-on-bone, killing his value. At $16.7m, average production doesn’t justify the paycheck.

  • 2B: Jose Vidro. There, I said it. How can a franchise with no budget pay $9 million to anyone, much less a hitter who’s slowly deteriorated over the last couple of years due to nagging injuries? Did they put a jar on the bar counter at the winter meetings and lucked out when Steinbrenner accidentally dropped his wallet in there and was too embarrassed to fish it out in front of everyone? Bonus albatross points for the four-year, $30 million the Expos game him to stay on through his 34th birthday.

  • SS: Omar Vizquel, $7.5m. After a hot start, he’s down to .281/.344/.369 and falling fast. Given his fade and the Indians’ off-season 2003 attempt to dump him on the Mariners, think the team’s going to exercise its half of the 2005 mutual option?

    HM: Derek Jeter, $18.6m. Almost a theoretical team-killer, since there’s no single contract that seemingly can hurt the Yankees. But this thing just keeps going up and up through 2010. And with his no-trade clause, Jeter’s not going anywhere.

  • 3B: Jeff Cirillo, $6.725m. His contract’s like the nuclear waste that hangs around and rides the rail from state to state, waiting for the country to finally figure out where we’re going to bury it. Bets are on a return to Colorado, where he can be stuffed in a barrel, which will then be filled with concrete and buried deep in the ground, rendering him hopefully unable to cash his paychecks. Though would you put it past him to emerge from the ground, glowing and angry? Survival tip: Dress yourself in white leather with red stitching, chances are he won’t be able to hit you.

  • LF: Chipper Jones $15m. Chipper’s another highly-paid good performer in a baseball economy where that’s not valuable enough to be worth it. His hitting’s not what it once was, and below elite level for a left fielder; as he did last year, though, he should bounce back somewhat from his horrific start. Chipper hasn’t exactly impressed in the field either, though his defensive value now goes up with him back playing third base. Chipper’s contract also keeps going up and up, too, for years and years, through two options that vest on playing time through 2008. Fifteen million bucks for Chipper Jones’ 2008 performance will make him an awful value.

  • CF: Nobody really fits. No one’s a full-time player at the position, expensive, and bad. The most expensive guys are good. The closest we can get is Bernie Williams, because his contract is $12m a year through 2005, his mobility’s turned him into a limited CF/DH type, and his hitting is nowhere near peak levels. Craig Biggio is a candidate, but he’s not in center any more after the Carlos Beltran deal and he’s having a nice little offensive spike this season hit; his defense was so awful while he was still in center that he makes the short list anyway. Andruw Jones hasn’t developed into the player you’d expect given his six-year, $75 million contract.

  • RF: Larry Walker $12.7m. He’s 37, injured and declining, and paid like this for another year. And a complete no-trade clause. And the team has an option for 2006 for the bargain price of $15m.

    HM: Bobby Higginson, $8.85m. He’s hitting .265 and getting on-base at a .374. clip…with absolutely no power. Higginson hasn’t hit in years. But wait, there’s more–it escalates to $11.85m next year! You don’t think Dave Dombrowski reads that contract once a day looking for an out?

  • SP: Darren Dreifort, $11.4m. Every morning when Paul DePodesta peels himself off the couch in his office where he fell asleep working the night before, he walks up to a giant calendar on the wall and blacks out another day in the countdown to rolling this monstrosity of a contract off the books.

    HM: Chan Ho Park, $13.8m. Remember, fans: Only you can help your GM understand park effects. The difference between Dreifort and Park is like choosing whether you want small or large portions of a foul-tasting food: Park has been much healthier, but Rangers fans must wish he wasn’t.

  • RP: John Smoltz, $11m. For that kind of money I’d want a closer like Mariano Rivera. Or Keith Foulke. Or better yet, a star everyday player. Even a dominating closer shouldn’t be making ace starter money, and when they’re not doing well, that’s trouble. Fortunately, Smoltz’s contract’s only got a team option left, and the Braves aren’t picking it up.
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